A senior at Columbia University has vowed to lug a mattress around whenever she sets foot on the fancypants campus for class — or for any other reason — to protest the school’s sexual harassment policies and its response to her allegation that a fellow student raped her.
The student is Emma Sulkowicz. She has persistently claimed that a male student raped her in her dorm room in August 2012, on the first day of her sophomore year.
Since that time, Sulkowicz, 21, has tried to convince administrators at the Ivy League redoubt on Manhattan’s Upper West Side that she was raped and that the man she accuses of rape should suffer punishment, reports New York magazine.
Sulkowicz waited some 600 days to report the rape to police. She told the Columbia Daily Spectator she was reluctant to report the alleged attack out of embarrassment and shame.
In May 2014, around the time Sulkowicz at last went to the police, flyers and bathroom graffiti containing a “rapists on campus” list began appearing.
Many news outlets, including The New York Times, covered the story.
Speaking to New York magazine for a contemporaneous article, Sulkowicz gave a different explanation for why she finally went to the police.
“After the New York Times article I had received so much criticism from people online that said, ‘Girls are dumb, this is exactly why girls should go to the police the minute they’re assaulted.’ I wanted to see if they were correct,” she said.
Sulkowicz complained that the “awful” New York City police officer investigating her claim was insufficiently sympathetic.
“The officer basically treated me as if I was the criminal,” she told New York magazine. “After you’ve been physically violated the last thing you want is to have a policeman who is high on his own power telling you that everything you’ve just experienced is invalid.”
There have been no criminal charges. It’s not clear if the alleged rapist will ultimately face any charges.
A month before Sulkowicz went to the police, she and 22 other students filed a federal Title IX complaint against Columbia alleging that school officials have failed to handle a number of rape allegations properly.
The students are mad because school officials have not swiftly expelled the male student Sulkowicz claims raped her and other male students accused of rape.
In May, Sulkowicz wrote an essay published in TIME magazine.
“Every day, I am afraid to leave my room,” the student who now draws attention to herself by carrying a large, heavy twin-size mattress lamented. “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.”
In a video about her mattress-carrying stunt entitled “Carry That Weight,” Sulkowicz explains: “I was raped in my own dorm bed, and since then that space has become fraught for me.” She says she feels as though she has “carried the weight of what happened there with me everywhere since then.”
The mattress-dragging stunt is part of Sulkowicz’s senior thesis. It’s a visual arts performance art piece.
She bought the mattress from the same company that provides bedding for Columbia’s dormitories. When she’s not walking around with the mattress, she keeps it in the school’s art studio.
“I hope it resonates with people who have also been in a position where they had nothing else left to do but do something crazy,” Sulkowicz told DNAinfo New York.