Mattresses aren’t easy to pick up and carry—neither are the emotions and fear that come after being sexually assaulted.
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior at Columbia University, feels both.
Sulkowicz was allegedly raped in her own dorm bed on her first day of her sophomore year. Following her sexual assault, she recounts in an article she wrote for the Time Magazine, saying:
“I didn’t report it at first because I didn’t feel like dealing with the emotional trauma. But then I met two other women who told me the same person who had assaulted me assaulted them, and I decided I had to do something. We all reported our cases, and all three were dismissed.” The verdict? Her rapist “wasn’t guilty.”
Although the administration claims they have done everything in their power to investigate, this is not a sentiment held by many.
“There are a lot of people who don’t understand how the investigation the school did was inadequate, or who claim that because Emma decided not to continue working with the police to press charges she has nothing to complain about” says Caroline Lee, a first year student at Columbia College.
Even with the university’s efforts to make themselves seem more proactive about sexual assault, the efforts have been described as though they “direct the blame and attention towards students and away from the administration,” says Columbia College student Taylor Hardy.
The dismissal of her complaint by Columbia University administrators is not endemic only to Columbia, but to the greater network of institutions of higher-education. At college campuses nationwide—from the Ivy’s to the State Schools—this problem persists.
In response to the administration’s inability to charge her rapist with wrongdoing, Sulkowicz began carrying a mattress around with her everywhere she went on campus. Not only is this a form of a silent demonstration against the administration, it also her senior thesis project: Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight).
Her goal: to get her “rapist off campus.”
Is it working? Her efforts have been profiled internationally; and this is not much ado about nothing. Sulkowicz is carrying her mattress around campus with her.
After the first day of my Statistics class at Columbia, as I walked across the quad on my way to grab lunch, I saw her carrying her mattress with the help of a few other students.
Days later, I saw her in Ferris, one of the dining halls on campus, with her mattress propped against a wall close to her.
This is more than just a “Mattress Performance,” it is both a metaphorical and physical statement against sexual assault and the policies and procedures of the University.
Not only is this performance for her own experience but also for the assault survivors of the greater Columbia and Barnard community. Or even across the world.
In doing this, Sulkowicz becomes “a national symbol for the weight that tens of thousands of college students around the country have carried or will go through during their years at university,” says Taylor Hardy.
Despite the seeming worldwide support of Sulkowicz’s project, there are still many that are not sympathetic to her cause. “Victim-blaming and the accusatory scrutiny of the police and university administration,” as identified by Caroline Lee, often happens in sharp contrast to the support that survivors receive. Further, there have been inflammatory comments made against Sulkowicz and her project online.
Although Emma Sulkowicz is not having the easiest time carrying the mattress around campus, with the resounding support she has garnered world-wide, it’s refreshing to know that this could be the impetus for a creation of a much stronger university support system for survivors.