At the beginning of her sophomore year of college, Emma Sulkowicz, a visual arts major at Columbia University, was raped in her dorm room on her own bed. She was deprived of a fair trial in Columbia’s courtroom, as the rapist’s testimony won over the jury, who decided to grant him innocence, even though two other female students came forward with the fact that he had assaulted them as well. In her time at Columbia University, Sulkowicz has become one of the 23 students to have had mishandled sexual assault cases on the campus and has lit a spark that many have dubbed as “the revolution against sexual assault.” Sulkowicz’s journey is paving the way for people to speak out against their past pains, and her courage will translate into heroism for other girls and boys all across America who know or have experienced this tragic crime.
In a form of protest against the school that she feels abused her rights, Sulkowicz has decided to carry the mattress that she was assaulted on throughout the entirety of the campus as a way to “Carry That Weight” (an alternative name for the project), until her rapist is expelled. A tremendous outburst of national attention has fallen upon Sulkowicz since the start of her movement. Numerous gender equality organizations, sexual assault prevention campaigns and artistic societies have championed her “mattress performance,” as activists all around the United States are singing her praises and fighting alongside her by vocalizing validation for her groundbreaking campaign. With Emma’s crusade, rape in the Ivy League is being viewed as a brutal issue that must be addressed, and people should provide their attention to this matter in order to ensure that cases like these do not happen again.
“I had to watch my rapist give his testimony on a television in another room. It’s that feeling where your stomach drops,” Sulkowicz wrote in her Time Magazine essay, “My Rapist Is Still On Campus.” “Not only was he lying, but he was also making up these entire fantasy stories…They were so graphic and disgusting. He had every detail made up.”
Sulkowicz’s parents told the Columbia Spectator that Jean-Paul Nungesser, who they have identified as her rapist, is still on campus as a student. When Sulkowicz decided to come clean about the harrowing experience, she took the case to the NYPD, but was quickly rebuffed and told that making this a criminal issue would result in an investigation that would last much longer than a campus controlled one. Therefore, she is constrained to dependence upon the ruling of the university.
“Columbia will remain indelibly in the public mind as the university where good men and women did nothing,” Sulkowicz’s parents, Sandra Leong and Kerry J. Sulkowicz said.
Their opinion is that this is a pinnacle of rape culture in the United States, and being that strong young women all around the world see university life in their near future, Sulkowicz’s campaign is nothing short of legendary.
The freedom and all of the praise raining upon Sulkowicz will mean nothing if no reforms are made to prevent cases like this from ever occurring again. As we speak, Vice President Joe Biden is piloting a campaign to put an end to sexual assault. If you go to a movie theater any time soon, or even went to one over the summer, you might have seen a chilling PSA advertisement starring famous male actors like Daniel Craig and Steve Carell, and ended by powerful testimonies from Biden and President Barack Obama regarding how ending sexual assault is also a male responsibility. It is a brilliant way to incorporate the male voice into this everlasting issue, because there are two sides to every story. Until now, this has mostly been a woman’s campaign, but without a man’s support, everything the women do could result in insignificance.
The issue is global, as the problem can be seen all around the world, while women are beginning to rise up against oppression to express their stances on the matter of women’s rights. Just this year, famous stars like Angelina Jolie attended a rape summit in London, entitled “End Sexual Violence in Conflict.” The effort to combat this horrendous breach of human rights is valiant and incredibly momentous, and the fact that important figures all around the world are shedding light on the issue is an important step in our future. It also begs the question that as we fight this atrocious crime across the globe, why can we not start doing it on our very own university campuses, where America’s brightest are sent to be molded into well-educated adults, not to be plagued by fear and suppression?
The winds of change are here, and with inadvertent activists like Sulkowicz bringing them to the world stage, this could mark an important chapter in history. Citizens across the United States, be them students or any other member of the our country’s population, must take their stance against rape culture. While it will take bravery and indelible grit, by making her voice heard, Emma Sulkowicz might just be developing a path for others to muster the boldness in their hearts to protect peoples’ rights.