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Carry That Weight
September 3, 2014 7:33 AM   Subscribe

Emma Sulkowicz is a student at Columbia University; she was raped by a fellow student during her sophomore year, and is one of 23 Columbia and Barnard students who filed a federal Title IX complaint in April alleging that the university mishandled sexual assault cases. Now a senior, Emma plans on carrying an extra-long, twin-size mattress across the quad and through each New York City building – to every class, every day – until the man she says raped her moves off campus, as her senior art thesis, "Carry That Weight"

Previously
posted by roomthreeseventeen (173 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm inestimably proud of the young women participating in these individual and collective protests.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:43 AM on September 3 [58 favorites]


Bitter is the ascent to Golgotha.

Can someone explain to me why this was ever anything to do with the university? This should be a criminal case, surely?
posted by Leon at 7:45 AM on September 3 [6 favorites]


Her unspoken assumption that makes it all the more upsetting is that the police are so ineffectual and the criminal process so traumatizing that she didn't consider it.
posted by bonehead at 7:47 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


Yeah, why go to the university first? Why not contact the police first?
posted by enamon at 7:47 AM on September 3


bonehead:

How is going to the University going to be more effectual? This happened in New York which, unfortunately, deals with rape cases all the time. Is the University going to put the perpetrator on trial? I don't really understand the reason for not contacting the police first before the university. The fact that the article just skips over that fact bothers me even more.
posted by enamon at 7:50 AM on September 3 [5 favorites]


Sulkowicz did go to the police, and reported that her experience with them was "awful":
"The officer basically treated me as if I was the criminal," she said. "After you've been physically violated the last thing you want is to have a policeman who is high on his own power telling you that everything you've just experienced is invalid."
posted by Jeanne at 7:50 AM on September 3 [97 favorites]


Yes, of course it's a criminal case, too. That said, sexual assault was explicitly against the conduct codes at my university and it was enforced. I'm pretty sure that rule is standard in US universities, though clearly enforcement is an issue for any governing bodies charged with carrying it out.

I admire her thesis and her willingness to share her story. I hope loads of her classmates offer to help her carry the mattress (since one of the rules of engagement is that she cannot request help). And I hope none of them have to carry it that long. Thank you for posting.
posted by juliplease at 7:52 AM on September 3 [8 favorites]


That is a fucking fantastic form of protest.

Leon:

Universities often have their own law enforcement -- of a sort, anyway -- and those agencies have a vested interest in these sorts of things just blowing over.

This recent Doonesbury comic notes the inherent conflict of interest.
posted by The Confessor at 7:52 AM on September 3 [13 favorites]


That's my question as well--if it rises to the level of a sexual assault, I think it should be a police matter, not up to the university. If it's not clear-cut enough to file criminal charges, then I wonder if it was actually an assault or not. If he raped her, getting him to move off campus is not the point--he should be in jail. If rape is too strong a word for what happened, then is the guy involved being treated fairly? And if police are handling these cases badly, then the complaint is with the police, not the university. This whole issue seems off-base to me.
posted by EvelynU at 7:53 AM on September 3 [11 favorites]


A more in-depth article on Ms. Sulkowicz and her experiences trying to report the crime.

A common thread in the Title 9 cases that have come to light recently is that the university heavily sends the message of "campus police" to students (see the Previously).
posted by Dashy at 7:53 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


She didn't report it for two years, so that will make ANY situation more difficult whether reporting to the university OR the police.
posted by ReeMonster at 7:55 AM on September 3 [4 favorites]


For everyone saying "why didn't she go to the police", I think you might be missing the fact that she was subjected to sexual assault and this is yet another way in which SHE and HER CHOICES are being questioned. I totally understand why "isn't this a police matter?" feels like it's supporting her but continually questioning the choices that people (often women) make when they have been sexually assaulted just makes it harder and harder for people to speak about their experiences because they know that they will always have to deal with this type of questioning.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:56 AM on September 3 [138 favorites]


The previously link references some requirements to report and duties of the university in such cases.
posted by chapps at 7:56 AM on September 3


Adding to that, even if she hadn't gone to the police, "why didn't she contact the police!?" is victim-blamey. Why shouldn't university PDs be expected to handle sex crimes appropriately? Why should women be expected to somehow "know" that they will not take our concerns seriously?

Adding more unwritten rules for 18-22 year old women to follow upon being raped is not actually helpful.
posted by almostmanda at 7:57 AM on September 3 [74 favorites]


I'm not familiar with Title IX, but KnowYourIX.org states it is "a landmark federal civil right that prohibits sex discrimination in education," and it also addresses sexual harassment, gender-based discrimination, and sexual violence.

NPR has a produced a series of pieces on A Closer Look at Sexual Assaults on Campus, including a piece this morning on how the current system works, and how some would like to see it work (note: the focus is on men filing against universities, stating that the system works against them as alleged perpetrators of assault).

From today's piece, it sounds like filing a criminal case with the police is a barrier to filing at all, because that opens up the victim to be cross-referenced (questioned) by the alleged perpetrator, making it less likely for victims to file at all. On the other side, the university process is less stringent, lowering the bar for filing a complaint, but also making it easier for the alleged perpetrators to feel that they are being railroaded.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:58 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


Why not contact the police first?

Maybe you haven't been reading the news recently.
posted by mhoye at 8:03 AM on September 3 [56 favorites]


I get that colleges and universities are required to have procedures for investigating cases of rape and sexual assault and handing out penalties to the perpetrators, but (a) the panels that many colleges have set up for this don't have the resources and experience to do this properly, and (b) all colleges have a conflict of interests in terms of trying to uphold their reputations, or their athletic teams, or whatever.

So as I've noted in a previous thread on this topic, what it comes down to is that letting colleges adjudicate rape cases internally is the same as letting the Catholic Church adjudicate pedophilia cases internally. The systems as constituted are not doing the job. If the cops are not doing the job either, colleges need to find a competent, conflict-free third party to tackle these cases for them.
posted by beagle at 8:05 AM on September 3 [10 favorites]


Just this morning there was a "won't somebody think of the rapists" story on NPR. They had an accused rapist tell his story about how he completely consensually had sex with a totally not drunk at all woman at a party, and then just randomly out of nowhere she said she had been blackout drunk and remembered nothing but him forcing himself upon her, because, women! Amirite?

The school made him move out of his dorm abruptly so he's suing them, because he didn't get "due process" before the university enforced its rules, even though "due process" is something that you're supposed to get from the government enforcing criminal law, not universities enforcing policy.
posted by edheil at 8:05 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


She didn't report it for two years

Citation needed.
posted by zamboni at 8:05 AM on September 3 [6 favorites]


I think you might be missing the fact that she was subjected to sexual assault and this is yet another way in which SHE and HER CHOICES are being questioned.

If the motives and circumstances of accusers can never be questioned the situation is indistinguishable from a witch hunt.
posted by clarknova at 8:05 AM on September 3 [13 favorites]


[Folks, maybe better to use this thread as an opportunity to talk about the art project in question and performance art and protest than to litigate whether or not this college student did a sufficiently correct and thorough job of trying to deal bureaucratically with having been raped.]
posted by cortex at 8:05 AM on September 3 [85 favorites]


How is going to the University going to be more effectual?

The University will throw you out for plagiarizing a paper or cheating on a test.

Rape, however, seems to not violate the honor code.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:06 AM on September 3 [10 favorites]


Ah, you're talking about reporting it to the police.
posted by zamboni at 8:07 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


If it's not clear-cut enough to file criminal charges, then I wonder if it was actually an assault or not.

You skipped a step where somehow you decided she didn't go to the police because it "wasn't clear cut enough," and not for any of two dozen other perfectly good reasons a person might have for not going to the police. Care to explain your reasoning out loud? Or is it just "well she's a woman so probably she's lying."
posted by like_a_friend at 8:07 AM on September 3 [24 favorites]


Didn't preview, sorry Cortex.
posted by like_a_friend at 8:08 AM on September 3


Adding to that, even if she hadn't gone to the police, "why didn't she contact the police!?" is victim-blamey. Why shouldn't university PDs be expected to handle sex crimes appropriately? Why should women be expected to somehow "know" that they will not take our concerns seriously?

Adding more unwritten rules for 18-22 year old women to follow upon being raped is not actually helpful.


I'm totally supportive of Sulkowicz but I really don't see how any productive conversation can be had here if we're going to immediately respond to a simple and contextually-appropriate question as immediately attacking a crime victim.

"Why didn't she go to the police?" is an important question to ask because it sort of addresses a major issue with rape, that being why victims don't go to the police.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 8:08 AM on September 3 [17 favorites]


OK, so she waited months to speak with the university or go to the police. Not unusual in rape cases. How much evidence would have been required for the school to expel the student, considering that three other students have also come forward and said that he assaulted them?

I assume an expulsion would require more than her (or their) word against his, but when multiple people are making accusations, shouldn't the university do something?
posted by zarq at 8:09 AM on September 3 [5 favorites]


> For everyone saying "why didn't she go to the police"

Small nitpick: I actually thought this might be some US-only thing, where universities were responsible for prosecuting crimes (y'all have campus police forces, so it's not that big a leap that you would have campus courtrooms). I think I understand better after reading the follow-up links.

