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Emma Sulkowicz Protests Sexual Assault with Performance Art

By Cheney Hagerup
6 Sep 2014

By taking on a voice of its own, performance art often eclipses the common perception of art as simply inert. Emma Sulkowicz, a senior Visual Arts major at Colombia University, is doing just this by protesting her rapist’s presence on campus for her senior thesis.

In the above video, Sulkowicz shares that she was raped on the first day of her sophomore year in her own dorm room. The university did not take actions to dismiss her rapist from campus. In a performance art demonstration that is nothing short of courageous, Sulkowicz plans to carry her mattress around with her everywhere she goes on campus until her rapist is expelled from the university.

The development of preventative sexual assault policies has only recently taken on a wide discursive presence on many college campuses. Student activists working to break the silence around sexual assault are pushing universities to evaluate the effectiveness of their policies. Organizations on my own campus, such as Code Teal, have emerged in response to the existence of sexual assault on campus to create a space for discussion and action.

It can get very complicated when cases of sexual assault must be processed on multiple levels, both on campus and on an official level. With so many cases beingdropped and perpetrators being let off the hook, I must question whether a motive to keep instances of sexual assault to a hush on campus influences administrative response.

Nevertheless, students like Sulkowicz are inspiring these conversations and forcing both students and administration to address a need for taking progressive preventative measures.


Cheney graduated from DePauw University in 2015 with majors in English Literature and Spanish. She is from Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
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