Opinion | Op-eds

Help carry the weight together

Every morning for the foreseeable future, Emma Sulkowicz will wake up in her dorm room and prepare to haul a mattress. She will go through a standard morning routine, and then, along with her books, computer, pens, and pencils, Emma will carry a mattress wherever she goes on campus.

This is both an act of protest and her senior visual arts thesis. So long as she attends the same university as her alleged rapist, Emma will lug this mattress around campus. But it’s unlikely this project will end before her graduation due to the University’s negligence.

There is no need to rehash here the details of Emma’s ordeal, the University’s continued foot-dragging, the callousness of NYPD officers and disciplinary board members who reviewed her case, or the dramatic, but unsurprising, spread of a collective consciousness about the need for action against sexual violence on college campuses across the country.

What is urgently needed are the helping hands of all members of the University community—students, faculty, and staff—to help Emma carry this weight.

Help her carry this weight as a survivor, ally, supporter, activist, artist, advocate, or friend.

Help her carry this weight as an act of solidarity with the countless survivors of sexual assault in our community.

Help her carry this weight as an act of collective protest against our administration’s sexual assault policies.

One of Emma’s rules of engagement states that she will not ask for help to carry the mattress, but that she can accept help if it is offered. I’m encouraging anyone and everyone who is a part of our community to engage in helping Emma. I ask this as a classmate of Emma’s, but not as a friend. I hadn’t even spoken a word to Emma before this week. But I’m asking because it’s important that all members of the University community recognize and respond to the ways in which sexual violence and rape culture impact us all.

So when you see her carrying the mattress around campus, be proactive and offer to help her carry it. Even if she is already being helped by other students and members of our community, pitch in too.

Student groups can and should also get involved. No Red Tape Columbia has agreed to support these efforts, and I hope more student organizations throw their support behind this cause.

These larger organized “collective carries” can dramatically transform part of her performance art into a collaborative protest. I hope other students will join me in helping Emma carry her mattress whether it’s from the gates of Columbia to the gates of Barnard, or from John Jay to Low Library—the center of administrative inaction.

Doing so will show our administration that we stand united in carrying this burden and working toward a safer, healthier, and more respectful campus community.  

No matter who you are at Columbia, you are affected by and subject to the flawed sexual assault policies currently in place. Until these policies are changed to provide necessary resources for survivors and fair, transparent disciplinary consequences for perpetrators, we cannot rest easy.

Until these policies are changed, Emma Sulkowicz will continue to wake up in her dorm room and prepare to carry a mattress.

The author is a Barnard College senior majoring in visual arts. She is the creator of carryingtheweighttogether.com, a website to facilitate collective carrying of the mattress.

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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Anonymous posted on

Please stop with the "university's negligence." It went to a univeristy tribunal, and he was found not guilty. It went to the city courts, and he was found not guilty. Enough is enough. No one believed her. Time to get a life and move on.

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Anonymous posted on

People who are thumps downing this comment are either ignorant, or trying to deny the truth.

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anonymous posted on

You are absolutely RIGHT - but what can you do - a lot of people are simply not rational and do not care about the facts and truth. It's all about group think and desire to live in a "safe" environment of the intellectually dormant.

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Anonymous posted on

Please stop with the "university's negligence." It went to a univeristy tribunal, and he was found not guilty. It went to the city courts, and he was found not guilty. Enough is enough. No one believed her. Time to get a life and move on.

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anonymous posted on

NO! Enough is enough! She shouldn't create a new victimhood identity (or she has already!) and move on. The case was investigated by the Columbia and by the police and they all dismissed it, and now she's pissed off and wants us to believe her and ruin this poor guy's life based on her word alone. I am sorry but why should we believe her? Just because she is a woman? How about this guy's life and his trauma having to go through all this? If you think his life doesn't matter, why is that, and HOW DO YOU KNOW that we're talking about rape here? Seriously, SPECTATOR - enough with covering of this story!!! (and you're not allowing people to click "thumbs up" on comments that are against this rape story - shame on you! Just allow people say what they want to say - both sides !)

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anonymous posted on

the time will tell that this is a wrong way for her to attract attention

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mmmblockinoutthehaters posted on

Thank you for setting this up, Allie, and I hope our community steps up to carry the weight together.

