Columbia student vows to carry a mattress every day in rape protest

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Student Carrying Mattress Until Alleged Rapist Leaves Campus

By CHELSEA HUANG

Emma Sulkowicz, a 21-year-old senior at Columbia University, says she was raped in her own bed at the beginning of her sophomore year -- but she received little support from her school, and her alleged rapist walks free on campus, according to Dazed.

The Visual Arts major is now protesting the university's apathy in a performance-art piece titled "Carry That Weight." She has pledged to carry her mattress around campus until her alleged rapist is expelled.

"The act of carrying the mattress from inside my room out into the light has mirrored the way my life has changed, as I've brought my personal story out into the light," Sulkowicz told TIME. "This project is a way to heal one of the most difficult things that happened to me. As I will build muscle and get stronger, hopefully I will also build emotional strength."

Sulkowicz began her performance-art thesis project on Tuesday and will to continue carrying her mattress with her as long as her alleged assailant is on campus, which she understands could be until graduation in May 2015 if no action is taken against him.

"Every day, I am afraid to leave my room," she wrote in a piece for TIME back in May. "Even seeing people who look remotely like my rapist scares me. Last semester I was working in the dark room in the photography department. Though my rapist wasn't in my class, he asked permission from his teacher to come and work in the dark room during my class time. I started crying and hyperventilating. As long as he's on campus with me, he can continue to harass me."

Sulkowicz is just one of three women who made complaints to Columbia against the same fellow senior, and all three cases were dismissed, according to The Guardian.

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Columbia student vows to carry a mattress every day in rape protest
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, poses with a mattress, which she says she will carry every where she goes in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year, on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has pledged to lug her mattress around daily until certain action is taken. (Credit: YouTube/Columbia Spectator)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has pledged to lug her mattress around daily until certain action is taken. (Credit: YouTube/Columbia Spectator)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has pledged to lug her mattress around daily until certain action is taken. (Credit: YouTube/TIME)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has pledged to lug her mattress around daily until certain action is taken. (Credit: YouTube/TIME)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has pledged to lug her mattress around daily until certain action is taken. (Credit: YouTube/TIME)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has pledged to lug her mattress around daily until certain action is taken. (Credit: YouTube/TIME)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has pledged to lug her mattress around daily until certain action is taken. (Credit: YouTube/TIME)
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, has pledged to lug her mattress around daily until certain action is taken. (Credit: YouTube/Columbia Spectator)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 29 : Students stand in front of the Library of the Columbia University with a mattress in support of Emma Sulkowicz's project against sexual assault, 'Carry That Weight' in which she carries her mattress around campus until her alleged rapist is expelled from the university in New York, United States on October 29, 2014. (Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 29 : Students stand in front of the Library of the Columbia University with a mattress in support of Emma Sulkowicz's project against sexual assault, 'Carry That Weight' in which she carries her mattress around campus until her alleged rapist is expelled from the university in New York, United States on October 29, 2014. (Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz (L), a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of three strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of two strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz (L), a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of three strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz (L), a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of three strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz (R), a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of two strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, poses with a mattress, which she says she will carry every where she goes in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year, on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of two strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz (R), a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of two strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of three strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of two strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 05: Emma Sulkowicz (L), a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress, with the help of three strangers who met her moments before, in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year on September 5, 2014 in New York City. Sulkowicz has said she is committed to carrying the mattress everywhere she goes until the university expels the rapist or he leaves. The protest is also doubling as her senior thesis project. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
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In April, Columbia University's approach to sexual assault and harassment came under more widespread fire when a group of 23 students filed complaints with the federal government, charging systematic mishandling of assault claims and mistreatment of victims, according to the New York Times.

"Perpetrators are allowed to reschedule the hearing multiple, multiple times, and survivors are not," Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, a then-senior, said. "So we've seen cases where perpetrators who delay so long that survivors are forced to stay over the summer for a hearing and pay for housing."

While a complete overhaul to the university's system has yet to be determined, Sulkowicz looks to bring awareness of the issue and for personal closure.

"Rape can happen anywhere, but I was attacked in my own dorm bed," she said. "For me that place that is normally very intimate and pure was desecrated and is very fraught. The piece is about carrying the memory of that everywhere I go."


More on Emma's story:

Sexual Assault on College Campuses: Emma's Story
Read Full Story

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