Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz on Tuesday walked across the stage and accepted her graduation diploma with a mattress in tow.
Since the beginning of the school year, Sulkowicz has lugged her dorm mattress all over the Manhattan campus to protest Columbia's alleged dismissal of her rape charges. According to Sulkowicz, during her sophomore year she was assaulted in her dorm room by classmate Paul Nungesser.
Compelled by the University's exoneration of Nungesser, Sulkowicz undertook the protest as part of a senior visual art thesis called "Carry that Weight," in which she vowed to carry the mattress as long as Nungesser remained on campus to represent the weight she carries as a result of the alleged rape.
"The piece could potentially take a day, or it could go on until I graduate," Sulkowicz had said in a video describing the project. Nungesser also accepted his diploma on Tuesday.
Sulkowicz's very public demonstration comes amid growing awareness of the prevalence of campus rape, as well as increased tensions over the way that universities treat sexual assault cases.
A study (pdf) published in the Journal of Adolescent Health on Tuesday found that incidents of campus rape have reached "epidemic levels among college women." The survey on students at an unnamed New York school found that 19 percent of women said they were the victim of attempted or completed rape, either by force or while they were incapacitated, during their freshman year.
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According to the Columbia Daily Spectator, administrators hoped to sideline the protest during the ceremony, going so far as to send an email to graduating students forbidding "large objects" from the ceremony.
"Graduates should not bring into the ceremonial area large objects which could interfere with the proceedings or create discomfort to others in close, crowded spaces shared by thousands of people," the email read.
As Sulkowicz made her way across the state on Tuesday, the New York Times reports that University President Lee C. Bollinger "turned away as she crossed in front of him, failing to shake her hand, as he did with the other graduates."
Below is a video of Sulkowicz being cheered on as she, with some help, carries her mattress across the graduation stage: