Columbia Student Defiantly Carries Mattress to Graduation to Protest Sexual Assault


Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student who protested her alleged sexual assault by carrying a mattress every day to campus last year, graduated today. The mattress, the defining symbol of her assault and senior arts thesis titled Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight), was also present at Tuesday’s ceremony, despite the school administration urging students not to bring large items that could potentially “create discomfort to others.”

Sulkowicz was seen hauling her mattress to the ceremony with the help of friends and fellow graduating students. According to Columbia Spectator editor Teo Armus, when Sulkowicz went on stage to collect her diploma, she pointedly did not shake university president Lee Bollinger’s hand.

In September, Sulkowicz became a national figure and an unofficial spokesperson for sexual assault activists after she went public with her rape. She vowed to carry the mattress to class for as long as the student who she says assaulted her was not prosecuted or expelled. In April, her alleged rapist, Paul Nungesser, filed a lawsuit against the university claiming administrators exhibited bias and failed to protect him from the accusations. He says their alleged failure “destroyed” his college experience and reputation. 

Nungesser also graduated and was present at Tuesday’s ceremony.