Columbia Student Carries Mattress as Thesis Statement About Rape

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by Sasha Mazikins

One fourth of incoming freshmen will be sexually harassed by the end of their college experience. The Washington Post states that five percent of about 1,570 colleges and universities with 1,000 or more students received at least one report of a forcible sex offense on campus in 2012.

Emma Sulkowicz was assaulted in her dorm room on her first day of sophomore year in college. The case against her molester was dismissed by the administrators at Columbia, and two other women claimed to be raped by the same man.

news sexualharassment sashamazikins photobymorriganmccarthyforellemagazineVisual Arts Senior Sulkowicz decided to carry a mattress everywhere that she goes until her alleged rapist gets kicked off of campus. The art piece is called “Carry That Weight.”

The mattress weighs about 50 pounds, and she carries it with her everywhere that she goes on campus.

Sulkowicz got the idea after studying at the Yale Norfolk Artist Residency during the summer after her junior year. She was working on a project, a video, of her carrying a mattress out of a room. Sulkowicz states that the image stayed with her, and that is what inspired her to do this bigger project.

“I think it was because I was raped in my own bed- it was a place associated with a lot of pain and hurt. The idea of me having to carry around my pain everywhere I go was reflected in the bringing the mattress,” says Sulkowicz, to the Today Show.

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Sulkowicz does not view the act of carrying her mattress as a protest, but as art. Quite a lot of people have interpreted it the wrong way- as a protest. It serves the purpose of raising awareness, and getting her alleged rapist out of Columbia, as well as being her senior thesis statement for her art project.

“A few men came up to me and said ‘Oh, I just want to lie down on your mattress,’ but that’s the opposite reason of why I’m carrying it.” said Sulkowicz to Eun Kyung Kim, journalist for The Today Show.

Sulkowicz is stunned by the media attention, and press that the statement has brought to her, “I’m glad that people are moved by it, which is really important to me. I think a lot of news stations have been portraying it as a protest, my protest, but to me, it’s my artwork and something I’ve been considering an art piece. I saw one debate recently that Dr. Drew held on his TV show, where one man was arguing that I had artistic motivations in this piece. I was like, “Well, yeah — I’m making an art piece and that’s the whole point,” said Sulkowicz to Kim. Her statement is more focused towards the administrators at Columbia. “It’s given me a voice, but what is the use of a voice when the ears you’re speaking to are completely shut?” says Sulkowicz to Sara Bliss, journalist for Yahoo News. “I realize that the university is extremely stubborn and they may never move a muscle.”

The physical impact of carrying the mattress is another burden on Sulkowicz, but luckily fellow Columbia students have been helping her carry the mattress. A student council held a rally this past Friday to raise awareness to end sexual assaults, and many students brought their own mattresses.

Sulkowicz hopes to not only raise awareness to her case, but to others too. She would like to change Columbia’s policies, such as reopening previous cases, and to catch the other alleged rapists on campus.

Her project is a simple statement with a complex message. No one is completely safe from being sexually harassed, and every upcoming college student should know Sulkowicz’s message. When something like this happens to someone, it haunts them and they must carry it with them everywhere that they go, so be careful and cautious in college.

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