Columbia University students staged a demonstration Friday, dragging several mattresses in front of the Ivy League school's iconic Alma Mater statue to protest the university's handling of sexual violence on campus.
The student demonstration was in support of Emma Sulkowicz, a Columbia senior who says she plans to carry a mattress, like the one on which she was sexually assaulted, around campus until her alleged rapist is no longer at the school.
Sulkowicz, along with two other women, accused the same male student of assaulting them, but the university did not find him responsible when it investigated. Sulkowicz and the other reported victims claim there were numerous problems in the investigation, and she was one of 23 students who filed two federal complaints against the New York university in April.
Roughly a dozen mattresses were laid out on Columbia's campus Friday. Some of them had red tape on them reading, "Stand With Survivors," "Carry That Weight" and "CU Has A Rape Problem." Students stood behind a wall of mattresses, displaying signs protesting the university. About 50 survivors spoke during the Friday afternoon event, attendees told The Huffington Post, including more than a dozen who told their stories for the first time.
Sulkowicz told The Huffington Post that students have frequently tried to help her carry her heavy mattress around campus. For the most part, she said, she's only had to carry it alone when reporters followed her and asked for shots with Sulkowicz carrying it by herself.
On Wednesday, students organized to join Sulkowicz and help her carry the mattress:
Also this week, a group of students delivered a letter to the Columbia administration laying out specific reforms they'd like to see the university take to improve its response to sexual assault.
The coalition signing onto the letter, including 31 student groups, demanded the school implement ongoing consent education programming for all returning students; require bystander intervention training annually for all fraternity and sorority members; create a new way for sexual assault victims to file appeals of their adjudication to someone besides the deans; conduct regular surveys of students for how the school is doing handling sexual assault complaints; and release data on how students found responsible of sexual violence were punished.
Victoria Benitez, director of communication for community and civic initiatives at Columbia, said in an email that the university has a lot of common ground with the activists.
"For example, students today are asking for consent education and bystander intervention programming for returning students and special interest residential communities," Benitez said. "The start of this academic year has featured a significantly enhanced consent education program for first-year undergraduates that the University agrees must be expanded for all students in the coming academic year."
The university previously said it would release the data following pressure from student activists, but has yet to do so.
— Talia Lakritz (@nerdwithavoice) September 12, 2014
This story has been updated with a comment from Columbia.