By Carina Calderón
Recently, a Columbia University student began a “Mattress Performance/Carry That Weight” piece after having been raped in her dorm room. The concept is that she will carry the mattress she was raped on around her campus to show the public that her most intimate space had been violated.
Not only does the mattress represent her struggle with her rapist, but it also represents others that have been victims of sexual assaults and have been ignored.
Columbia senior, Emma Sulkowicz was raped in her dorm room in August 2012. After talking to a few classmates who had experienced the same assault with the same man, she and her peers filed a police report on May 14. When there was no action taken regarding her case, she filed a complaint in April 2013. After six months, Columbia found the alleged rapist “not guilty.”
Twenty-two students joined Sulkowicz in filing a complaint against the college’s mishandling of their cases.
On September 12, roughly a dozen of these mattresses were placed around Columbia’s campus. For example, one mattress was covered in red tape that formed the words: “Stand with Survivors.”
Sulkowicz pledges that Columbia did not treat the case well and took inaccurate notes. Furthermore, she feels that the administration did not want to bring justice to her cause in hopes of avoiding negative attention from other schools. Another victim, Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, said that she felt the board meant to pass over the case.
“Their attitude isn’t ‘Let us address your needs as students.’ It’s ‘How do we mitigate this situation to protect our reputation,” Ridolfi-Starr told the magazine The Cut.
Sulkowicz also made her experience a part of her senior thesis and gained supporters through it. The motto of the group is “Red Tape won’t cover up rape.” Their goal is to inform the public on the injustice of Columbia University’s treatment of sexual assaults. Despite the message that Sulkowicz is trying to express, she does not want the public to just view her efforts as a simple protest.
“In the news, people have been calling my piece a protest, and just ignoring the fact it is not really a protest but a performance-art piece. Yes, I would like for my rapist to get kicked out of school, but I realize that the university is so stubborn that it may never happen,” Sulkowicz also said in an interview with The Cut.
Sulkowicz and numerous other rape survivors hope to bring about transparency in the college system. These individuals not only work to bring their cases to justice but to create a safer and equitable environment. No victim of sexual assaults or any other misdemeanor should remain silent; they feel that every injustice should be brought to light and dealt with.
Despite critics, Sulkowicz is strong-willed and waiting to see justice. Sulkowicz said to New York Magazine, “Silence has the rusty taste of shame. I will not be quiet.”