Emma Sulkowicz is a senior at Columbia. When she was a sophomore, she was raped by another student. That same student had allegedly sexually assaulted not one, but two other women on campus.
However, Columbia’s administration mishandled the investigation. (One of the administrators remarked, “I don’t know how it’s possible to have anal sex without lubrication first.”—implying that somehow lube was a prerequisite to anal rape, and if there was no lube, there was no rape.) The university failed to mete any punishment to the accused rapist, despite the lower “preponderance of evidence” standard that’s used for cases handled by university administration instead of the criminal courts.
Emma is a senior, and so is her rapist. In protest, she carries an extra-long twin sized mattress covered in bedbug-proof plastic—just a shade darker than Tumblr’s blue, the same kind of mattress that I and countless Columbia students slept on—with her everywhere on-campus until her rapist is expelled. It’s for her performance art project, but it’s become the symbol of the movement to address the problem of rape on campus—and the tendency for university administration to cover them up or brush them aside to protect the school’s reputation rather than the student’s safety.
When Emma’s story broke on The Blue and White back in May—before Emma publicly revealed her identity—I didn’t think posting on social media would have any effect. From the Bwog to nationally-read newspapers and near-viral presence on my Facebook newsfeed, Emma’s ordeal and actions have captured quite a lot of people’s attention. On my commute home today, I read the New York Magazine article about Emma and the movement against campus sexual assault.
What’s murky and messy is the sexual dynamics of college students—on the cusp of adolescence and adulthood—interacting with each other on campus. What shouldn’t be murky and messy is how the university handles sexual assault cases that seems to clearly meet the preponderance of evidence. Yet, one can’t help but think that Columbia hasn’t done its job very well. And other universities are faring even worse.
It just so happens that today, Columbia mailed me a letter asking me to donate to the Columbia College Young Alumni Fund. I’ve donated to my alma mater every year since I was a senior. Not a lot, mind you, but just a little to show my support. Giving or not giving $50 won’t have any discernible effect on the status of the Core Curriculum at Columbia. Instead of pondering whether to write a check or place the letter with other recyclables, I decided to do something impulsive.
Who knows? Maybe some other alumni will have the same idea. After all, the return envelope read: ”No postage necessary if mailed in the United States”.