As we appear to be veering into the weeds here, I just want to say that I think the art itself is fantastic. I draw parallels with Jesus' ascent to Golgotha - she's carrying the symbol of someone else's sin. This artwork has thrown new light on The Passion for me... I never considered that shame might be a component in it.

(In looking for a description of how the "trial" would work, I did find a link about a kicked-out student who's suing the university. I would hate to have responsibility for adjudicating in any of these cases.)
posted by Leon at 8:09 AM on September 3 [9 favorites]


This post is incredibly thin on details that are publicly available, so maybe instead of filling in what happened with dreamscapes and just shitting on each other from moral high grounds, you can Google more information on the situation that has been evolving at Columbia for a few months now.
posted by phaedon at 8:10 AM on September 3 [6 favorites]


Yeah, why go to the university first? Why not contact the police first?

I've just seen an alternate universe where she DID go to the police first, and over on THAT Metafilter people were asking why she didn't go to the University first. Wild, isn't it?

--

I've watched the clip, and was hoping to see footage of her actually carrying the thing; I'll admit that my techie background goes more to practical considerations for things like this. A powerful statement on her part, yeah, but my brain also thinks of things like "so does she have something like a harness or handles or something? Or is she just manhandling this thing around, or....?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:11 AM on September 3 [9 favorites]


This post is incredibly thin on details that are publicly available

Sorry, I was trying to make the OP more about the art thesis in response to what has happened than the sexual assault itself.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:12 AM on September 3 [30 favorites]


It's not "victim-blamey". ITS VICTIM BLAMING.

Jesus I am so tired of people asking this stupid question.

Going to police and going to the university are two entirely separate questions. Universities have a duty under Title IX to investigate harassment happens on their campuses.

So next time you're thinking of asking this idiotic question, here are a few better ones to ask:

-does the university have policies and programs in place to promote a culture of enthusiastic consent? If not, why not?
-is the university tacitly endorsing rape culture by telling potential victims to not dress in certain ways, rather than educating men about consent?

I could go on but we're trying to take the thread in another direction.

But holy shit people, enough with criticizing the choices of the victim.
posted by dry white toast at 8:13 AM on September 3 [51 favorites]


She didn't report it for two years

zamboni: Citation needed.

She reported it to the police after eight or nine months. I haven't figured out yet when she reported it to the university, but she did so before filing the police report.
According to Spec, Sulkowicz went to the police after finishing her finals on the [May] 13th[, 2014]. She filed a complaint with the NYPD after being dissatisfied with Columbia’s internal handling of the case.
The assault took place in August 2013.
posted by zarq at 8:13 AM on September 3 [5 favorites]


One of the compelling aspects of the project is the way it directs attention to questions of community and cultural norms that can potentially bypass the sexism-reinforcing arguments that derail these discussions. Sulkowicz is confronting those in her community, having them consciously encounter rape culture that is too often unconscious.
posted by audi alteram partem at 8:14 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


I should add, this is a fantastic project and I admire the artist to no end for pursuing it.

OP, it's not your fault. Threads like these invariably turn into a de facto trial of the victims actions.
posted by dry white toast at 8:14 AM on September 3 [7 favorites]


In her own words (from phaedon's link above):

“There’s a reason survivors choose not to go to the police, and that’s because they’re treated as the criminals,” she said. “The rapists are innocent until proven guilty but survivors are guilty until proven innocent, at least in the eyes of the police.”
posted by bonehead at 8:15 AM on September 3 [26 favorites]


From Aljazeera America: Why college rape victims don't go to the police, about Emma Sulkowicz's case, and college rape cases in general, includes these statistics:
According to a 2000 study by the Department of Justice, fewer than 5 percent of college women who suffered completed or attempted rapes reported it to law enforcement. Almost a quarter of rape victims who did not report said they were afraid of being treated with hostility. Twenty-seven percent said they thought the police wouldn’t think it was serious enough.
And there's the quote from an NYPD officer:
At the next station, while Sulkowicz was questioned in a private room, the same officer started a conversation with her two friends. Ridolfi-Starr told him that she thought the police’s questioning had been uncomfortable.

“Well, it’s supposed to be uncomfortable,” the officer responded. “If it goes to trial, this is what’s going to happen … You think that was bad? Nah.”

“For every single rape I’ve had, I’ve had 20 that are total bull----,” he added. “It’s also my type of job to get to the truth. If that means being harsh about it, that’s what I do.”
She did go the police. It doesn't matter if she went first or second, there's also a role for the university to play, and their actions also sound horrible.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:15 AM on September 3 [28 favorites]


I've watched the clip, and was hoping to see footage of her actually carrying the thing

There's a very brief shot at the end of her carrying the mattress with somebody else. No harness.

And on the two year thing, consider me corrected, I thought it happened in 2012.
posted by ReeMonster at 8:16 AM on September 3


The University will throw you out for plagiarizing a paper or cheating on a test.

Rape, however, seems to not violate the honor code.


Plagiarism is pretty cut and dried. You can't argue that the text consented to being copied or something. So it's pretty easy for the University to make a judgement call on those matters.

I assume that if there was someone convicted of rape, they would be thrown out instantly. But as far as I could see, in this case the person has not been convicted of anything, which makes it understandable that the University might try to avoid getting involved.
posted by ymgve at 8:17 AM on September 3 [12 favorites]


Sorry, I was trying to make the OP more about the art thesis

I didn't mean to attack you, I'm just sick of the know-it-all reductio comments. As if there's nothing to do in life or on this site but argue with each other, or make each other feel bad for not getting it. I commend Sulkowicz for her art thesis. She mentions in the interview that she's not allowed to ask for help, but people are allowed to help her. Clearly some thought has been put into this. This is a mirror for society, and that in my opinion makes for the best art. The protestation reminds me of Lysistrata, at least in its strength of individuality.
posted by phaedon at 8:18 AM on September 3 [4 favorites]


Well I don't like it. We have a system for determining guilt and also for determining punishment. You don't get to opt out, as she has, assume guilt and also proclaim what the correct punishment must be (expulsion). Sounds like the system failed her and that's terrible but this isn't right either.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:20 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


“For every single rape I’ve had, I’ve had 20 that are total bull----,” he added. “It’s also my type of job to get to the truth. If that means being harsh about it, that’s what I do.”

Statistically, almost totally impossible. What is more likely -- that 20 women are lying about rape to this one officer, unique in the universe, or that this one officer's mechanisms of addressing rape victims are so hostile and unpleasant that the rape victims choose not to pursue this case?

This officer should be fired.
posted by maxsparber at 8:20 AM on September 3 [118 favorites]


Well I don't like it.

Too bad.
posted by maxsparber at 8:20 AM on September 3 [41 favorites]


We have a system for determining guilt and also for determining punishment.

You might want to wonder what it is about a system that makes pretty much nobody want to deal with it. It's like there might be a problem with the system itself, and perhaps not so much with the people who don't want to use it.
posted by rtha at 8:23 AM on September 3 [55 favorites]


But as far as I could see, in this case the person has not been convicted of anything, which makes it understandable that the University might try to avoid getting involved.

Except, as has already been pointed out multiple times in this thread, when a student says she (or he!) has been raped, the university has obligations under Title IX. Those obligations are not put on hold until there is a criminal conviction.

Sounds like the system failed her and that's terrible but this isn't right either.

Then work to change the system that forces women to make this choice.
posted by scody at 8:23 AM on September 3 [25 favorites]


maxsparber: Statistically, almost totally impossible. What is more likely -- that 20 women are lying about rape to this one officer, unique in the universe, or that this one officer's mechanisms of addressing rape victims are so hostile and unpleasant that the rape victims choose not to pursue this case?

I wholly agree he's unpleasant to the extreme, and I think his figure is more about cases that fall through, rather than women lying, which makes him even worse as a public servant. He is not in charge of determining guilt or innocence, but gathering facts. If he's seen that many rape cases fall apart, I can see that he is doing victims a service in warning them that they might not get the justice they seek, but this is not the way to tell it.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:25 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


when multiple people are making accusations, shouldn't the university do something?

My university was not really a safe place for women. However, while I was a freshman, they did start building a case against a particular male student who had harassed and assaulted multiple women. After two girls came in with their stories, the counselling office began calling in any girl who was thought to know him. (My interview was on 9/11, so there's your time reference). They asked us if we knew anyone on campus who was sexually assaulting people (without leading us into naming any particular person, I should point out) - and again and again, this guy's name came up. He would have been expelled if he hadn't withdrawn from school.

So, anyway, they definitely thought they should do something. And they did. Even though the university was far from a women's haven, they did do this. They didn't wait for the guy to be convicted by a court. They noticed that many, many women independently reported the same experiences with this guy, and they began the process to get rid of him.

