After Her University Ignored Her Rape Claim, This Columbia Student Started Carrying Her Mattress Everywhere On Campus

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This is an incredibly sad but very powerful story about how one woman is using a terrible, personal experience as visual art, as well as a protest against her university, which refuses to punish her abuser.

Emma Sulkowicz says she was raped by a classmate at Columbia University. The attack took place on the first day of her sophomore year at the Ivy League institution, in her very own dorm bed. She has been haunted by the unwanted sexual encounter ever since.

She wrote about her experience in Time:

“Every day, I am afraid to leave my room…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.”

Now starting her senior year, Sulkowicz has spent a significant chunk of her time at Columbia trying to convince college administrators, police, and even friends that she’s not making up the fact that she was raped. She’s also tried to point out that even after two other people came forward and said they had been sexually assaulted by the same person, the school still hasn’t punished this student for the crimes he committed. In Sulkowicz’s piece in Time, she says Columbia gave her a hard time and swept the incident under the rug. She also says she is one of the 23 students who filed a federal Title IX complaint against Columbia University in April for mishandling sexual assault cases.

Emma, who’s majoring in visual arts, isn’t going to take her school’s decision not to act lying down. As a result, she is publicly protesting in one of the most poignant, heartbreaking, powerful ways I’ve ever seen. For her senior thesis, she’s devised a form of performance art that will allow her to protest the fact that her rapist continues to study on campus and walk around unpunished. Emma is carrying around a twin-sized dorm mattress everywhere she goes on Columbia’s campus “for as long as I attend the same school as my rapist.”

She explains the project, titled “Mattress Performance” or “Carry That Weight” in this video:

“I was raped in my own dorm bed, and since then that space has become fraught for me,” she says. “And I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there with me everywhere since then.”

This is so brilliant, beautiful, and so, so sad. Shame on Columbia University and a multitude of other institutions, be those educational or otherwise, that sweep sexual assault cases under the rug and try to forget about them because they “look bad” or are unpleasant to think about. It’s about time we started standing up for the victims of sexual assault and sexual violence and be as brave as Emma Sulkowicz, who refuses her school’s inaction and is protesting to try and make a difference for herself and for the safety of others.

[via New York Magazine]

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