Sunday at the Brooklyn Museum, Columbia’s Emma Sulkowicz talks about her mattress-carrying protest

emma sulkowicz
She’s leaving the mattress at home, this time. via The Columbia Spectator

Sexual assault and rape on college campuses, and college administrations’ response to it, is about as hot-button an issue as there is at the moment. Among those keeping the conversation going is Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz, who is very literally dragging her experience into the open, by carrying a mattress around campus until her alleged rapist is expelled. It’s part of a performance art piece for her senior thesis that she’s calling “Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight).”

You may have read about Sulkowicz any number of places, most notably in a profile by New York Times art critic Roberta Smith, who talked with her about the senior thesis, and will now continue the conversation with Sulkowicz at the Brooklyn Museum this Sunday at 2pm.

In September 2014, Sulkowicz, a visual arts major, began carrying a mattress (the same model as those in Columbia dorm rooms, an extra long twin, weighing 50 pounds) around campus. This was in response to the man who allegedy assaulted Sulkowicz during consensual sex that turned violent being found “not responsible” in a hearing in front of the Columbia administration.

She then filed a federal complaint (Title IX) against Columbia for mishandling of the case, yet the accused remains on campus. By her own self-imposed rules for “Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight),” she must have the mattress with her at all times on campus and may not request help, but can accept help carrying the mattress if it is offered. She has committed to continue carrying the mattress on campus until the alleged rapist is disciplined.

At the conversation at the Brooklyn Museum, Smith and Sulkowicz will discuss her experiences carrying the mattress around campus. The event is free with Museum admission, a suggested donation of $16.


  1. “She then filed a federal complaint (Title IX) against Columbia for mishandling of the case, yet the accused remains on campus.” – Uhhh, yeah because the “accused” has rights in America. I guess she never read “The Crucible” but she probably should.

  2. Margaret Bortner

    Yes, he absolutely has rights, and I don’t think anyone is arguing that he doesn’t. That is why she is still working for a fair trial and decision to be made.

    But, I will add, I would guess you’ve never been raped and therefore don’t know the experience of seeing your rapist on a daily basis.

    • Margaret Bortner

      And it’s extremely unfair to equate this to a witch trial. He was one person put on trial, and hopefully we can at least agree that rapists are very real, and witches are not.

    • Can we also agree that women make up rape allegations? Hasn’t the Rolling Stone article taught us anything?
      Duke University, Heidi Jones (the channel 7 weather anchor) and now Lena Durham is backing away from her story.

      There will be no criminal charges in this case, that’s pretty clear. The “trial” that you are talking about would be something of a kangaroo court run by the university where the standard of proof is way lower than “beyond a reasonable doubt”. No jury, no defense attorney, limited discovery.

  3. Margaret Bortner

    Are you serious right now? Fake rape allegations or whether or not there will be another trial aren’t even relevant to this article. But in response, no, I can’t deny that women (and men) have created false rape allegations, but I invite you to look at those numbers, compared to the thousands of women and men who are too scared/confused/ashamed to ever mention there rape to anyone. This article is about a brave performance art piece and the woman who decided to use her violent rape and create something from the experience.

    • That point of view presumes that her allegations are true.
      What if they aren’t? What IF she is lying?
      Can you imagine being the student that she is attempting to force out of college?
      His identity is probably known by other students.
      He has what can be called a crazy woman publicly harassing him.
      Again, What IF she is lying?
      This is not the way to handle issues like this.
      We have a legal justice system. Its not perfect. But the solution isn’t to take the law into your own hands and attempt to force someone out of the college that he has every right to attend.

      • Margaret Bortner

        Sure. And again, I’m not denying that he has rights (and his name is public. I’ll refrain from naming him here but it’s easily searchable on the internet).

        People who file false rape charges are criminals, not only for the lies they tell but because it takes credibility away from real victims and causes them to not want to come forward t all.

        However, it is my OPINION that Emma is not lying because: 1. Multiple other women have made similar, completely independent claims against the same guy; 2.) I don’t think she would voluntarily carry a 50 pound mattress everywhere she goes if she didn’t have something she cared passionately about to make a statement on and bring to justice; and 3.) Instead of taking any steps to defend himself since this has become public, the accused has instead continued to harass her on campus, in at least one public instance witnessed by professors and students.

        Again, it’s all my opinion. And you’re welcome to yours as well.

        • 1. Have those women being cross examined by his defense attorney? No. Remember Bill Clinton, how many woman accused him of rape?

          2. Irrelevant. Lots of passionate people lie. Remember the Goodie Proctor!

          3. He doesn’t have to defend himself, in America there is presumption of innocence. As for any alleged incident, again, why didn’t she go to the police? If there is collaboration as you say she could get a charge on harassment or file a domestic violence restraining order. But there probably is NOTHING so she doesn’t take it to court.