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anonymous posted on

she'll fins a few loonies to carry the weight with her

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Anonymous posted on

Sure is /TheRedPill in here

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UGH posted on

I was just thinking that.... it seems like whenever there's a story about this case, all the crazies crawling out of the dark holes of the internet to comment on articles about a school they don't even attend.

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UGH posted on

I was just thinking that.... it seems like whenever there's a story about this case, all the crazies crawling out of the dark holes of the internet to comment on articles about a school they don't even attend.

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anonymous posted on

And what makes you think I don't attend Columbia - just because I think this whole thing is crazy? Don't you know that actually majority of students think that, and are fed up with the story? And what school do you attend and why should I believe you? You think if someone doesn't think like you - it's immediately "the other"!

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Anonymous posted on

Let her carry her mattress into the local police precinct. If she can convince them to even arrest the alleged rapist, I am sure there will be a mass of "rule of law" supporters willing to help her carry it back out.

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Anonymous posted on

I'm moved by the solidarity she draws. However, when your obsessions don't let you function normally, its time to look for psychiatric help, and it looks like she's reached that stage. All this hype won't help her.

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Anonymous posted on

have you ever heard of post traumatic stress disorder?

do you know what causes it?

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MNf fX posted on

I agree with you. That requires psychiatric help.

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Anonymous posted on

I'm moved by the solidarity she draws. However, when your obsessions don't let you function normally, its time to look for psychiatric help, and it looks like she's reached that stage. All this hype won't help her.

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FRIEND OF EMMA'S posted on

HEY ALLIE--

Sorry for the caps. That was aggressive. It's just hard to be heard through all the trolling.

What I meant to say is thanks for writing this. I consider myself a friend of Emma's and had thought about writing something similar but I think it is infinitely more compelling coming from someone who doesn't necessarily know her but is just a deeply good and compassionate person. That's you :)

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alumnus posted on

Ok - Stand for something but stop brown nosing people. It's dark in there.

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Anonymous posted on

I love the assumption that the court of law is always 100% correct and that wealth & connections do not play a role in the outcome. I also find the victim blaming to be quite fascinating.

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Anonymous posted on

Court of Law is not 100% correct but the US has the best system in the world. If you are a victim of a crime, report it when it happens. According to her CU fencing profile she is from New York City and attended the Dalton School. Appears to have her own share of wealth and connections.

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Anonymous posted on

and how do we know she's a victim? because she says so? How is this victim blaming? If I said I was raped, would you believe me, and if yes, why?

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Anonymous posted on

Why do you assume she is correct? Based on her word? Shouldn't you listen to all the facts before hanging someone? Two courts heard her word and did not believe her. Yes, I do give much more weight to the courts than her word.

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Gabrielle Balkan posted on

Part of the problem is the university's improper handling of the case. Regardless of your stance on this particular case and its aftermath, students should unite in demanding that their university follow proper procedures for all that happens on campus, especially when a crime is suspected of being committed.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/04/us/fight-against-sex-crimes-holds-colleges-to-account.html

http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/america-tonight/articles/2014/5/19/why-college-rapevictimsdonatgotothepolice.html

http://www.thenation.com/article/181420/columbia-university-email-reveals-disdain-anti-rape-campus-movement

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alumnus posted on

She is UNLAWFULLY harassing an innocent guy . HER performance is HARASSMENT disguised as art. And you can shout from the top of your lungs that is not true but you're immature and irresponsible if you think what she's doing is not borderline insane and a desperate cry for attention.

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Anonymous posted on

You guys are holding back. Let me help. The guy should not be allowed to have peace of mind about this for the rest of his life.

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Gabrielle Balkan, BC ℅ 1997 posted on

Excellent piece. Especially, "No matter who you are at Columbia, you are affected by and subject to the flawed sexual assault policies currently in place. Until these policies are changed to provide necessary resources for survivors and fair, transparent disciplinary consequences for perpetrators, we cannot rest easy."

I have just written the following letter to CU Admissions and urged my former classmates to do the same:

Dear Columbia University Admissions,

I graduated from Barnard College in 1997 with a major in English and my teaching certificate. I loved my time at Barnard. My father received his PhD from Columbia in 1986.

I am an active participant in Barnard College alumni events and have mentored several students in the publishing field over the years. I am an active participant in both my high school alma matter and the high school where two of my parents teach, speaking in high schools to rising seniors regarding their college choices.

