By Brittney MacDonald, Staff Writer
After allegedly being sexually assaulted two years ago, a student of New York’s Columbia University, Emma Sulkowicz, has decided to fight back against her campus’ lack of action.
A visual arts major, Sulkowicz has dedicated her final thesis to a performance piece in which she will carry around a dorm room mattress everywhere she goes. The mattress is meant to be a physical representation of the emotional weight she carries with her, after she was raped by a fellow classmate during her sophomore year. To make the weight of the mattress even more akin to the emotional weight and trauma of the assault, Sulkowicz has rules to the piece: she cannot ask for help in carrying the mattress, but she may accept help if it is offered.
In a filmed interview with the Columbia Daily Spectator, student newspaper for the campus, Sulkowicz said, “For me, I was raped in my own dorm bed. Since then, it has basically become fraught for me, and I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there with me everywhere since then.”
Several months after the assault, Columbia University held a hearing in which Sulkowicz was forced to recount the intimate details of the assault, and even draw a diagram in order to explain to the university administrators how an assault such as hers happens. Despite the fact that two additional female students claimed that the same student assaulted them as well, the student received no known punishment and was allowed to remain at the university.
Sulkowicz and the two other women believe that the university’s own authorities are at fault for their poor record keeping, in which names were changed in the earlier reports in order to protect the identity of those involved. The use of aliases later lead to confusion when the cases were actually brought before the university administrators.
Sulkowicjz has decided that her performance will only end either if her alleged attacker is expelled, or when she graduates. She claims in the interview with the Columbia Daily Spectator that the loss of her “anonymity” has been the hardest part.
At this point, Sulkowicjz is one of many who have dealt with mishandled sexual assault cases at Columbia University: 23 students have filed complaints with the university.