On the other hand, I would have never gone to the police about any sexual assault I've experienced. Too afraid, too worried about being judged, too worried about angering the men into violence. But it's good to know that I couldn't have possibly been really assaulted in a clear-cut way, simply on the evidence that I didn't go to the hostile, misogynist cops. My one and only high school run-in with the police, led to a cop telling me that he hoped I "liked licking pussy". So you can imagine I wasn't raring to repeat that experience.

Anyway. I wish I had had 1/1000th of this woman's strength. This project is amazing. The end.
posted by Coatlicue at 8:25 AM on September 3 [35 favorites]


if it rises to the level of a sexual assault

There is no question that what she describes rises to the level of sexual assault. I roll my eyes at the general idea that drunk sex equals rape, and even I think that if she's telling the truth it's violent rape by physical force. There is zero gray area in this case:

They went to her room. She said she had not been drinking. They started to have sex, she said, but then he began to choke her, slapped her face, pinned her arms and penetrated her anally. She said she had screamed for him to stop, but that he would not.

She's either lying or she's the victim of a rape. There's no room for interpretation or differing perspectives or mutual blame.
posted by tyllwin at 8:27 AM on September 3 [13 favorites]


I don't like it ... You don't get to opt out, as she has, assume guilt and also proclaim what the correct punishment must be (expulsion). Sounds like the system failed her and that's terrible but this isn't right either.

OK, so did she "opt out" or did the system fail her? Because it can't be both--either she engaged the system or she didn't; since she went to BOTH the university and the police, I'm going with "she engaged the system." And as you said, that system failed her.

So what's your solution? Once the system fails a rape victim they need to just shut the fuck up about it forever? Can she only make art about her personal experience once there's a conviction on the books? Can ANYone make art about their rape? At what point is it appropriate for a woman to have and speak about her experiences, to you? At any point? Never?

No more art about rape, everyone, some dude on the internet doesn't like it!
posted by like_a_friend at 8:28 AM on September 3 [54 favorites]


I assume that if there was someone convicted of rape, they would be thrown out instantly.

Why does there need to be a conviction in a court of law ?

When you attend a university, you agree to a contract - an honor code - and there is no requirement in any honor code I have ever seen that it only attaches following legal action by the people. I can't recall anybody ever being arrested, indicted and charged with plagiarism.

There is no due process requirement, and the university can use whatever standard of evidence they like (by and large), so the question is - how is it that cheating on a test can lead to expulsion, but not rape ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:29 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


-does the university have policies and programs in place to promote a culture of enthusiastic consent?

Policies without teeth are worthless. The real question is "Can compliance with and effective oversight of the policies and programs that are in place be proven?"
posted by mikelieman at 8:29 AM on September 3


I'm not a woman and I've never suffered any kind of assault. If I did I can easily imagine that I might take weeks, months or years to process what happened. I don't know if I'd ever be brave enough to talk about it. She's endured the suffering, the humiliation, the doubt, the fear and she's turned it into a piece of art. I find that inspiring. The details don't matter to me.
posted by night_train at 8:30 AM on September 3 [13 favorites]


"The protestation reminds me of Lysistrata, at least in its strength of individuality."
It reminds me more of Hester Prynne who made her stigma into art as well.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:30 AM on September 3 [7 favorites]


how is it that cheating on a test can lead to expulsion, but not rape ?

It would. But they had a hearing, of sorts, and didn't believe her. The University won't go into the details of that, so we only have her side of it, but if her side is remotely accurate the hearing was badly mishandled.
posted by tyllwin at 8:34 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Universities are terrible at managing situations like this. Their first instinct is to suppress everything for fear that bad PR results in reduced donations from alumni. This Atlantic article on fraternities covers some of the same ground.
posted by arcticseal at 8:35 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


We have a system for determining guilt and also for determining punishment.

In this instance we have two! The police, who enforce state and federal law on the matter, and the university, which enforces its code of conduct. That her artwork appeals to the one you've chosen to ignore completely doesn't make the commentary any less strong or relevant - you're just choosing to completely ignore an entire system.
posted by Dysk at 8:36 AM on September 3 [13 favorites]


If he's seen that many rape cases fall apart, I can see that he is doing victims a service in warning them that they might not get the justice they seek, but this is not the way to tell it.

That isn't what he says though. He says the cases are "total bull" - that's not them falling apart, that's not a lacking conviction, that's straight up saying the victim was lying.
posted by Dysk at 8:38 AM on September 3 [10 favorites]


Maybe moderator comments need to be <big> because apparently nobody reads the <small> ones.
posted by jjwiseman at 8:38 AM on September 3 [14 favorites]


Good for her, and I'm amazed by her strength. Every bit of pressure and attention can only help.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:41 AM on September 3


I once read an article claiming that it is helpful to think about rape as historically being more of a defense to the crimes of fornication and adultery than a crime in and of itself. I don't know enough legal and social history to be able to fully evaluate that as a historical claim, but it certainly fits with the way those who report rapes to the police or other authorities are frequently treated today. Ms. Sulkowicz says the police treated her like a criminal, and the officer's cruel and skeptical interrogation is likely similar to how he treats suspects with questionable alibis.
posted by Area Man at 8:44 AM on September 3 [5 favorites]


one panelist kept asking me how it was physically possible for anal rape to happen

My belief is that if you have a panelist who displays that level of ignorance, then the panel was set up to fail in the first place.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:44 AM on September 3 [26 favorites]


if it rises to the level of a sexual assault, I think it should be a police matter, not up to the university. If it's not clear-cut enough to file criminal charges, then I wonder if it was actually an assault or not. If he raped her, getting him to move off campus is not the point--he should be in jail. If rape is too strong a word for what happened, then is the guy involved being treated fairly?...This whole issue seems off-base to me.

Part of the Title IX complaint is, in fact, that the university has allegedly acted to dissuade students from going outside the university's own procedures, and encouraged women to not report assaults.
Among other allegations, the Columbia students say administrators tell those who file assault claims that they must not discuss their cases outside the confines of the campus disciplinary process, though similar practices at other schools have run afoul of federal regulators, and victim advocates call them blatantly illegal.

The students also contend that campus counseling services pressure students not to report sexual assault or harassment, that disciplinary proceedings are handled by people ill-trained for the job, and that accusers are given less leeway than are the accused.
To questions whether the alleged assault happened based on the absence of criminal charges being filed is to assume, ignoring all the evidence to the contrary, that the Title IX suit is baseless and that the University is in fact totally great at handling assault cases, despite American universities in general being pretty bad at handling assault cases in general.

Separately, to assume that the absence of criminal charges means that the case wasn't 'clear-cut enough to file' said charges is illogical -- plenty of people decline to file charges in response to all sorts of crimes. And police can fail to follow up on charges, even in clear-cut cases. Prosecutors can fail to prosecute. The system can fail in an astounding combination of ways that have nothing to do with a victim's choices.

is the guy involved being treated fairly?

The university found him not guilty. I don't know what more you could ask of them.

Other than maybe according a degree of fairness to the women bringing complaints.
posted by cjelli at 8:45 AM on September 3 [15 favorites]


But then I met two other women who told me the same person who had assaulted me assaulted them, and I decided I had to do something. We all reported our cases, and all three were dismissed.

This boggles my mind. The school has 3 reported sexually assaults involving the same man. Even the most self-serving administration should realize that this guy is a risk to them. What do they think will happen if there is a fourth case and it comes out that they dismissed three complaints about him already? You would think that they've expel him even if it was just to protect themselves.
posted by papercrane at 8:47 AM on September 3 [14 favorites]


“People kept making comments like, ‘Girls are so dumb, they should just go to the police. Obviously the school isn’t going to deal with it.’ I wanted to see for myself if I should have gone to the police,” Sulkowicz said. “I figured maybe they have a point. Maybe his name should be in the public record,” Sulkowicz added, referring to her alleged attacker.

Sulkowicz, whose name appears on the police report as “Emra Suhkowicz” due to a spelling error by the police, says the experience of filing the report is not one she wants to repeat.
There's really nothing I could add to that that would make it less sad.
posted by cjelli at 8:47 AM on September 3 [12 favorites]


cjelli, I don't think the university finding the dude not guilty is necessarily an example of fair treatment. Favourable, sure, but not necessarily fair. Fair probably wouldn't've have been as kind to him.
posted by Dysk at 8:48 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Some links for people who need to read up on Title IX in order to understand what this has to do with the University:

Title IX and the Clery Act (previous FPP)

Reporting a Rape and Wishing She Hadn't (another previous FPP).

Notalone.gov.

Department of Education Q&A on Title IX and Sexual Violence (pdf).
posted by MoonOrb at 8:51 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


the thing about this is that it's easier for her to go around NYC toting a mattress than it would be for her to do anything that would actually challenge power relations between men and women on campus.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:54 AM on September 3 [17 favorites]


Maybe moderator comments need to be <big> because apparently nobody reads the <small> ones.

The only real moderator choice in this kind of thread is to delete it or not. Metafilter is not a forum that specializes in advanced art criticism. There is no other way for this kind of discussion to go. Not here, anyway.
posted by clarknova at 8:55 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


I don't think the university finding the dude not guilty is necessarily an example of fair treatment.

