Weighty Art

by Dish Staff

A Columbia student and alleged rape survivor has come up with an powerful way to dramatize the aftermath her assault:

[Emma] Sulkowicz has devised a senior thesis rooted in performance art that will allow her to protest the fact that her rapist continues to study on campus. She has committed to carrying around a twin-size dorm mattress everywhere she goes on campus, to classes and appointments, “for as long as I attend the same school as my rapist.”

“I was raped in my own dorm bed, and since then that space has become fraught for me,” she says in a video about the piece, called Mattress Performance or Carry That Weightpublished by the Columbia Spectator. “And I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there with me everywhere since then.”

Katie Van Syckle interviews Sulkowicz:

How’s it going?
Rough. I just never really anticipated how big this would be, and I thought I was prepared, but I just wasn’t.

In terms of the response?
Physically, I’m really sore. The reporter response has been really aggressive and not what I expected. It is a sensitive subject, and I can’t be accosted in the middle of campus to talk about it. 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.

Update from a reader:

I was surprised that you referred to Emma Sulkowicz as a “rape survivor”. I have noticed that several other media outlets have done the same. But her alleged attacker, whose name is readily available online, has never been convicted of the rape. There were only two people in the room when the incident happened, and they are giving completely polarized versions of what occurred.

There is a lot of murkiness in the story: she didn’t report the alleged rape until months later, at the urging of friends. Her allegations are being leveled at an ex-boyfriend (of course, boyfriends can rape, but the history of an ongoing relationship complicates the objective evaluation of the two opposing versions to the story, and of the dynamic in the room that day). And finally, the people who were charged with evaluating the two versions, i.e., the administration of Columbia University, came to the conclusion that there were not grounds for pursuing the charges. I understand that law enforcement officials came to the same conclusion.

In the absence of all the facts, my emotions tell me that Ms. Sulkowicz did indeed suffer being raped, and her story makes me feel terrible. But it’s important to recognize that due process must be followed before we tag somebody a “rapist”. Only Ms. Sulkowicz and the accused know what happened in that bedroom that day; you do not. She can refer to him as a “rapist”, but you, or I, or anyone else, cannot, until due process has been followed and the accused has been found guilty of what remains an allegation.

Thanks for the context; we updated the post with “alleged”.