Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz is carrying her mattress to class every day until her rapist leaves school. In an incredibly poignant act of solidarity, other Columbia students have begun walking with her, helping her carry the load. And today, they dragged several mattresses of their own in front of the university's iconic Alma Mater statue in a powerful protest against the administration's mishandling of rape.
Like far too many other sexual assault survivors, Sulkowicz was shamefully failed by her incompetent and negligent college administration. After she reported her rape and suffered through an inept and re-victimizing hearing process, her rapist was found "not responsible." (In addition to Emma, he's been accused of assaulting at least two other students, and his name eventually appeared on the "rapist list" circulated on campus.) In response to Columbia's grotesque mishandling of this case and several others, Sulkowicz and 22 other students went on to file three federal complaints against the school. Since then, the administration has taken a bit of limp and ineffective action to combat the school's rape problem, but student activists are very displeased with their efforts.
As her senior thesis, Sulkowicz is carrying her mattress everywhere with her. "I was raped in my own dorm bed," she said in an interview about the project. "I feel like I've carried the weight of what happened there everywhere since then." Her performance piece reifies that burden. It also reveals the solidarity and compassion of the student anti-sexual violence movement: on Wednesday, a group of students and alumni gathered around her and helped her carry the mattress to class. They will continue to do so until the performance piece ends. "I like the fact that we can step up and share the weight with her — that she doesn't have to do this all alone," one told the Columbia Spectator.
The support is both symbolic and literal — in addition to helping her carry the mattress, they're all working together to demand that the administration make serious, efficacious change. Today, students brought their own mattresses onto campus in protest of the administration's failed sexual assault policies and procedures. Some of them bore messages written in red tape: "CU HAS A RAPE PROBLEM," "CARRY THAT WEIGHT" and "STAND WITH SURVIVORS." Behind the wall of mattresses, crowds of students held up protest signs.
This is one of the most moving, powerful displays of strength and solidarity I've seen in recent memory. Hopefully, Columbia is forced to start taking these student voices seriously — at this point, it seems pretty unavoidable.
Images via Twitter.