Dysk, I agree completely. My point (which perhaps could have been better made) was that it's clear that he's definitely not being treated unfairly by the university.
posted by cjelli at 8:57 AM on September 3


Especially per Cortex's comment above, I'm thinking about this more as an art project and it really is fascinating. I'm thinking about how I would feel if I were in her position and I tried to do this. At some point I think I'd just lose it with frustration and exhaustion from carrying around this fucking weird heavy awkward burden of the mattress and think "why did I commit to this? Why do I have to carry this? Why am I constantly reminding myself of this awful experience?" But the burden's still there without the mattress and she didn't commit to it, she was forced into it and she still has to carry it even if the physical mattress isn't there.

Having a concrete representation of that pain and burden and how it's with her through no fault of her own is super, super powerful. It raises lots of interesting questions -- why would you keep reminding yourself of an awful experience? But you're remembering it anyway even without the mattress so again, it's just a tangible representation of what's already there. Leon's point about the parallels with the story of Jesus is also really good, and the idea of someone else's sin being your burden and the question of who is taking on the burden of these sins now is really powerful.

The more I think about this the more complex it is. Mattresses are such a bulky pain in the ass to carry and the more I think about the rage and frustration I would feel at carrying one around the more powerful I find it. Wow, I really do like this very much as art.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:59 AM on September 3 [88 favorites]


cjelli, again, I disagree. He very much is being treated unfairly by the university, it's just unfairly well rather than unfairly badly.
posted by Dysk at 8:59 AM on September 3 [4 favorites]


I've posted this link before, but it's sadly relevant to the discussion about university malfeasance/ineptitude/ineffectualness in handling sexual assault allegations.

Rape Happens HereFor 150 years, leafy, progressive Swarthmore College tried to resolve student conflicts in the best Quaker tradition — peacefully and constructively. Then came 91 complaints of sexual misconduct. In a single year.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:00 AM on September 3 [6 favorites]


the thing about this is that it's easier for her to go around NYC toting a mattress than it would be for her to do anything that would actually challenge power relations between men and women on campus

Those are not two mutually exclusive activities. I'd say she's doing both at once.
posted by Mogur at 9:06 AM on September 3 [9 favorites]


There is no other way for this kind of discussion to go. Not here, anyway.

Well, folks can make an effort. That's the other way. And it's hard because conversational dynamics can be fragile and any keeping-away-from-the-pile-of-oily-rags success is vulnerable to just one stray match, but it's also not impossible and I always hold out a degree of hope and sometimes it happens.
posted by cortex at 9:07 AM on September 3 [5 favorites]


It's all too easy to imagine her being dismissed as “just another crazy woman”, or “hysterical” or “emotionally unstable”, and committed/forcibly medicated/lobotomised, because the alternative (of acknowledging her complaint and acting against her abusers and those complicit in defending them) would upset the status quo too much.
posted by acb at 9:08 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


the thing about this is that it's easier for her to go around NYC toting a mattress than it would be for her to do anything that would actually challenge power relations between men and women on campus.

Political performance art at its best publicizes a problem in a memorable way. This particular piece will hopefully help convince people to do things to actually challenge power relations between men and women on campus. Grumbling about the piece's supposed uselessness/power to distract from the Real Issue is certainly no more helpful in that regard.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:11 AM on September 3 [10 favorites]


Apologies if this is addressed in the video, which I tried to watch but the sound on this computer is on the fritz.

I'm hoping that there is some on-the-fly education going on, either via a flyer she hands out or she answers questions posed to her, where people know what it is she's doing and so she doesn't just become That Weird Chick Who Carries A Mattress With Her Everywhere. I mean, the information is obtainable online, just like Improv Everywhere's schtick is also Googlable. But - people aren't always prone to doing their own research, and I'm sure - just like IE probably gets a flock of people every year wondering "why are all these people riding the subway without pants?" - that there will be a few people wondering "what's up with the mattress?" but not really delving into answering that question for themselves.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:12 AM on September 3


Emma plans on carrying an extra-long, twin-size mattress across the quad and through each New York City building – to every class, every day –

As an art project, this is an extremely powerful and unsettling piece. I can't imagine being in her class or even in the same building as one of her classes and seeing her struggle with the mattress, knowing what she's going through. It would be very distracting at first and then one would probably get used to seeing it and then holy shit you realize you got used to ignoring and then that's disturbing. It's an incredibly bold and I applaud her for attempting it. She might not be able to complete it, but she gets major points for going through with it. I hope it brings more attention to the awful situation women have had to contend with.

Does one offer to help her with the burden? I hope some videotapes some of this, because the reactions she gets will be interesting.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:13 AM on September 3 [36 favorites]


HIT POST TOO SOON D'OH

And in this case, the message that she's trying to deliver is more important, so I'm hoping it doesn't get lost in "huh, I saw some chick carrying a mattress around, dunno why, oh well".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:13 AM on September 3


One of the rules is that she can't ask for help, but she can accept help from others. She'll also be writing the rules of engagement in her studio on campus as part of the performance. Not sure if that's just once or repeatedly. The goal is to be able to talk the performance with people she meets in the course of dragging the mattress around all day.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:18 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


> The more I think about this the more complex it is. Mattresses are such a bulky pain in the ass to carry and the more I think about the rage and frustration I would feel at carrying one around the more powerful I find it. Wow, I really do like this very much as art.

Mrs. Pterodactyl, right there with you. I love the questions it raises about who has to carry that burden, and about how people adapt to it. I also really love the questions it raises about public/private spaces -- not just in bringing a "private" occurrence & the struggle with its aftermath into public view, but also bringing a private object (a bed, which of all the elements of one's home is the most crucially private, the place we are the most vulnerable and where we thus need the most control) into a public space. Who gets to control that space, what does that mean for women who -- to greater or less degrees -- can/must take their beds with them, &c.

I also keep thinking also how brave she is to do this. Like everything women do to protest violence & discrimination, I imagine this too will garner misogynist vitriol, and she is very non-anonymous. I think I'd be scared, and I'm really impressed & inspired that she isn't. And I think I'd be scared, too, of how I might react if the perpetrator came up to me and offered to help carry it. What would that mean? What "should" my response be? What would I do?
posted by Westringia F. at 9:19 AM on September 3 [22 favorites]


On the shame aspect... I wonder if the target of the artwork can take the school to task legally for allowing it to be performed. And what a can of worms that would be.
posted by Leon at 9:23 AM on September 3


As a fellow rape survivor I applaud her bravery and perseverence. I wish I could send her an email with a message of support.
posted by Hermione Granger at 9:23 AM on September 3 [9 favorites]


I once read an article claiming that it is helpful to think about rape as historically being more of a defense to the crimes of fornication and adultery than a crime in and of itself

This sounds a lot like "in the past, women who slept around lied about rape to get out of trouble" which is really not a better idea than "women now lie about rape if they regret sex".
posted by jeather at 9:25 AM on September 3 [5 favorites]


The idea that expelling a student for an alleged rape has any equivalency to expelling a student for alleged plagiarism from the perspective of the university just doesn't work. The reason it doesn't work is that making evaluations as to whether or not a student has plagiarized and assessing a penalty if the determination is that plagiarism has occurred is an academic judgment. This is important because there are laws effectively saying that universities are able to make academic decisions and, so long as they are not arbitrary or capricious, those decisions can't be challenged in or changed by a court of law. So if a student is expelled for plagiarism, he or she doesn't have much basis to get a judgment against the school in a lawsuit. Universities are not protected by law if they decide to expel a student based on an allegation of non-academic bad behaviors, however, and as a result they are extremely reluctant to act in these situations out of fear that doing so will leave them vulnerable to a lawsuit which they will most certainly lose. Generally speaking, they may reluctantly act in situations where it is obvious that the alleged act has taken place, but even then they are far more likely to tell the student to take a semester off and quietly transfer to another school. With something like sexual assault, universities are especially reluctant to act because a lack of clear evidence and the despicable nature of the alleged act leaves them particularly vulnerable to a lawsuit by the accused, especially since university personnel are ill-equipped to make these kinds of judgments in the first place. What schools should be doing is contracting with professionals who can be on retainer to investigate allegations and advise them on how to act, just like an employer would do. I don't see this problem really changing until something like this happens.


The art project is, I think, compelling. It not only highlights the ongoing issue of universities mishandling allegations such as these, but sounds like a powerful and highly personal emblem of the psychological weight carried by victims of sexual assault.
posted by slkinsey at 9:28 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


I graduated from Columbia in 2010. I logged countless hours in the computer lab just down the hall from one of the Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Centers on campus. I remember feeling a sense of pride whenever I saw that office, because I was under the (mistaken) impression that it represented an attempt to proactively address a serious problem and handle things in an aboveboard way.