As an author and editor, I speak to students around the country regarding their futures in writing, publishing, and education. As class parent for my childrens' school, I speak with fellow parents regularly about education.

Up until now, I have promoted Barnard College and Columbia University.

I will no longer promote Columbia University or any school that tolerates, let alone condones, sexual assault.

I will not allow my two children to consider Columbia University or any school that tolerates, let alone condones, sexual assault.

I will urge my fellow parents to not allow their children to consider Columbia University or any school that tolerates, let alone condones, sexual assault.

I will urge my own parents, two beloved and respected high school teachers, to discourage their students from considering Columbia University or any school that tolerates, let alone condones, sexual assault.

I wil urge my father, a respected Professor of Chemistry, to discourage his students from considering Columbia University or any school that tolerates, let alone condones, sexual assault.

I am passionate about this issue and will speak frequently and loudly about Columbia's misguided stance until the university takes significant, improved, and active steps to

• diminish sex crimes
• investigate sex crimes
• collaborate with victims of sex crimes
• provide resources to students on sex crime prevention and related issues
• provide excellent training to administrators involved with sex crimes

Sincerely,

Gabrielle (Polt) Balkan
Barnard College, class of 1997

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Sonia posted on

Dear Gabrielle and others who are not (or no longer) at CU. You have no idea what this is about so please stay away. Columbia DOES NOT TOLLERATE crimes of any sort. This particular case has been judged and examined by both CU and the police and they found nothing. So, please, focus on REAL VICTIMS of sexual violence and those who have evidence to prove it. Do not blame Columbia.

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Anonymous posted on

1. Knowingly, Columbia University admitted an applicant cheater who is a nephew of the Kazakh dictator and protected him from investigation. 2. Columbia University protects (and does not dismiss) a professor who told his (foreign) graduate student that the financial aid was conditional on sex between them. 3. Columbia University does not pass on and facilitate rape allegations to the NYPD, but instead hogs the cases and then sit on them, so that the rapists will be protected. 4. Columbia University paid for lawyers to represent football player Chad Washington, who assaulted another Columbia student and tweeted racist remarks (and therefore was arrested for hate based crime). 5. Columbia University had former president of Iran as a guest speaker - a guest of Bollinger himself. 6. Columbia University only feigns sanctions against a drug dealing frat, only just to punch process tickets and then to return the brownstone building back to them. In any case, here is the punchline, Sonia: Columbia University tolerates your criminal stupidity.

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Anonymous posted on

1. Knowingly, Columbia University admitted an applicant cheater who is a nephew of the Kazakh dictator and protected him from investigation. 2. Columbia University protects (and does not dismiss) a professor who told his (foreign) graduate student that the financial aid was conditional on sex between them. 3. Columbia University does not pass on and facilitate rape allegations to the NYPD, but instead hogs the cases and then sit on them, so that the rapists will be protected. 4. Columbia University paid for lawyers to represent football player Chad Washington, who assaulted another Columbia student and tweeted racist remarks (and therefore was arrested for hate based crime). 5. Columbia University had former president of Iran as a guest speaker - a guest of Bollinger himself. 6. Columbia University only feigns sanctions against a drug dealing frat, only just to punch process tickets and then to return the brownstone building back to them. In any case, here is the punchline, Sonia: Columbia University tolerates your criminal stupidity.

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Gabrielle Balkan posted on

Hi Sonia, My aim in commenting is not to take anything away from your experiences as a current student or claim particular ownership on this situation, but rather share my voice as a former student, and as a parent of a potential student. I feel very connected to the situation, as an alum, a woman, a parent, a human.

As I mentioned in my letter, I adored my time at BC/CU. So much that I visit the campus often for events (dances, lectures, etc) and stay involved with current students through mentorship programs. This is in part because I received mentoring and support while I was an undergraduate, and would like to continue that tradition.

I have colleagues in the administration at BC and several other universities. I have worked in fundraising and alumni communications in other NYC schools, and understand the significant role an alma matter plays in an alums life. These are just some of the reasons I am compelled to comment on the current situation at CU.

As an eventual graduate, you might come to feel the same connection I do, both to the environment that perhaps helped shaped the way you think and to the institution from which you earned your degree. I have an invested interest in my degree holding significant weight. I want the university to succeed so my degree continues to serve me. I want to see the issues that I worked towards as an undergraduate continue to improve.

