See a Columbia Student Carry Her Mattress During Graduation to Protest Rape

No rest for art and activism at an Ivy League ceremony where the crowd applauded one young woman's stand against campus sexual assault.
May 19, 2015·
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer is TakePart's News Editor.

Emma Sulkowicz donned a cap and gown and carried a mattress across the stage at Columbia University's graduation on Tuesday, continuing a public protest of the administration's handling of her sexual assault allegations.

The visual arts major doesn't shake hands with the university officials who reached to congratulate her—a last rebuke—as she carries her extra long twin mattress across the stage with the help of a few friends in a video posted by the Columbia Daily Spectator. The crowd is heard cheering her on loudly.

For Sulkowicz, carrying the dorm mattress became her senior thesis—titled Carry That Weight—after campus administrators closed the complaint in 2013 without faulting her alleged attacker. She told the campus newspaper last year that after reporting a sexual assault her sophomore year she told and retold the details of the painful event that took place in her dorm bed to administrators, and when they did nothing she went to media.

"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," she told the Columbia Daily Spectator. She vowed to keep carrying the mattress until her attacker was off campus—be it via expulsion or graduation.

Activists say one in four women experiences sexual assault during her time in college, and Sulkowicz is one of hundreds of young women who have called for better official responses to rape allegations in recent years. Dozens of Title IX complaints have been filed with federal education officials, calling for intervention where campus administrators have fumbled.

The student who Sulkowicz accused of assault, Paul Nungesser, has since filed a lawsuit against their university for allowing harassment—and he also graduated Tuesday, according to Jezebel.

Ahead of Tuesday's ceremony it was unclear if Sulkowicz would be allowed to carry the mattress, and students were emailed to say they "should not bring into the ceremonial area large objects."

But the defiant protest was in step with the commencement address of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who told grads, "Never stop being academics, and never stop being activists."