I think that, among other things, Sulkowicz's art project does a good job of breaking the illusion that the university is there to help you. Campus rape policies are not unlike HR policies: they're designed to defuse the situation, but also to protect the (in this case, multi-billion-dollar) company behind them. The university is prepared to knot its brow and listen to your report, but it will in no way shoulder your burden.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:41 AM on September 3 [23 favorites]


I once read an article claiming that it is helpful to think about rape as historically being more of a defense to the crimes of fornication and adultery than a crime in and of itself

This sounds a lot like "in the past, women who slept around lied about rape to get out of trouble" which is really not a better idea than "women now lie about rape if they regret sex".
posted by jeather 5 minutes ago[+]


Uh, I'm not sure what point you are making exactly, but I don't think you've done a good job of reading my comment. I'm offering one explanation, that I thought my be useful, for why authorities frequently have this horrible practice of assuming women are telling lies. I think our culture hasn't fully accepted rape as a crime; that we are still partially captive to an outdated way of thinking about rape which doesn't recognize women as fully equal people. I don't believe women lie about rape because they regret having sex, but I do believe police and school authorities frequently have that attitude.
posted by Area Man at 9:45 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


I wonder if the target of the artwork can

Not do a whole lot unless he's named and in that case, well, his own personal can of worms becomes subject to public inspection.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:46 AM on September 3


Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Centers on campus. I remember feeling a sense of pride whenever I saw that office, because I was under the (mistaken) impression that it represented an attempt to proactively address a serious problem and handle things in an aboveboard way.

I have a couple of cousins who attended Columbia. My understanding from speaking with one of them about her experiences with the Rape Crisis Center on campus, is that it is there to provide support, a shoulder and encouragement, but not to advocate on a student's behalf. It seems to me that's a flaw in the system.
posted by zarq at 9:47 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Students at my (private) university were expelled for underaged drinking and for selling drugs on campus, all without or prior to the involvement of the city police force. We had an honor code: "The Honor Code states that students are expected to act as responsible individuals, to conduct themselves with honesty and integrity both personally and academically and to respect the rights of others. The college considers these standards to be essential to its academic mission and its community life." I don't know why rape should be treated differently, except that as a culture we don't think acquaintance rape is something to get worked up about. Like Sulkowicz says, it's apparently just sex-gone-wrong.

This is a really powerful art piece and I wish her the best of luck. I hope that it in part encourages other campus "acquaintance-rape" victims to share their stories.
posted by muddgirl at 9:47 AM on September 3 [9 favorites]


I graduated from Columbia in 2010. I logged countless hours in the computer lab just down the hall from one of the Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Centers on campus. I remember feeling a sense of pride whenever I saw that office, because I was under the (mistaken) impression that it represented an attempt to proactively address a serious problem and handle things in an aboveboard way.

I was at Columbia around that time too. I remember coming from a Big Ten University thinking that this place was different, that there was no culture here that insulated frat dudebros and athletes from facing consequences for things like rape. Little did I know. It's still hugely disillusioning, reading about this kind of thing, to know that this is so deeply embedded in University culture that it affects all kinds of places from the cornfields of the Midwest to the big East Coast cities.
posted by melissam at 9:48 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Universities are not protected by law if they decide to expel a student based on an allegation of non-academic bad behaviors

See, now you are just making shit up.

College Student expelled for getting married.

Stanford can expel you for a DUI:
A drunk driving arrest on-campus is an automatic referral to the Office of Community Standards as a possible Fundamental Standard violation.
And it doesn't even require a conviction! A mere accusation is plenty good enough to lead to explusion.

This school expelled a student for being transgender and the student lost in court.

So, this nonsense about a University not being able to take action against an accused racist because reasons is crap. Universities fail to take sexual assaults seriously because University Leadership hasn't decided that it was worth doing.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:49 AM on September 3 [25 favorites]


I think our culture hasn't fully accepted rape as a crime; that we are still partially captive to an outdated way of thinking about rape which doesn't recognize women as fully equal people. I don't believe women lie about rape because they regret having sex, but I do believe police and school authorities frequently have that attitude.

I agree with all of this. But rape, if not legally a crime in the way it is now, was always something that happened. Perhaps some women -- or their fathers or husbands -- used it as a defense to sleeping around, but also it just plain happened and it was not a lie to get out of trouble for having sex without permission.
posted by jeather at 9:50 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


I hope that it in part encourages other campus "acquaintance-rape" victims to share their stories.

Ok that was way too mealy-mouthed on my part. "Sharing their stories" clearly isn't far enough and puts a huge weight on victims (ha). I hope this art/protest encourages campuses to wake the fuck up and stop protecting serial predators.
posted by muddgirl at 9:52 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Jesus people.

I was hunted down and asked to leave my school because I had streamed MP3's within the campus network. It is ludicrous how much of a literal free pass men accused of rape get from nearly every organization of structural power, and you all ask why she was dissatisfied with the system? Really?
posted by odinsdream at 9:55 AM on September 3 [59 favorites]


See, now you are just making shit up.

None of the things you mention is an allegation requiring the university to make a determination. Similarly, a university could be protected if it had a policy that suspended a student who had been indicted for sexual assault and expelled one who had been convicted with no risk, because the university isn't determining if the allegation is true or not.
posted by slkinsey at 9:57 AM on September 3


So, this nonsense about a University not being able to take action against an accused racist because reasons is crap.

The claim was not "universities can't do X". It was "universities aren't protected from retaliatory legal action if they do X".
posted by xbonesgt at 9:59 AM on September 3


None of the things you mention is an allegation requiring the university to make a determination.

So as long as they act unilaterally without some kind of Disciplinary Board hearing, like one college did in the case of the student who allegedly broke their lifestyle policy by getting married, then it's acceptable?
posted by muddgirl at 10:01 AM on September 3


It's still hugely disillusioning, reading about this kind of thing, to know that this is so deeply embedded in University culture that it affects all kinds of places from the cornfields of the Midwest to the big East Coast cities.

Sadly, it's not just university culture, as shown by the U.S. military's problems with addressing sexual assault in the ranks.
posted by Etrigan at 10:03 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


It takes a lot of fucking courage to do something like this. She's a total badass.
posted by Librarypt at 10:06 AM on September 3 [13 favorites]


>> None of the things you mention is an allegation requiring the university to make a determination.

So as long as they act unilaterally without some kind of Disciplinary Board hearing, like one college did in the case of the student who allegedly broke their lifestyle policy by getting married, then it's acceptable?


I'm not saying the policy and the decision don't suck. But from a liability standpoint, the student's same-sex marriage was a matter of public record that didn't need to be determined by the college, and it clearly demonstrates that she had violated the school's prohibition against "homosexual behavior."
posted by slkinsey at 10:07 AM on September 3


It might be a good way for Sulkowicz to draw attention to her fight with the university administration, but strictly considering it as an art project, this seems rather facile and literal.
posted by Flashman at 10:13 AM on September 3


What do they think will happen if there is a fourth case and it comes out that they dismissed three complaints about him already?

Pretty sure absolutely nothing useful or beneficial to the safety of women would happen at all in any way, as per usual.
posted by elizardbits at 10:17 AM on September 3 [4 favorites]


It might be a good way for Sulkowicz to draw attention to her fight with the university administration, but strictly considering it as an art project, this seems rather facile and literal.

That's what I thought at too first! I was like "this is really overly simplistic and literal. How trite." but I thought more about it and I thought about the long-term effects especially, on her as well as on those around her, and about carrying the mattress into private spaces, and I changed my opinion; if she'd just put a mattress on the front steps of the administration I would consider that more protest than art, but I think that actually committing to carrying it around throughout her daily life and her strictures on asking for help make this much more interesting. It doesn't have to be subtle to be good.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 10:18 AM on September 3 [24 favorites]


But from a liability standpoint, the student's same-sex marriage was a matter of public record that didn't need to be determined by the college, and it clearly demonstrates that she had violated the school's prohibition against "homosexual behavior."

It had to be "determined" by the college in that they had to investigate whether the wedding occured, and that it was indeed a marriage between two individuals of the same sex. I don't know why this is any different than investigating whether a sexual encounter met the guidelines of sexual assault.
posted by muddgirl at 10:24 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


Plagiarism is pretty cut and dried. You can't argue that the text consented to being copied or something. So it's pretty easy for the University to make a judgement call on those matters.

Honestly, you are terribly mistaken. Plaragiarism is very often a matter of judgment. Does the supposedly original text sufficiently resemble the previously published text?
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:27 AM on September 3 [8 favorites]


Also, I know this is about Sulkowicz's project, but I really feel obligated to address the idea that "If it's not clear-cut enough to file criminal charges, then I wonder if it was actually an assault or not."

Hello. I'm a person who has made a report to the NYPD but didn't file criminal charges. I wasn't raped but "forcibly touched," i.e., jumped and groped by a vigorously masturbating stranger while walking down the street on which I live on a dark winter's night. My case was pretty different from the one in question, but several aspects of my experience point toward why someone might decline to file charges for reasons that have nothing to do with it being "an assault or not."

Some highlights:

-In my case, there was a piece of physical evidence with fingerprints on it. The responding beat officers declined to pick it up out of the street. They instead offered to run it over.

