Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz has been carrying a twin-sized mattress around campus as her senior thesis in performance art to protest that her rapist is still studying at the college. She calls it “Mattress Performance” or “Carry That Weight.” Sulkowicz has made it part of her daily routine to take her mattress everywhere she goes in order to expose her institution’s flaws and inadequacy; specifically centered on their lack of action regarding her sexual assault case.
While it should definitely not take these types of measures to bring light to an issue as serious as rape, this is just the type of performance piece to receive the attention of the media, students, faculty and general public. It is a protest that clearly depicts the notion that actions speak louder than words.
The physical aspect is enough to pique the curiosity of those who simply walk by Sulkowicz. She has made her intentions clear: to carry the weight of her own tragedy without asking for help, but accepting it from those who offer it. It’s a very avant-garde approach to a social issue that faces schools nationwide.
Sexual assault in college often ends with little to no punishment for the crime committed. Universities try to save their reputation by quieting issues of sexual assault. The school judiciary system tends to care more about the prestige of the school rather than the victim’s life.
Being that Columbia is one of the top schools in the nation, it’s understandable as to why it would want to put sensitive cases like this aside. The issue of rape, however, cannot be silenced. Students attend a university with confidence that said institution will protect and guide them to new intellectual heights.
Just recently, students of Columbia laid out about a dozen mattresses on campus in order to protest the school’s lack of concern for sexual assault issues. If laying out mattresses in the middle of campus is what has to be done, then so be it. No one should feel uncomfortable at their own university; a place which is supposedly a safe community for students to positively express themselves and be around other individuals who share similar interests and goals.
I believe safety is one of the defining factors that go into choosing a school. If I can’t feel comfortable in my own living environment, I will not live there. The fact that Columbia deemed the assailant as “not responsible” in Sulkowicz’s case is preposterous.
Institutions need to look at these cases from a different viewpoint. Instead of closing sexual assault cases and ignoring the victims' cries, colleges and universities should bring justice for the victims involved and ensure their students that cases like this one are not to be ignored. Students should be reassured that their safety––not numbers or statistics––is what really matters.