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Sarah Frost / Columbia Daily Spectator

Emma Sulkowicz, CC ’15, carries her mattress as part of a performance art piece to symbolize the burden she bears.

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, a website to facilitate collective carrying of the mattress.

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact

sexual assault protest performance art emma sulkowicz mattress Title IX
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