Columbia University student carries mattress to graduation in rape protest

As a student at Columbia, Emma Sulkowicz vowed to carry her mattress around campus until the man she said raped her was expelled or graduated, whichever came first. On Tuesday, true to her word, Sulkowicz lugged the mattress onstage during her commencement ceremony, aided by four friends and plenty of enthusiastic cheers and applause. She refused to shake the hand of Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, according to a student reporter present.

Sulkowicz has said carrying the mattress, part of a class project  called "Carry That Weight," symbolized what she said is the university mishandling her sexual assault complaint against Paul Nungesser, a fellow student, who also graduated Tuesday. Nungesser was cleared in a university disciplinary process, but has sued the university and a member of the arts faculty in federal court for allegedly discriminating against him by failing to stop Sulkowicz's mattress project. 

Columbia appears to have tried to stop Sulkowicz from appearing at graduation with her mattress. On May 18, the Columbia Spectator reported that graduating seniors received an official email telling them, "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."

Sulkowicz defied the request. The Spectator's Teo Armus tweeted Tuesday that Sulkowicz had "said she received no direct communication in advance of" the event, but that a "Columbia officer asked her to leave her mattress in a room in Lerner Hall and then pick it up afterwards."

Sulkowicz did not respond to a request for comment.