Columbia Student’s ‘Mattress Performance’ Protesting Campus Rape Goes Viral

A Columbia University senior is drawing a sudden burst of news media attention for her unique performance art project aimed as a “protest against the school’s sexual assault policies and her alleged rapist.” The Columbia Daily Spectator’s video interview with the student has amassed more than 600,000 views since its YouTube posting two days ago and become a core part of the story’s ascent to national prominence.

For her senior thesis, Columbia visual art major Emma Sulkowicz will be carrying around an extra-long twin mattress everywhere she goes during her final year at the Ivy League school — either until she graduates or her alleged rapist is expelled. The title of the thesis: “Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight.”

As she explains to the Spectator on camera:

“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 with me everywhere since then. … A mattress is the perfect size for me to be able to just carry it enough that I can continue with my day, but also heavy enough that I have to continually struggle with it. … The past year or so of my life has been really marked by telling people what happened in that most intimate, private space and bringing it out into the light. So I think the act of carrying something that is normally found in our bedroom out into the light is supposed to mirror the way I’ve talked to the media [about her assault and the school’s handling of it].”

Sulkowicz’s alleged attacker was one of the individuals named on the controversial “Rapists on Campus” list appearing this past May in random Columbia restrooms and classrooms. As I posted at the time, the list stirred a slew of ethical conundrums for the school’s student media. Sulkowicz says she was not part of that effort.

Her current effort — labeled by some as endurance performance art — is a response to what she has described as a troubling response by Columbia officials to her sexual assault allegations, including finding the alleged student rapist “not responsible” and allowing him to remain enrolled at Columbia.

As Sulkowicz wrote last spring in an essay for Time magazine headlined “My Rapist is Still on Campus”:

“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.”


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