COLLEGE

Obama Omits College Sexual Assault From State Of The Union Address

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Jan
President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)

President Barack Obama didn't mention college sexual assault during his State of the Union address Tuesday, an issue his administration has highlighted.

In an address that largely focused on economic issues, Obama chose to discuss higher education issues like the cost of a college degree, his free community college plan and simplifying the process of applying for federal financial aid.

The president skipped the chance to address college sexual violence as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) brought as her guest Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz, who has been outspoken in criticizing her school after she reported being raped.

Sulkowicz became a well-known campus rape activist thanks to her senior thesis, titled "Carry That Weight," in which she promised to drag her mattress around campus until the man that she and two other Columbia students have accused of sexual assault is removed from the school.

"We appreciate the administration's commitment to this issue, but it was a missed opportunity to talk about not just making colleges more affordable, but also safer," said Gillibrand spokesman Glen Caplin.

The president was busy with the issue in 2014. He started the first White House task force, pressuring universities to improve their response to reports of rape, enlisting celebrities and major organizations like the NCAA to assist. His Education Department launched investigations into how colleges handle sexual violence, though much of this was driven by student activism.

"The president touched on many important issues in his address," said Annie Clark, co-founder of End Rape on Campus and a leading activist who helped focus White House attention on the topic. "However, this administration has been the most active in American history on the issue of college sexual assault, so it's disappointing Obama didn't even mention campus rape in his address."

There is no record of a president mentioning sexual assault during a State of the Union address.

In past State of the Union addresses, including last year's, Obama skipped the issue of military sexual assault. He did so as an intense debate over competing Democratic Senate bills to reform how the military handles rape cases, and as lawmakers brought veterans and survivors to the presidential address.

Gillibrand was one of the original co-sponsors on a bipartisan proposal to reform how colleges handle sexual violence, in addition to her efforts to change how the military responds to rape.

This article has been updated to include comments from Emma Sulkowicz.