Columbia student vows to carry mattress until her alleged rapist is expelled

A Columbia University student is turning her senior thesis into a protest against the school's sexual assault policies and her alleged rapist.

Emma Sulkowicz, a visual art major, says she is carrying a twin-size dorm-room mattress until her alleged attacker, a fellow Columbia student, is expelled. Sulkowicz is calling the endeavor, which she says is a sort of performance art piece, “Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight.”

“The piece could potentially take a day or go on till I graduate," Sulkowicz, a senior, told the Columbia Spectator.

The 21-year-old says she was raped in her dorm room on the first day of her sophomore year but did not report the alleged attack until she met two other women who said they were also assaulted by the same man. All three reported their cases to the university, and all three say their allegations were dismissed.

Sulkowicz filed a police report with the NYPD in May.

“For me, I was raped in my own dorm bed, and since then that’s basically become fraught for me, and I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there with me ever since,” Sulkowicz said. "The mattress is just the right size for me to be able to carry it and continue with my day, but also heavy enough that I have to continually struggle with it.”

She says she intends to carry the mattress by herself but won't turn down offers to help.

In April, Sulkowicz and 22 other students filed a federal Title IX complaint claiming that the university mishandled sexual assault cases. In May, the names of four alleged perpetrators, including Sulkowicz's, were written on a school bathroom wall and posted on fliers that were distributed across Columbia's New York City campus. (Sulkowicz and other alleged victims denied that they were behind the postings.)

In the same month, Sulkowicz wrote an essay for Time magazine titled "My Rapist Is Still on Campus" about her ordeal as an alleged victim:

Every day, I am afraid to leave my room. 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.

I’ve lost friends because some people just don’t understand what it means to be raped. One friend asked me if I thought that my rapist would be expelled from school. I said, “I really hope so.” And he said, “Poor guy,” because I think many men see rape as kinky sex that went wrong. They say girls are confusing and it’s hard to tell when you’re supposed to stop.

Sulkowicz realizes the spectacle of her mattress performance may alienate her even more.

“I’m not as nervous about carrying a mattress around as I am with the attention it’s gotten,” she told the Spectator. “Last night, when I was shaking in bed and just thinking about how scary today was going to be, I was thinking about how I’m not really going to have anonymity anymore, which is a really strange thing for me.”