Columbia student carries a mattress as a symbol of her alleged rape

State Hornet Staff

Emma Sulkowicz, a 21-year-old senior at Columbia University, said she was raped on the first day of her sophomore year by a classmate. She has pledged to carry her dorm room mattress around campus every day as part of her senior thesis or until her alleged rapist is either expelled from the university or chooses to leave the school.

Although the story of any person’s sexual assault can bring feelings of anger and sadness, Sulkowicz’s method of publicizing her rape experience deserves praise. Her powerful message has gone viral across the Internet and is gaining the attention it deserves.

During her junior year, Sulkowicz and two other women reported that they experienced sexual assault by the same person to the administration. The university chose to handle each case separately even though it involved the same person, a serious disregard to the possibility they were dealing with a serial rapist.

Unfortunately, all three cases were dismissed. The alleged serial rapist was found “not responsible” and continues to attend campus. He is also finishing his senior year and is due to graduate at the end of the school year with Sulkowicz, an honor that he in no way deserves.

By dealing with her rape trauma in the public eye, Sulkowicz is not only standing up for herself but for all sexual assault victims who are too afraid to speak out. She believes that pursuing this task is a symbol of the physical and emotional burden that sexual-assault victims must carry with them every day.

In an interview with TIME, Sulkowicz said, “This project is a way to heal one of the most difficult things that happened to me. As I will build muscle and get stronger, hopefully I will also build emotional strength.”

As an added element to her project, Sulkowicz is not allowed to ask other people to help with carrying the mattress. However, she can accept help if it is offered. This is a powerful analogy for the burden that rape victims must carry with them.

According to an article written by Francesca Trianni of TIME, Sulkowicz is one of 23 Columbia and Barnard students who filed a federal Title IX complaint alleging that the university mishandled sexual assault cases. This is obvious considering the university only reported 20 cases of sexual assault from 2010 and 2012.

Furthermore, Sulkowicz claims to have been raped in her own dorm room. It is the university’s responsibility to provide a safe and secure environment for its students, especially in the dormitories.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 19.3% of women have been raped at least once in their lives and about 2% of men have been raped during their lifetimes.

Meanwhile, California’s “Yes Means Yes” bill is making an attempt to manage these statistics regarding rape culture. The bill requires affirmative consent from both parties and colleges will be rewriting the meaning of consent in their sexual assault policies.

An affirmative consent law would help battle rape culture on campuses. The bill would help educate college students on the meaning of consent. It will also encourage students to discuss sexual assault openly with each other and with their administration, destroying the taboo on rape culture.

Sulkowicz is bringing light to her own experience and her brave commitment to this project is a representation of sexual assault victims everywhere. Rape culture has been a perpetuating issue on college campuses, and Sulkowicz’s decision to pursue this task is admirable.