  4. Margaret Bortner

    1. Bill Clinton was the president. What does she have to gain by accusing some guy no one even knows about?

    2. Goodie Proctor was threatened to say what she said… doesn’t make it okay, just sayin’.

    3. How do you know she didn’t go to the police?

    • 1. You are missing the point, highly public incidents draw in people who are less than reliable. Look at all the women who came out of the woodwork with Bill Clinton AFTER he was President. You’re saying some unnamed women are saying that this is his pattern? Who are these women? Have they been subjected to scrutiny to see if they are credible and not just loons are people who are sympathetic to this girl? btw, have any of her ex-boyfriends been interviewed to see if she has a pattern of behavior along the lines of lying?
      3. If she did go to the police there wasn’t enough to file charges. Furthermore if it happened on campus and there are witnesses Columbia’s system would have handled it and again he would have almost certainly gotten kicked off campus if he had harassed her in front of witnesses. The standard of proof is “Preponderance of the Evidence”.

      Again, can you say that there is NO reasonable doubt here?
      She slept with him once. Ok
      Then the next time she said it was rape.
      No witnesses, No hospital report, nothing except her word against his.
      Would you actually put someone in prison for 10+ years on the basis of that!

      • Margaret Bortner

        Of course I don’t know the answers to those things, but neither do you. So just as I have no absolute proof that he’s guilty, you have no absolute proof that he’s innocent. I believe in “innocent until proven guilty” but I’m also obligated to believe that someone who claims to be a victim of a violent crime, is a victim. I think you’re the one missing the point, which is, “hey, this thing is happening at The Brooklyn Museum this weekend! It’s free with Museum admission!”

        Yes, overall I’m siding with the alleged victim, but my article wasn’t about that. I totally understand your points that he COULD be innocent and there’s no physical evidence, but all the same I’m a little disturbed by someone siding with an alleged rapist, having no proof of this guy’s innocence. But I don’t know you and that’s your business. Good day to you.

        • i think greg’s point is that out justice system is based on a principle of “innocent unless proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” That is a bedrock principle of American jurisprudence precisely because it can sometimes be very easy to identify with a person who claims to be the victim of a crime, but our system is reduced to something less than it is when people assume a suspect is guilty because of the compassion we feel for the afflicted. If there is no evidence presented in a legal setting where the rules of criminal procedure and evidence are fairly applied, that might be unfair or even a failure on the part of law enforcement, but it does not mean that the suspect is guilty.

      • David Colon

        A way to definitely make people more comfortable coming forward with sexual assault allegations and not silencing them is to make sure you investigate the lives of the people doing the accusing. After all, we do that with so many other crimes.

  5. Margaret Bortner

    I think everyone is missing what I’m actually saying here. Emma’s alleged rapist might be guilty, he might not be. I think he is, but my opinion doesn’t matter. I’m just pointing out that none of us has the evidence, one way or another. Unfortunately, there often isn’t hard evidence in rape cases and I think it’s a shame that too many rapists aren’t convicted. But I am not, by any means, saying this guy is definitively guilty. I am not sentencing him, or condemning him, or anything like that. I’m making my own case for the alleged victim that yes, may be flimsy, but we have to look at both sides. Which we have done, so thank you for your input. I believe in “innocent until proven guilty” and also believe that too many innocent people do go to prison, are even put to death for crimes they didn’t commit. I don’t want this guy to be convicted of anything without a fair trial, but that’s all Emma wants, a fair trial.

    • Peter

      No, that’s not what she wants – she decided not pursue her accusation with the judicial system, instead she decided to go public about it and defame this guy wherever she can. She has decided against a fair trial and went to the court of public opinion which is never fair.

  6. SaraBethK

    Wow! Here is a woman who didn’t have to provide the world with one single proof that the guy who was found NOT guilty by Columbia and the Police, raped her. As long as we’re sufficiently emotional about the issue, we’re so ready to throw Due Process out the window. No, she is not “still working on a fair trial” – She refused to pursue the case with the DA because “that would take nine months”, and she has more important things to do. At the end of the day, it seems to me that Emma’s claims are riddled with nuances and questions, including her past sexual relations with the alleged assailant, her delay in asserting her complaint until she heard about other supposed rapes (that didn’t happen), her refusal to actually present her case in any court, and her selective attempt to tell her story in press-driven venues where there are few opportunities for rebuttals. It’s mind boggling that so many people don’t care about even a possibility that this guy she accuses might have been innocent.
    If there’s any unfairness, it’s Emma’s to make bold statements about the assailant, the administration, the process, etc. without undertaking a single step to prove their statements in a court of law. The question is WHY?

Leave a Reply