-Instead of driving in the direction in which the guy who jumped me ran, officers immediately drove to the nearest housing project—do not pass go, do not collect $200—so I could "identify the perpetrator."

-Officers will not take you seriously, and will go out of their way to do anything that avoids filling out paperwork. They will repeatedly get the details of your report wrong, until you wonder if it's even worth correcting them.

-They will decline to pursue cases in which direct security camera footage or other slam-dunk evidence is not available.

-Filing a simple report takes hours to days. In cases of sexual assault, those hours are going to be split between the local precinct and the borough SVU office. Both will be dingy and awful. When a detective met with me at Brooklyn SVU to take down my report, she did so in a dirty cubicle with trash on the floor and a table you could cuff someone to. Said cubicle had a desk parked immediately outside it and lacked full walls, so it wasn't exactly the most private space. When I visited again two days later, the trash on the floor hadn't moved. On the plus side, the detective was way more competent than the beat cops.

-Cops will schedule things and then cancel, and then reschedule and then cancel. Getting something to the point of criminal charges involves doggedly placing calls with the NYPD and visiting and re-visiting the SVU building (bonus: police officers will never, ever know what the nearest subway station is).

-Speaking of visiting SVU, it's not exactly fun trucking it out to Crown Heights on a dark winter night when doing so involves walking alone down the same street where someone grabbed you the night before.

tl;dr, Unless you drop everything and dedicate your life to pursuing criminal charges, it's not going to happen. The NYPD will obstruct the process as much as possible, and even if you do get them to file a report, there's no promise that the DA will take up your case.

I wouldn't be surprised if the responding beat officers consider my case one of "20 that are total bull," since it involved a minor offense and I gave up on pursuing it. But the cost of pursuing it—even in a city I know well, and with the wherewithal that comes from being in my 30s—quickly outweighed the vanishingly small possibility that the guy could be found and stopped before he did something worse to someone else.

Plenty of crimes aren't pursued. That doesn't mean they didn't happen.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:34 AM on September 3 [125 favorites]


It had to be "determined" by the college in that they had to investigate whether the wedding occured, and that it was indeed a marriage between two individuals of the same sex. I don't know why this is any different than investigating whether a sexual encounter met the guidelines of sexual assault.

Are you seriously arguing that conducting an investigation and making a determination as to whether a sexual assault has occurred is as cut-and-dried as making a public records request?

The difference is that the marriage is a matter of public record. The school didn't have to investigate, weigh evidence and make a determination as to whether the couple was married or not. The determination that the student was married to a person of the same sex was made by the state when it issued the marriage license.
posted by slkinsey at 10:35 AM on September 3


The difference is that the marriage is a matter of public record. The school didn't have to investigate, weigh evidence and make a determination as to whether the couple was married or not. The determination that the student was married to a person of the same sex was made by the state when it issued the marriage license.

New Mexico marriage licenses and marriage certificates do not seem to include the gender of the participants, so how is that a matter of public record?
posted by muddgirl at 10:40 AM on September 3


The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault has a few statistics:

In 2008 the New York City Police Department (NYPD) received 890 reports of 1st degree rape.

In 2008, DCJS reported 944 arrests for 1st-3rd Degree Rape of which 43% led to convictions.
posted by gwint at 10:44 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


The difference is that the marriage is a matter of public record. The school didn't have to investigate, weigh evidence and make a determination as to whether the couple was married or not.

That's a different in degree, not in kind. It's easier to investigate a marriage because it's a matter of public record, but the school still had to decide to look into and obtain documentation, etc. Investigating stuff on the public record is still investigation.
posted by cjelli at 10:45 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


I'm curious as to whether the university will try to stop her with some kind of BS claim that the mattress can't be taken into classrooms because it creates a fire hazard or because a professor finds it distracting.
posted by alphanerd at 10:46 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


In case my last comment wasn't absolutely clear - when someone gets married in New Mexico (or California, where I have first-hand knowledge), they don't have to check a box that says, "I'm getting gay-married!" nor, in those two states, do they have to record their gender at all. So while the marriage may be a matter of public record, the fact that it was a gay marriage was a point that required investigation and determination. Additionally, the claim that there is some legal distinction here, where schools that expel gay students who get married can't get sued but schools who expel serial rapists can, has yet to be shown or proven in any way.
posted by muddgirl at 10:52 AM on September 3


My fantasy is a single day during her project when all the students who have had a similar experience at Colombia coordinate to bring their own mattresses with them too. Everywhere, all day. They would take up just about as much space as the proverbial elephant in the room as women (and no doubt some men) wedged and pressed them into your average lecture or dining or rec hall, softly bringing normal operations to an incredibly awkward halt.
posted by blue suede stockings at 11:03 AM on September 3 [30 favorites]


Just last night I was reading about how a student trying to piece together what happened to her after a frat party can be told by the guy "You were deff drunk," the guy then confess to campus police that said that he'd had intercourse with the woman until he reached orgasm, even after she'd said "no" and asked for the sexual contact to stop, only to have the university decide that community service is too much of a punishment to hand down to the guy.

There's no way to win. Maybe if we all carried mattresses around at all times someone would start to notice.
posted by rewil at 11:09 AM on September 3 [13 favorites]



I'm curious as to whether the university will try to stop her with some kind of BS claim that the mattress can't be taken into classrooms because it creates a fire hazard or because a professor finds it distracting.


Or if she takes it off campus they would claim that she is stealing university property.
posted by elizardbits at 11:11 AM on September 3


This is a really great FPP and I'm sad that so many of the comments don't measure up.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:11 AM on September 3 [20 favorites]


muddgirl, you can't seriously be arguing that requesting whatever records might be necessary to find out whether a student is in a same-sex marriage is the same thing as conducting an investigation into whether or not a sexual assault has occurred. It is not only a huge difference in degree, but also in nature. You might as well be saying that looking up the capital of Idaho in an encyclopedia is just like investigating an allegation of sexual assault and determining whether it happened. In any event, it sounds like the student acknowledged that she was in a same-sex marriage and there was no need for an investigation of any kind. Had she denied it, yes, they would have had to make the decision to find out for themselves. But all the necessary facts were readily attainable via simple factual inquiry. Has a marriage license been issued to these two individuals? The government can supply a yes or no answer. Are both of these individuals women under the law? The government can supply a yes or no answer. The school, meanwhile, wouldn't have to use any meaningful investigative skills or weigh evidence and exercise its judgment to determine anything. If, for example, one of the married individuals disagrees with the government's sex identification, that is a dispute to be taken up with the state and not with the school. This sort of thing has no meaningful similarity with an investigation and determination as to whether a sexual assault has been committed, which is complicated and difficult enough for the police.
posted by slkinsey at 11:14 AM on September 3


I'd like to take a moment to acknowledge her physical strength. Among other things this is a display of power.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:17 AM on September 3 [16 favorites]


muddgirl, you can't seriously be arguing that requesting whatever records might be necessary to find out whether a student is in a same-sex marriage is the same thing as conducting an investigation into whether or not a sexual assault has occurred.

What I'm arguing is that if a school has a code of conduct that includes a prohibition on rape and sexual assault, then they should enforce that code of conduct. "It's too hard" is bullshit. "They'll get sued" is also bullshit. You have repeatedly claimed that there's some level of "determination" or "investigation" that, if the school performs, suddenly they've opened themselves up to lawsuit. I maintain that such a claim is ridiculous and unproven.
posted by muddgirl at 11:29 AM on September 3 [7 favorites]


This sort of thing has no meaningful similarity with an investigation and determination as to whether a sexual assault has been committed, which is complicated and difficult enough for the police.

Here is what you said :

Universities are not protected by law if they decide to expel a student based on an allegation of non-academic bad behaviors

Which has been shown to be not true. In fact, the gay marriage example is an excellent demonstration of just how wrong that statement is. Of what academic value is a student's marriage or lack of marriage ? None - but the school expelled her anyway.

And, even better - gay marriage is illegal in Oklahoma. Was the student ever charged ? Arrested ? Did any actual legal consequence follow from her marriage ?

No. And the school wasn't bound to wait for that to happen either. The school made an independent determination that the honor code was broken by the student, and then expelled her for it.

There are other examples of this playing out. There is no reason that a sexual assault should be treated less severely than a marriage - and yet, that is the actual reality.

The only thing stopping Universities from taking sexual assault more seriously is the universities themselves. There is no legal requirement that Universities must wait until a conviction occurs before they can pursue consequences.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:35 AM on September 3 [9 favorites]


Does one offer to help her with the burden?

I live 5 blocks away and go to Columbia once in a while and I may, in fact, run into her. And I want to ask her if I can help.
posted by shothotbot at 11:38 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


I'm on campus now and will keep my eyes open. There's a lot of official stickers about hotlines for sexual assault around campus. I wonder if they're old or if they're related.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:41 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


I like the idea that people might sign on for a few hours or whatever to carry that weight. Make it more of a ghost in her presence than something she has to deal with in a physical way. Like psychological bodyguards or something.

