Students help rape survivor carry her mattress around campus until her abuser is expelled

Columbia University students are rallying around Emma Sulkowicz to raise awareness about sexual assault

Published September 12, 2014 3:47PM (EDT)

Emma Sulkowicz
Emma Sulkowicz

As part of her undergraduate thesis project, Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz has vowed to carry her twin-size dorm mattress with her everywhere she goes until the student who allegedly raped her is removed from campus. Sulkowicz, who was raped in her dorm room at the beginning of her sophomore year of college, made headlines earlier in the month for her newest protest against her school's ineffective handling of sexual assault cases. Now, other students are helping her raise awareness about the crisis on America's college campuses.

The rules Sulkowicz has established for her performance piece, known as "Mattress Performance" or "Carry That Weight," dictate that she cannot ask for help carrying the mattress -- but she can accept help if it is offered. In response, a number of Sulkowicz's fellow students have rallied around her, and are helping her bear the physical manifestation of her burden. Several Barnard students have organized a group specifically to help Sulkowicz carry her mattress each day. Their first "collective carry" was a success, as the Columbia Spectator reports:

The collective carry was organized by Carrying The Weight Together, a group of students and alumni who want, according to the group's site, "to help Emma carry the weight of the physical mattress, give her and other survivors of sexual assault in our community a powerful symbol of our support and solidarity, and show the administration that we stand united in demanding better policies designed to end sexual violence and rape culture on campus."

"When I heard about Emma's thesis project, I had a really strong reaction and felt I understood what Emma was doing as an artist and wanted to be in solidarity with her and other survivors," Allie Rickard, BC '15 and one of the organizers of Carrying The Weight Together, said. "I think there's been a general feeling from people among both schools that there's a great sense of support for Emma and other survivors and this would be great for people to get involved on a daily basis, and just show solidarity, and give Emma and other survivors support."

The group is determined to continue the collective carries for as long as Sulkowicz continues the project -- or, for as long as her rapist still attends the school.

By Jenny Kutner

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