In September, Emma Sulkowicz of Columbia University made national headlines when she began carrying her 50 pound mattress around campus with her everywhere she went. In addition to media attention, she also received college credit, using this as her senior project titled “Carry That Weight.”
Carrying the mattress symbolizes the burden sexually-assaulted students have to face by remaining on the same campus as their attackers, and has brought to light the prominent issue of universities and colleges failing to properly address and take seriously sexual crimes on colleges campuses.
Last Tuesday, Sulkowicz, with the help of fellow students, managed to continue carrying that mattress across the stage of her Columbia University graduation (despite the memo sent out prior to graduation reminding students large and heavy objects would not be permitted at the ceremony).
The “Carry That Weight” movement began as a statement—an experiment of sorts—in which Sulkowicz vowed to not stop carrying the mattress around campus (often with the help of other students) until her alleged attacker was rightfully punished, and she no longer had to feel unsafe with him freely walking around campus without reprimand of any kind.
While Sulkowicz, a Visual Arts major, was met mostly with applause from the audience of on looking graduates, there’s one person we can guarantee wasn’t clapping: her alleged rapist, German student Paul Nungessor. Sulkowicz claims the rape occurred in her own dorm room during sophomore year, and that he has been known to be a “serial rapist.” Though he was never charged due to “lack of reasonable suspicion,” he is currently suing Columbia University for failing to protect him from harassment.
Sulkwicz had help carrying the mattress across the graduation stage, and refused to shake the hand of President Lee Bollinger while receiving her diploma. Sulkowicz isn’t the only one who felt the school has a history of mishandling such cases—she and 22 other students have filed complaints in the last year. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of people against what she is doing, painting her as a liar and even going so far as to put up posters throughout NYC with her picture and the tagline “Pretty Little Liar.”
Even without receiving the kind of justice she originally sought for, Sulkowicz brought much needed attention and national coverage to a long occurring problem—sexual assault on college campuses—and universities and colleges failure to take complaints seriously. Calling her a liar, or the entire event a “rape hoax,” is only perpetuating the problem so many victims of rape and sexual assault face, which keeps them from reporting the incident at all.