I'm actually thinking of finding her and offering some help. I like every bit of this.
posted by lauranesson at 11:42 AM on September 3 [9 favorites]


And actually, I also find it fucking depressing that someone who could come up with this bit of brilliance has to spend it on standing up for people who are getting the shit end of the stick. I mean, good on her, it's important. But what might her senior project have been otherwise?
posted by lauranesson at 11:51 AM on September 3 [7 favorites]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt, I don't know what to tell you. For a variety of reasons I am pretty familiar with the legal fears of universities, as well as what cases do and do not tend to get decided in their favor. If the university makes an academic decision to expel someone, they are covered. If the university makes a decision to expel someone based on readily attainable factual information (e.g., whether someone has been arrested, indicted or convicted, whether they are married and to whom, etc.), they are covered. If the university uses its own determinations of a non-academic matter as the basis for expelling someone, they are very much not covered. Some of the things people have successfully sued universities for are shocking.

What you have to do is imagine yourself in a courtroom where clean-cut pillar of the community Billy Smith is suing State University for expelling him over an allegation of rape five years ago. And he is saying that, because he was expelled and that went on his record, he was only able to finish his undergraduate education at Crap College, and as a result he wasn't able to get into State College School of Biglaw, and as a result his lifetime earning potential has been negatively impacted. And, you know what? He was never convicted and no one ever proved he did anything, and the whole thing was determined by a bunch of unqualified professors and administrators who had no idea what they were doing. Then the jury starts deliberating. And they think, well, it's hard to say whether Billy did it or not, but State U sure didn't prove anything, and its true those professors didn't know what they were doing, and the whole thing seems... well, it seems a bit unfair. And now poor old Billy is going to have this black mark for the rest of his life. State U has plenty of money, they think, and it won't really hurt that school much if they give some of it to Billy. And so that's what they do.

There are plenty of cases where something similar to this scenario actually happened (or it was so clear it was going to happen that the school settled). Meanwhile, what do you know, some schools are already getting their asses sued off by former students who were expelled due to allegations of sexual assault. Plenty of those plaintiffs are going to win or get a settlement.

So, whether or not we agree that it's the same thing as "investigating" whether a student is in a same-sex marriage or has been arrested for a DUI, the fact is that the schools don't see it that way and they have very good legal and financial liability reasons for taking that view.
posted by slkinsey at 11:56 AM on September 3 [6 favorites]


slkinsey, your linked article describes some current court cases, but (short of being declared a vexatious litigant) anybody can sue anybody -- doesn't mean a judge will like it. Having filed a notice of action (or the local equivelant) and even sat for discovery is still miles away from actually winning. In the meantime, as has been pointed out already, your Title IX appears to require universities to investigate -- wouldn't a refusal to investigate open them up to legal action filed by victims, instead? And if they're going to be sued regardless, where's the profit in refusing to take action to make the campus a safer place?
posted by Mogur at 12:07 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


But what might her senior project have been otherwise?

Exactly what I thought when I saw the piece as well.
posted by ReeMonster at 12:07 PM on September 3


this woman has my full sympathy, i have no doubt she was raped, i wish her only the best and if i were in her class at columbia, i would volunteer to carry the mattress.

her art project is remarkable and unprecedented, but i'm really not an art critic. i'm a law critic and lifelong competitive chess player, which informs my view of conflicts among the competitive individuals in our competitive species. as a conflict, rape differs from chess in that it's nonconsensual, occasionally lethal to the victim, and lifelong psychological consequences otherwise. it's similar to chess in that the victim has to make the best available legal moves on the board in order to maximize her outcome. for this reason, i disagree that noting "you should have gone to the police" is at all victim-blaming or judgmental, it's instructional, and what women and police need is more instruction to maximize the outcome of these conflicts. i'm aware that going to the police can result in skeptical questioning and revictimization, but this can be changed through instruction and top-down policymaking. just as there's a big book "modern chess openings", there should also be a "modern rape openings for women" and a "modern rape openings for police", the latter of which should be enforced policy.

while i do not approve of illegal moves, i'm willing to countenance them silently in specific, non-chess situations. "gun to king five, check!"
posted by bruce at 12:07 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


This is so sad. I served on the judicial board at my college and am thankful to this day that I never had a sexual assault case come before me. It was hard enough handling more minor cases. I had one where a couple has accused each other of mild physical assault (throwing things at each other and yelling in one of their dorm rooms, maybe like one slap), and it was very hard to determine each person's responsibility. At the end of the day all we had to go on was one person saying that A, B, and C had happened in this way and the other one saying, no, it was X, Y, and Z in that way.

I think we ended up finding them both responsible and giving them probation for a short period. I just think that hearing a sexual assault case would be the same inputs (he says, she says) but with vastly more riding on the outcomes for both parties. With that level of evidence it is hard to hand down a punishment as severe as expulsion, but then you're basically saying that the complainant was either lying or that his or her claim doesn't matter.

I understand why many on MeFi feel that this woman was denied justice, and I don't disagree. I just wanted to offer this as an explanation as to why colleges don't take the stronger action on this that so many seem to want.

At the end of the day I think that they may need to just nail some people to the wall to hammer home the point that if you're not 100% sure the other person is enthusiastically consenting before and during the entirety of any sexual act, you should not have sex with that person. With the amount of intoxicated sex that goes on on college campuses though, that is a tall order.
posted by Aizkolari at 12:10 PM on September 3


I love this art project so much, and the implicit promise that people are going to ask her "WTF are you doing with that mattress?" And she'll tell her story each time. Fiercely brave and terrifying.

This reminds me of the Slut Walks during which women wore the clothes they were wearing when they raped; one photo had a woman wearing little-girl coveralls and carrying a child's backpack.
posted by nicebookrack at 12:11 PM on September 3 [10 favorites]


I was going to ask anyway, but is there any evidence that the guy is from a wealthy family or a legacy or other otherwise insulated?

And, as an aside, I am aware of (according to trusted friends who teach) clear-cut cases of plagiarism and honor code violations and cheating that were... managed in such a way that the students stayed in school with no damage to their academic record. Because the school is a business.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:11 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


I think slkinsey's proposal back in his first comment was not that schools shouldn't investigate rape allegations, but rather that they should do so using outside professionals.
posted by Area Man at 12:12 PM on September 3


Mogur, I agree that the schools should be doing investigations! I think they are going to have to bite the bullet and contract with professionals. I'm just explaining some of their concerns, and I'm sure they would vastly prefer that this sort of thing goes through the police and the courts so they can stay out of it. If they use professionals, however, it may result in matters being referred to the police. It also seems likely to me that punishments won't happen at nearly the level some believe they should, because the fact is that these things are very difficult to conclusively determine even when they are investigated by the police and pursued in the courts.
posted by slkinsey at 12:15 PM on September 3


...when if they are investigated by the police and pursued in the courts.

FTFY
posted by Mogur at 12:22 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


Mogur, I agree that the schools should be doing investigations! I think they are going to have to bite the bullet and contract with professionals.

The Department of Education's stance on Title IX is changing how many universities approach this. The DOE now recommends higher ed institutions adopt a "single investigator model" as a method for finding facts on which to base decisions. The DOE has also clarified that the standard of proof to use is "preponderance of the evidence," not some higher standard.

This is a sea change: higher education institutions had almost uniformly made these decisions using some kind of ad-hoc "tribunal" or panel method, made up of people untrained in investigation, and would typically include some mixture of faculty members, administrators, and even students.

However well-intentioned, this type of group would not be typically likely to reach a conclusion that a sexual assault occurred. The person who reported the assault would be likely to find the process confusing and frequently traumatic.

Universities are not exactly changing because they want to change. This change is being forced on them by the increased focus of the Department of Education in using Title IX as a vehicle to combat sexual assault at institutions of higher education. This has been problematic and frustrating for higher ed institutions as they are never quite clear on their obligations under Title IX, but after a period of uncertainty and unease, it does appear that the many universities are adapting to this new reality and adopting policies and procedures that make them safer and more responsive places for victims of assault/potential victims of assault than they were just a decade or two before.

Obviously tons of work to be done, but it's possible to see this landscape changing for the better before our very eyes.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:25 PM on September 3 [11 favorites]


Good points, MoonOrb. This model seems like an interesting idea.
posted by slkinsey at 12:30 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


This is quite possibly one of the bravest things I have ever heard about. What a spirit.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:34 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


But what might her senior project have been otherwise?

Probably not something that would be discussed on MetaFilter. It's terrible, though, that she had to go through what she did to inspire it.
posted by jaut at 12:35 PM on September 3


But what might her senior project have been otherwise? Probably not something that would be discussed on MetaFilter.

There is something tragic about this that I can't quite articulate, to do with the fact that her art was only deemed attention-worthy because of her victimization, and even then, because that victimization follows an all-too-familiar narrative.

i'm aware that going to the police can result in skeptical questioning and revictimization, but this can be changed through instruction and top-down policymaking

In an ideal world, maybe, but we're talking about a police department that just choked a guy to death, then arrested the guy who videotaped the choking, and then arrested the videographer's wife. It isn't exactly a department that acts in good faith.

