By Sarah Rovinsky
Columbia University student, Emma Sulkowicz, carried a mattress around the campus all year and graduated May 19 with her mattress in tow. The mattress was part of her senior thesis project, performance art called “Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight).” The visual arts major said she would carry the mattress everywhere she went on campus for as long as she attended the same school as her alleged rapist.
Sulkowicz said to reporters, “I was raped in my own bed and I carry that weight with me wherever I go.” The case against her alleged abuser was dismissed. He was allowed to remain enrolled at the school and in protest of how Columbia University handled her sexual assault complaint, she began carrying her 50 pound mattress and even received help from fellow students, who volunteered to help lift the physical and emotional burden of sexual assault. Sulkowicz vowed to continue the project until her attacker was either expelled, left willingly, or graduated–whichever came first–and has kept that promise.
After going viral, the student she accused, Paul Nungesser, filed a gender-based harassment and defamation suit against the school, according to NBC New York. The suit said Columbia sponsored Sulkowicz’s senior thesis, which he said “resulted in an intimidating, hostile, demeaning … learning and living environment.” Nungesser still attended Tuesday’s ceremony.
Emma Sulkowicz ended her “Mattress Project” at Columbia’s graduation ceremony today, leaving a huge impact on her school and peers. A student group called No Red Tape included in one of their protests the words “Columbia protects rapists” on the façade of a school library, and a number of students on Tuesday put red tape on their baby-blue mortarboards to show their support. In February, the university instituted a sexual respect education requirement, which obliges students in all schools to attend workshops or complete art projects on the theme of sexual respect. The commencement speaker, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, encouraged the now former students, “You’ve held contrary opinions, held die-ins and sit-ins, carried mattresses…Never stop being academics, and never stop being activists.” However, President Lee C. Bollinger turned away as she crossed in front of him, failing to shake her hand, as he did with the other graduates.