For her senior thesis, visual arts major Emma Sulkowicz is using performance art to protest Columbia University's refusal to expel her alleged rapist from the school. By carrying around her dorm room mattress wherever she goes, she hopes to bring attention to her case and find closure to her frustrated battle with Columbia's sexual assault policies, reported the Columbia Daily Spectator.
"I will be carrying this dorm room mattress with me everywhere I go for as long as I attend the same school as my rapist," said Sulkowicz in a video.
For the past year, Sulkowicz has been struggling to bring retribution to her alleged rapist, who she said raped her in her dorm room on the second night of her sophomore year. Months after the alleged incident, Sulkowicz brought her case to the school where she was one of three individuals filing complaints against the same student. The school found the accused "not responsible" and closed the case. Sulkowicz tried to appeal the decision, but it was denied.
"I was raped in my own dorm bed and since then, that space has become fraught for me. I feel like I've carried the weight of what happened there since then," said Sulkowicz.
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The art piece, titled "Carry That Weight," is meant to reflect the emotional weight Sulkowicz has carried since the alleged incident by having to lug around the cumbersome mattress throughout her day. She chose the dorm mattress because it is small and light enough to not impede her life, while still proving a burden she and others cannot ignore.
In May of this year, Sulkowicz was among 23 students who filed three separate federal complaints against Columbia for Title IX, Title II and Clery Act violations. The same month, she wrote a letter to Time explaining that she was afraid to leave her room, and that even seeing people remotely resemble her alleged attacker scared her.
Sulkowicz encountered her alleged rapist again on campus after the alleged incident, she told Time.
"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," she wrote.
According to the Spectator, Sulkowicz received guidance from visual arts professor Jon Kessler after she was allegedly raped.
"Carrying around your university bed-which was also the site of your rape-is an amazingly significant and poignant and powerful symbol," Kessler told the Spectator. "The best art comes from a very personal place and from personal commitment and belief-otherwise you're just doing an assignment," he said.
Title IX of the Education Amendments is a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education; Title II holds educational agencies accountable for improvements in academic achievement; The Clery Act requires all colleges receiving federal aid to keep and disclose information about crime on or near their campuses.
"The piece could potentially take a day, or it could go on until I graduate," said Sulkowicz.