It seems many on this thread are yearning to share their thoughts on the situation, on the many unfairnesses that loom, on both sides of the issue. Opening dialogue, inviting discussion, sharing viewpoints can only serve to further your position. I wouldn't be so quick to shut out others.

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Alumnus posted on

You need to inform yourself. Columbia University updated its sexual assault policies this summer based on recommendations to all universities from the US federal government. If you can't recommend Columbia, you can't recommend any college or university. Your letter makes you look reactionary and foolish.

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Get better information posted on

I'd agree with you IF Columbia tolerated or condoned sexual assault, but that's definitely NOT the case. You'd better get informed about what are the policies in this regard.

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Anonymous posted on

Please forward to Ms. Emma Sulkowicz. Dear Ms. Sulkowicz, I just wanted you to know that I am praying for you and for justice to prevail very soon. This burden is too heavy for anyone, let alone someone so young who should be rejoicing in life. I came across this scripture just after I read the many articles about your plight. I felt strongly that I should forward to you. I hope you find a glimmer of comfort from it. Psalm 91:4 "He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler." Emma, His love will not fail you. Sincerely, Jo Brown

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anonymous posted on

Go home to your god, Joe.

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Anonymous posted on

It is really encouraging to see bravery like hers (Emma Sulkowicz).

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anonymous posted on

you're easy to encourage

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anonymous posted on

NOPE! We are all responsible for our own actions. How was her situation in that room indefensible? She had no voice? She had no strength to file a complaint the following day? week? month? year? two years? So she can show those signs of forcible penetration, strangulation and all other things she fabricated and added to her story. Sorry all of you who are suffering with her - I don't buy it one second. But you go ahead and carry her mattress for her.

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Help -- seeking the facts posted on

The op-ed states that the University was "negligen[t]" and engaged in "foot dragging". Can someone explain how the University was negligent and dilatory? The author of the op-ed and some of the commentators are criticizing the University, but it's not clear to me why. From what I read, the complaint was investigated and reviewed by at least two committees. After the University committees investigated and considered the complaint initially and then on appeal, the University committees didn't find support for Sulkowicz' claims. Why was that process negligent or foot dragging? I'm just trying to get past the hyperbole and conclusory comments to follow the actual story. Presumably, most of the readers are Ivy League students/graduates so I don't believe that I'm asking too much if you can refer to factual citations to the narrative instead of reciting hollow statements that appear to be facts. I trust that the Spectator editors would appreciate that too. Thanks in advance.

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Anonymous posted on

This person Emma is an opportunist and seeking attention. She admitted to having consensual sex twice before this alleged rape. Activism turned art? An endurance art piece?...our intimate space...if we don't want to deal with anyone at that moment. She does not deserve the attention.

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Rudie Weatherman, GS '07 posted on

I agree with everything about this op-ed except calling the alleged victim a "survivor," which presumes that the accused is guilty. I don't say this lightly, but subverting the burden of proof is a greater evil than promoting rape culture.

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Lucy posted on

As a Columbia student I am proud of Emma for refusing to be shamed or silenced, as are all of my friends here. Some of the people on this thread are insinuating that her story is old news or that the Columbia community doesn't stand behind her; that's not true at all. Sexual assault on and off campus won't go away on its own, and if you're actually making fun of Emma for trying to bring visibility and support to this issue then you're part of the problem.

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help -- seeking the facts posted on

So, no one responded to my questions. What, if anything, did the University do that wasn't fair? What should the University have done differently? Gabrielle Balkan seems to assert that the process was tainted. Why? Please be specific. I'm really trying to understand what went wrong. Everyone wants to take sides with the outcome, but no one is really offering any information on why the process was unfair. It's really odd. As far as I can tell, the process was fair. There wasn't any inside influence. The facts were reviewed closely. The witnesses were interviewed. The evidence was considered. Isn't that what we should all support? What am I missing? I'm really not interested in folks weighing in on what they think the result should have been when they aren't privy to the facts. Looking for informed responses; not reflexive replies that are based on what you think should be the case.

