A Columbia University Student has been carrying a mattress around the campus. Turns out, there’s really a deeper story behind that.
Meet Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student. According to her, a classmate raped her in her dorm room mattress during the first day of her sophomore year.
In an interview, Emma explains that “Rape can happen anywhere”. She then narrated that she was raped on her own dorm room bed.
“Since then, it [her dorm] basically become fraught form me, and I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened since then.”
In protest for this incident, Sulkowicz dedicated her senior thesis and called it “Mattress Performance” or “Carry That Weight,” which is literally an expression of the emotional weight that she has been carrying. Dubbed it as an endurance art piece, Emma will be dragging the same mattress where she was raped everywhere she goes on campus until the rapist is expelled or leaves. She even ensured that she will do this even if it extends from one day to the entire remainder of her stay at Columbia.
“The past year or so of my life has been really marked by telling people what happened in that most intimate private space and bringing it out into the light,” she says. ”
So I think the act of carrying something that is normally found in our bedroom out into the light is supposed to mirror the way I’ve talked to the media and talked to different news channels, etc.”
The complaint Sulkowicz filed was heard by the university sever months after the crime was committed and the administrators were confused how anal rape could happen. She was even asked to draw a diagram. This made her feeling physically ill.
Two women had followed Sulkowicz’s courage and came forward, claiming that they have been assaulted by the same student. However, everyone beleives their cases were mishandled by the university record keeping authorities.
The attacker was found not responsible by the hearing committee and still remains at the campus.
“I was so naive that I guess I thought they would just believe me because I was telling the truth. I didn’t expect the school was going to try to not take my side.”
Sukowickz was one of the 23 students who had already filed federal complaints against Columbia for the way they handle sexual assault cases and violation of gender equities. The U.S. Department of Education hasn’t made a decision whether to investigate the university.E
Emma’s thesis is a powerful but sad protest against injustice. Her courage in facing the physical, psychological, and emotional traumas of sexual assault is much adimired.
“I’m hoping that not only do I get better at carrying the mattress, but… I’m very interested in seeing where this piece goes and what sort of life it takes on,” she says.