Columbia Daily Spectator

Student Carrying Mattress Until Alleged Rapist Leaves Campus

Emma Sulkowicz said her rape case was mishandled by Columbia University, and her performance art piece is in response.

By Lauren Zima | September 3, 2014

A Columbia University senior will carry a mattress wherever she goes, every day, until the man she says raped her leaves campus.

EMMA SULKOWICZ TO COLUMBIA DAILY SPECTATOR: "I was raped in my own dorm bed. A mattress is the perfect size for me to just be able to carry enough that I can continue with my day, but also heavy enough that I have to continually struggle with it."

This is part of her senior thesis, a performance art piece called “Carry That Weight.” Emma Sulkowicz says she was raped by a classmate on the first day of her sophomore year and that her case was improperly handled by the university.

In May, she told Time her complaints about the school, saying employees working on her case weren’t trained.

EMMA SULKOWICZ TO TIME: "I don’t actually get to write a statement of what happened. ... It’s all the investigators’ statement that they read. Since her statement didn’t make any sense, my statement didn’t make any sense."

Columbia didn’t comment for the story — but we should note, according to Time — the university now requires two people present when alleged victims share their stories. Sulkowicz is also one of 23 students from Columbia and neighboring Barnard College who’ve filed a federal complaint alleging the university hasn’t properly addressed sexual assault cases on campus.

The issue of sexual assault on college campuses has come to the forefront in 2014. A new task force from the White House in January, a TIME cover story in May and California’s controversial “yes means yes” bill, passed just last week.

Al Jazeera also wrote in May of what happened when Sulkowicz reported her assault to police. According to Al Jazeera, an officer told Sulkowicz’s friend who went with her to the station:

"[Questioning is] supposed to be uncomfortable. ... If it goes to trial, this is what’s going to happen. … You think that was bad? Nah. ... It’s [my] type of job to get to the truth. If that means being harsh about it, that’s what I do."

But in what critics call “rape culture” on college campuses, there’s also the perspective of the accused. This week NPR published a piece exploring the stories of students who say they were automatically presumed guilty.

One man told NPR  he was accused as a sophomore, and called a board at the University of Massachusetts “hostile and poorly trained,” complaints not too far off from Sulkowicz’s. That panel expelled him. He’s now suing.

Sulkowicz’s school, Columbia, is also being sued by students who were accused of assault and say their cases were mishandled.

In April, the White House task force released its first recommendations on how campuses should handle sexual assaults. It promised a training program for campus officials would be developed by this month.