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help -- seeking the facts posted on

So, no one responded to my questions. What, if anything, did the University do that wasn't fair? What should the University have done differently? Gabrielle Balkan seems to assert that the process was tainted. Why? Please be specific. I'm really trying to understand what went wrong. Everyone wants to take sides with the outcome, but no one is really offering any information on why the process was unfair. It's really odd. As far as I can tell, the process was fair. There wasn't any inside influence. The facts were reviewed closely. The witnesses were interviewed. The evidence was considered. Isn't that what we should all support? What am I missing? I'm really not interested in folks weighing in on what they think the result should have been when they aren't privy to the facts. Looking for informed responses; not reflexive replies that are based on what you think should be the case.

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Gabrielle Balkan posted on

Good for you, "Seeking Facts" - glad to see that you seem interested in deepening your understanding of the event. That is my position, too. And much of my information on this situation came from national newspapers, such as The New York Times, whose reported on the case. I've linked some of those articles below.

Based on written accounts of how the case was handled, this is what I have understood:

• campus counseling services pressure students not to report sexual assault or harassment
• disciplinary proceedings are handled by people ill-trained for the job
• accusers are given less leeway than are the accused

Here are a few of the articles I read
• http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/25/nyregion/accusations-over-assault-at-columbia.html
• http://www.thenation.com/article/181420/columbia-university-email-reveals-disdain-anti-rape-campus-movement
• http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/03/emma-sulkowicz-mattress-rape-columbia-university_n_5755612.html
• http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/04/us/fight-against-sex-crimes-holds-colleges-to-account.html
• http://america.aljazeera.com/watch/shows/america-tonight/articles/2014/5/19/why-college-rapevictimsdonatgotothepolice.html
• https://www.notalone.gov/

If all of this is still feeling a little muddled, I can further annotate the articles.

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kev posted on

I'm glad she's standing up and doing something to bring attention to her plight and the plights of others, but I'm not sure carrying a twin-sized mattress everywhere on a crowded college campus, up and down stairwells full of students, across busy streets, and through doors of varying size is the safest way to go about it. Let alone the fact your gonna get that thing flight, and unsanitary, as well as giving douchebags a giant target for vandalism. But hey...it's effeftive.

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Anonymous posted on

This comment has been removed in line with Spectator's comment policy.

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Anonymous posted on

This comment has been removed in line with Spectator's comment policy.

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Anonymous posted on

People are entitled to disagree and express their viewpoints, but not to insult. These two messages should be deleted.

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Anonymous posted on

My Satire might be considered your insult. Satire is free speech. Sounds like Spectator is run by Hitler's Golden Rule: Praise only those holding Power!!

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Anonymous posted on

It's not OK to insult those who make news? News organizations - including Spectator - insulted Bush "W" all the time. Now Spectator takes the high road? Bunch of lowlifes calling themselves journalists.

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Anonymous posted on

People are entitled to disagree and express their viewpoints, but not to insult. These two messages should be deleted.

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anonymous posted on

Don't worry - Spec has already arranged that no one can click "thumbs up" on those messages - only thumbs down. I don't like that "slut" talk but people should be able to express themselves. Good job, Spectator for manipulating, yet again, our comments and votes. you don't practice journalism - you practice activism.

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Anonymous posted on

Satire is free speech. Especially at Columbia free speech ought to be upheld. Communist editors prevail.

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Anonymous posted on

Emma is a rich kid - attended Dalton - who's now getting a great kick splashing her name in media while trashing the distinguished nature of Columbia. She needs psychiatric help. Columbia ought to suspend her for generating negative student relations and ruining Columbia's name in higher education.

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Anonymous posted on

Does the mattress have clean sheets? Is there any sperm there? Asking as this is a health hazard if she is allegedly bringing this possibly fetid soiled object with her everywhere she goes.

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Anonymous posted on

Suspend Emma. Get Columbia back on its feet!!!

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Anonymous posted on

If I was raped like that i would just call some friends to beat the guy up, cause obvious the sexist court will never do that for me. But im just a stupid american who grew up believin in this eye for an eye thing.

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Jyl Anais Ion posted on

The students helping to carry the mattress aren't just helping to carry the weight of Emma Sulkowicz's rape. They are also helping carry the burden of rapes that have occurred across the country. Thank you to *all* of you who have helped and a special thank you to Emma Sulkowicz. May she be granted the justice she deserves.

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