Emma Sulkowicz says she was raped in her own dorm bed by a classmate on the first day of her sophomore year of college. Since then, a substantial amount of her time at Columbia University has been spent trying to convince college administrators, police, and even friends that what happened to her really happened, that it was rape, and that her rapist deserves to be punished for what he did.
(Update: Read The Cut’s interview with Sulkowicz here.)
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.
“Every day, I am afraid to leave my room,” Sulkowicz wrote in Time in May. “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.”
Now a senior majoring in visual arts, Sulkowicz has devised a senior thesis rooted in performance art that will allow her to protest the fact that her rapist continues to study on campus. She has committed to carrying around a twin-size dorm mattress everywhere she goes on campus, to classes and appointments, “for as long as I attend the same school as my rapist.”
“I was raped in my own dorm bed, and since then that space has become fraught for me,” she says in a video about the piece, called Mattress Performance or Carry That Weight, published by the Columbia Spectator. “And I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there with me everywhere since then.”
In an interview with The Cut, Sulkowicz talks about how her performance has been going so far.