Skip To Content

Support the Forward

Funded by readers like you DonateSubscribe

Emma Sulkowicz Carries Her Mattress to Graduation

Emma Sulkowicz graduated from Columbia University this week, mattress in tow.

The 23-year-old student, who filed a rape complaint againt classmate Paul Nungesser in 2013, her 50lb, dark-blue dorm mattress to highlight the university administration’s non-responsiveness to her claim. In September 2014, she turned the protest into a visual art project for her senior thesis, called “Carry That Weight.”

More than a year later, she carried that same mattress onto the stage during Columbia College Class Day. According to the Columbia Spectator, graduates were warned in an email not to bring “large objects” to commencement including anything which could “interfere with the proceedings or create discomfort to others in close, crowded spaces shared by thousands of people.”

Despite this, Sulkowicz and her friends were able to lug the mattress up to the podium amidst cheering and clapping from the audience. Columbia President Lee Bollinger did not shake hands with Sulkowicz.

Per The New York Times:

As Ms. Sulkowicz and her friends ascended the stage, Mr. Bollinger, who had been shaking the students’ hands, turned his back and leaned down as though to pick something up from his seat. Ms. Sulkowicz leaned over the mattress, trying to catch his eye, then straightened up and kept walking, shrugging with her free hand.

“I even tried to smile at him or look him in the eye, and he completely turned away,” she said later. “So that was surprising, because I thought he was supposed to shake all of our hands.”

Nungesser, who was found “not responsible” by a Columbia disciplinary hearing, also graduated. He recently filed a lawsuit against the school, claiming that Columbia acted as “a silent bystander and then turned into an active supporter of a fellow student’s harassment campaign by institutionalizing it and heralding it.”

As New York Magazine points out, Bollinger was probably trying to avoid calling attention to the lawsuit, but still — stay classy, Columbia.

UPDATE: Only one day after Emma Sulkowicz carried her mattress on stage at graduation, posters calling her a “pretty little liar” and urging social media users to tweet using #rapehoax have popped up all over campus, Salon reports. A Twitter account called Fake Rape has been promoting this smear campaign online.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.