Being a student at Columbia University puts a lot of weight on your shoulders, but for senior Emma Sulkowicz that weight is greatly increased.
Sulkowicz says that on the first day of sophomore year she was assaulted in her dorm room, and Columbia’s administrators did not handle the investigation properly. Other women have also come forward claiming to have been raped by the same man, but Columbia has failed to expel him.
Sulkowicz has been protesting the dismissal of her case since it first arose, but now she is turning it into her thesis project.
The art major has vowed to carry a twin-sized dorm mattress everywhere she goes until her alleged rapist is expelled from the campus. She has given herself a few guidelines, such as she cannot ask for help, but can receive it if it is offered.
Garrett Kaighn, ’14, a freshman at Columbia, says that sexual assault controversy was present there for quite a while before the project. “There has been controversy about sexual assault policy on campus since last fall,” he said. “The university hasn’t taken enough action on reports of assault, and there aren’t many resources available for victims.”
In an interview with “Today,” Sulkowicz explained the origin of her thesis idea.
“The image of me moving a mattress got stuck in my head. I think it was because I was raped in my own bed—it was a place associated with a lot of pain and hurt.
“The idea of me having to carry around my pain everywhere I go was reflected in me bringing the mattress, which is kept in a safe place, out into the light and into the public eye. That mirrored the situation I was in, and I felt like it was a good metaphor.”
By only the fourth day of the “Mattress Performance/Carry That Weight” project, she reported that there had only been one trip where she had not received help with her baggage.
So far, Sulkowicz has not been contacted by the administration that wronged her, but she claims she will not stop until she is no longer forced to go to school with someone who so fundamentally violated and hurt her.
Kaighn believes that sexual assault is an issue that must be acknowledged as a problem, and that Columbia is not the only university failing to handle these situations accordingly.
“Sexual assault is something that happens everywhere, and it’s silly to pretend that it doesn’t exist,” he said. “Likewise, it’s wrong for the Columbia administration to fail to investigate such cases or to provide support for victims.
“Raising awareness at other campuses could be beneficial, too. Sexual assault is more of an issue where people don’t take it seriously and where reports are not properly investigated.”
This has become a project that has drawn a lot of attention from not only media but also other students. Since the beginning of the movement, there have been many rallies and protests held by Columbia students in support of Sulkowicz’s ideals. Thus she has successfully done what so many artists have dreamed of doing: started a revolution.
What intrigues me most about this project is not the original concept or the reasoning, as much as the overwhelming support of the community. This is a perfect demonstration of why we continue to create art in a politically run world. Art makes an impact that can affect anyone.
Sulkowicz’s thesis project is evidence that art can bring people together and inspire them to stand against injustice in a way that nothing else can.