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

Student Carrying Mattress Until Alleged Rapist Leaves Campus
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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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
Sexual Assault on College Campuses: Emma's Story