Emma Sulkowicz says she was raped in her dorm bed by a classmate on the first day of her sophomore year of college.
But she is having a tough time convincing the college administrators, police, and even friends of what happened to her, that it was indeed rape, and that her offender should be punished for his crime. Sulkowicz, a senior majoring in visual arts, is one of 23 students (two others of whom also claim that they have been assaulted by the same student) who have filed a federal Title IX complaint against the University for their mishandling of sexual assault cases. They believe Columbia is ignoring their claims by failing to expel the male offenders from campus.
“Every day, I am afraid to leave my room,” Sulkowicz wrote in Time in May. “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.”
But Sulkowicz has devised a plan to get attention; she’s dedicated her senior thesis to the cause. Carrying around a twin-size dorm mattress everywhere she goes on campus, the performance art is in protest of the fact that her rapist continues to study on campus, and she has vowed to carry it around “for as long as I attend the same school as my rapist.”
“I was raped in my own dorm bed, and since then that space has become fraught for me,” Sulkowicz says in a video titled Mattress Performance or Carry That Weight, published by the Columbia Spectator. “And I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there with me everywhere since then.”