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Students disrupt USyd open day with Columbia-style mattress protest

Nina Dillon Britton reports.

Students protested Open Day by carrying mattresses decrying the University response to sexual harrassment. Students protested Open Day in 2016 by carrying mattresses decrying the University response to sexual harrassment. Image: Nina Dillon Britton

Around 20 students occupied Eastern Avenue auditorium to an audience of prospective parents and the Chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson, to protest the University’s failure to take action on sexual assault and harassment.

Taking charge of the microphone, they issued a warning to prospective parents.“I’m not going to have a fun year. I’m going to be sexually assaulted. And it changed my life forever,” one protester said to the crowd.

The students carried nine mattresses into the auditorium, recalling Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz’s ‘Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight)‘.

As students entered the auditorium they clashed with security guards who tried to rip the mattresses away from the protestors. One first year protestor, Thalia Lowrey, was left with a bruised arm from attempting to push past security as she entered the auditorium.

Members of management, including Jordi Austin, continually tried to silence the protesters, turning off the lights and asking parents to leave multiple times.

The mattresses were placed against the wall of the auditorium as various speeches took place. “Red tape won’t cover up rape” one read. “Protect students no reputation” read another.

USyd Women’s Officer, Anna Hush, concluded the demonstration in the auditorium by reading out the demands signed by 10 years of women’s officers to the University. These include that staff receiving trauma counselling, and a proper reporting system for students who have experienced sexual assault or harassment.

Students left the auditorium and concluded the protest on the Law Lawns, distributing pamphlets to prospective parents with statistics from the University’s own survey into sexual assault and harassment conducted last year.

The pamphlets also identified the University’s failure to complete two out of five of it’s own recommendations from the survey.

“We are sending a message to parents that this university is not a safe place for their children while the university refuses to meet our demands,” Anna Hush said.