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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Weighting for It

<u’ve probably heard about “the mattress girl” by now. Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts major at Columbia University, says that she was raped on her own dorm bed in the beginning of her sophomore year. When she and two other female students reported that the same male student had assaulted them, the investigation and hearing led by university administrators and lice led the verdict of ‘not guilty’. In April, Sulkowicz and 23 other students filed a federal Title IX complaint against Columbia for allegedly mishandling sexual-assault cases.

However, Sulkowicz says that this project, which doubles as her senior thesis, is more of an endur ance art piece than a protest. The performance art requires that she carry a standard issue twin-size dorm mattress, identical to those slept on by college students across the country, wherever she goes on campus. “I was raped in my own dorm bed, and since then that space has become fraught for me,” she says about the piece, called Mattress Performance or Carry That Weight.

The responses have been mixed. Overwhelming support from other college students, both for her message and physically helping her carry the mattress, has been observed. Part of the reason this performance art piece is so powerful concerns the way it blurs the lines between private and public, and solitary and participatory. She said that she rarely walks very far without someone lending a hand and entering into “the space of performance.” However, the reporter response has been aggressive and overwhelming. “One guy, while I was carrying the mattress, he just opened up my backpack and threw his business card in, which was a real violation of my space and made me really upset and triggered a lot of memories of being raped.” And Columbia’s administration’s response? Radio silence.

The question left in the wake of the enormous amount of social media attention that Sulkowicz has garnered is: will mattresses really make colleges care about rape? Her art piece made waves at the exact time that universities started to reevaluate their policies on consent (California’s Yes Means Yes affirmative consent law) and assault (Obama’s amendment to the Clery Act for campus victims). In an essay by Sulkowicz in May about her experience dealing with Columbia University’s administration, she wrote: “They’re more concerned about their public image than keeping people safe.” Is her performance sufficient to drag what colleges have consistently swept under the rug out into the open? The test of time will tell, but as all great art does, Emma Sulkowicz’s endurance piece leaves us with questions yet to be answered.

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