Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz has a twofold purpose in carrying around her twin mattress everywhere on campus: It’s her senior thesis (performance art) and an attempt to shame the school into punishing her alleged rapist.
New York reports:
Sulkowicz is one of 23 students who are part of a federal Title IX complaint filed against Columbia in April for mishandling sexual-assault cases. Though she and two other students reported that the same student had assaulted them, all of their claims were swept under the rug, and the male student was not expelled from campus.
Sulkowicz said in a Time essay in May she was raped on her own bed during her sophomore year. She talks about her project in a Columbia Spectator video. (Sulkowicz actually had consensual sex twice before with her alleged rapist, according to the police report, noted in the Spectator’s original report.)
In a new interview with The Cut, the fashion site for New York, the student blames the media – the lawsuit and her performance art drew wide coverage – for making her relive the horror of rape:
The reporter response has been really aggressive and not what I expected. It is a sensitive subject, and I can’t be accosted in the middle of campus to talk about it. One guy, while I was carrying the mattress, he just opened up my backpack and threw his business card in, which was a real violation of my space and made me really upset and triggered a lot of memories of being raped. …
Yesterday was really stressful because of the reporters on campus. I had a class at 8:40, so my boyfriend helped me carry the mattress to class — we slid it along the sidewall so it wasn’t distracting. Then my next class was at 2 p.m. and that was when two news stations started following me and taking pictures of me. I finally got to class and the people waited outside. I received an email from one reporter, “Subject line: Mattress Girl. Content: I have her contact info and I am going to get her.” I didn’t know that he was a reporter at first so I thought I was going to die, and so I was so scared and really fearing for my life. My boyfriend came and picked me up because I was so afraid of the reporters. [emphasis added]
As dumb as that reporter’s email phrasing was, it’s a little hard to take Sulkowicz’s media criticism seriously when she acknowledges the point of performance art:
I thought about how I was raped in my own bed at Columbia; and how the mattress represents a private place where a lot of your intimate life happens; and how I have brought my life out in front for the public to see; and the act of bringing something private and intimate out into the public mirrors the way my life has been. Also the mattress as a burden, because of what has happened there, that has turned my own relationship with my bed into something fraught. [emphasis added]
Sulkowicz has revealing thoughts about the police investigation into the alleged rape and why she’s not pursuing criminal charges or a civil suit. She also criticizes Columbia’s new sexual-assault policy, which as noted by The College Fix allows both parties to retain lawyers and seeks judges to serve on hearing panels:
Columbia just released a new policy, but in the new Columbia policy it is even harder than it was before to try a serial rapist, and have him expelled. Now they have explicitly stated that each case will be treated separately until the first one has closed. If one person rapes three girls in one night, those girls won’t be able to testify at each other’s cases, the way it currently stands. That to me is really sickening.
She’d still rather have the school lead rape investigations than law enforcement:
The police don’t seem very well equipped either. It is going to take an administration that is willing to admit that they have done wrong, and make real tangible changes. I think administrations are actually in a better place to make these changes than the police right now. …
I feel like it would take that much longer for [the police to] change, but the universities are filled with people who are progressive thinkers, and who can come up with creative strategies to solve these problems. We have so many intelligent students who think about and care about this issue way more than any of the administration. [emphasis added]
IMAGE: YouTube screenshot