The NYPD is an obstinate institution that desperately needs to make drastic cultural changes. Skeptical questioning and revictimization aren't the half of it, and officer instruction and top-down policymaking have yet to turn the tide. Chess it ain't.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:18 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Universities are not protected by law if they decide to expel a student based on an allegation of non-academic bad behaviors

This is not true. Do you work for a university?

My university has policies for disruptive and threatening behavior*. Students can be expelled for violating these policies, which are not academic policies.

*Sad note - we did not have any such policies until a disturbed student shot and killed three female professors here.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:26 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Okay, I should revise what I said. Whether or not they are protected by law, universities do have policies that include expulsion for reasons other than academic ones.
posted by Squeak Attack at 1:31 PM on September 3


The comments section of every article about campus sexual violence ever.
posted by emjaybee at 2:01 PM on September 3 [12 favorites]


But what might her senior project have been otherwise? Probably not something that would be discussed on MetaFilter.

Somehow I think she'd probably be okay with that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:02 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


 "we did not have any such policies until a disturbed student shot and killed three female professors here."

Wow. Do you know if this was just something they didn't have? Or were they afraid it would be a headache? (They being regents, OGC, etc.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:06 PM on September 3


because it creates a fire hazard or because a professor finds it distracting.

What if it does? What if he (OR SHE???) found it distracting?
posted by ReeMonster at 2:40 PM on September 3


From the Chronicle of Higher Education: Presumed Guilty: College men accused of rape say the scales are tipped against them.
posted by AwkwardPause at 2:59 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


It is totally reasonable for someone to go to the school before the police. The school has an advertised process for handling issues that is close the individual, often with their own security force; it's on home territory versus an unknown police station; it's often couched in a climate of genuine concern that will profess to act quickly to keep the victim safe; and it will appear to have the closest access to the facts.

The tragedy is there schools do not carry the burden of this obligation adequately. It's very possible that at some point, the option of going to the police as the next step will feel like it is opposing the thing that you put your trust in to adequately sift through the facts and keep you safe. At best, it will feel like trying to mitigate between two authority structures. To set aside a process that is already well underway and to call it inadequate adds a lot more stress to an already stressful situation, and at some point it perhaps seems worth it to simply see the thing through, or try to fix what has been going wrong instead.

In other words, it's emotionally and socially complicated to have trusted in something that felt reasonable and that has a lot of authorial input into the situation, to which the police often defer for judgment, and to find out it has failed you, and now you need another option.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:00 PM on September 3


[Couple comments deleted, let's not start all over from scratch here.]
posted by cortex at 3:11 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


AwkwardPause: From the Chronicle of Higher Education: Presumed Guilty: College men accused of rape say the scales are tipped against them.

I think this is actually a pretty decent piece, though I do have to say that these accused men need a better lawyer, because "If this boy wants to become a lawyer or a doctor, this has the potential to rear its ugly head down the road, like Chappaquiddick" is a painfully tone deaf analogy given how Ted Kennedy's life wasn't exactly ruined by what he did there.

Anyway, false accusations, made knowingly or unknowingly, do happen -- ISTR that academically rigorous studies have concluded that the incidence of them is about 2%, but obviously nailing down exact numbers is very difficult -- and there really are cases where colleges assign fault to the accused based on very flimsy evidence. There are also many cases where the schools simply throw up their hands and say they can't make a determination. It varies widely, and I've read enough of these stories to get the impression that there's very little rhyme or reason to the process.

Which says to me that maybe it's not reasonable to expect just outcomes to come from the jury-rigged disciplinary processes that the schools are in charge of. Then again, the real justice system has its own problems as documented above, and many victims don't get just outcomes there either.

Traditionally, I reserve much more of my sympathy for potential victims of rape than potential victims of false accusation, but that doesn't mean that it isn't awful for those who really didn't commit the crimes, and who were punished based on little or no reliable evidence. As long as we recognize that "but what about false accusations" is often a rhetorical tactic designed to distract from the issue of rape, I think it's good to occasionally read pieces like this one that remind us that an incident of alleged sexual assault is no picnic for either party, and that this makes it even more critical that we do our best to get it right.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:30 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


I've been on a long MeFi hiatus and...this thread is so tremendously wearying, I might just leave again.


The OP is about a woman, and a mattress:

A young woman is carrying a standard dorm-sized mattress all around campus and NYC, to show everyone what was ignored or dismissed by The Proper Authorities, and what she has to carry inside as a result. 30 students from her college have filed a Title IX complaint with the Federal Government. But the mattress is her senior art project. Because in the mean time, that is the only tangible action she feels empowered to take.

She carries the mattress by herself, unless you offer to help her


The Thread is a procedurally generated comment thread that could be swapped out for any other "civilized" comment thread on anything even tangentially related to campus sexual assault

The thread is a guerilla performance art piece that accurately recreates the lengths people will go to excuse, reframe, ignore, ignore ignore...and largely on the basis of things that have been *answered in the OP*

She carries the mattress by herself, unless you offer to help her


The Police?

Yes, she went to the police. It did nothing, and the officer purported said that a large proportion of accusations like hers are bullshit.

So she carries the mattress by herself, unless you offer to help her.


The University can't/shouldn't/isn't legally empowered to do something about campus assault

"Twenty-three students signed on to three separate complaints, each alleging violations of a different federal law, against Columbia and the affiliated Barnard College, which were filed with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. Such complaints have become more common in the last three years, since the department adopted a stricter view of colleges’ legal obligations, and warned that many of them were in violation."

-2nd link in OP, 2nd paragraph

The University has a legal obligation to act on campus sexual assault, according to Title IX: http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201104.html (linked from the aforementioned article)



In this thread, we demonstrate a need to reframe, derail, excuse, dismiss--and that this need is seemingly so desperate that we cannot read 3 paragraphs of information, in case it impedes us. So that we do not have to talk about this woman, and her mattress.

And so she carries it by herself

Until you offer to help her
posted by menialjoy at 3:34 PM on September 3 [55 favorites]


Traditionally, I reserve much more of my sympathy for potential victims of rape than potential victims of false accusation, but that doesn't mean that it isn't awful for those who really didn't commit the crimes, and who were punished based on little or no reliable evidence. As long as we recognize that "but what about false accusations" is often a rhetorical tactic designed to distract from the issue of rape, I think it's good to occasionally read pieces like this one that remind us that an incident of alleged sexual assault is no picnic for either party, and that this makes it even more critical that we do our best to get it right.


For me, the core problem is the same in both cases-- for victims like Emma Sulkowicz and for the men profiled in the article. The campus disciplinary systems are simply run by people who have no clue what they're doing, or worse, people with conflicts of interest in various directions (people worried about the school's reputation, people worried about a potential-- or maybe ongoing-- title IX investigation). When that happens, people who need justice can't get it, and other people are simply thrown under the bus.

And no, the answer isn't "Let the police handle it!" because they're also, in most cases, incompetent. Honestly, I don't know what the answer is, but the system as is is ridiculously broken.
posted by damayanti at 3:48 PM on September 3 [8 favorites]


This thread is legitimately the closest i've come to disabling my account since i returned in the first place, as an actual poster instead of a lurker.

And i mean, besides everything menialjoy said above which is on point...

Why are these threads always just reruns of the same stupid fucking episode of some tiresome stale off-night tv show? It makes me want to compile a list of every thread about a sexual assault, or title IX, or anything that could even begin to spur this kind of discussion(the con harassment threads, etc) so that a lot of you could realize you're just saying the same damn shit, and propping up the same tired wrong side of the tug of war with your "well the woman must have done SOMETHING xyz, there must be more to the story. don't jump to conclusions! what if we did! then that's a witch hunt!" garbage. We've had enormous MeTas about this, and yet it basically seems to be like trying to put out a chunk of latex that's on fire. You can submerge the entire thing in water, but as soon as you pull it out it'll burst into flames again on its own.

Shame on a large number of you. Not all of you, i mean there's some people in here fighting against the bullshit, but jesus.

I also think that there's something to be said for the fact that saying "this can't become a general discussion about sexual assault on campus" is completely missing the point of this art piece. Isn't it supposed to get people talking about this? That was my interpretation of it, at least. If you don't want to have that, just delete the damn thread. Coyly cordoning it off into "let's just talk about the art piece itself and what's in the FPP" feels too much like just sidestepping why it even exists.

Which isn't to say that i don't greatly respect the framing of the FPP, and the fact that it left it completely up to the reader to draw their own conclusions about how to discuss the piece, and where to go from there, but that is absolutely on topic.

And if bringing this up is too MeTa-y, then whatever i guess. I didn't really have much else to add, since i'm absolutely not engaging in this fight on here again right now.
posted by emptythought at 4:32 PM on September 3 [32 favorites]


Well I don't like it. We have a system for determining guilt and also for determining punishment.

At the tail end of Citizen's United, Snowden and Ferguson Et Al., this position amounts to "I'm white and middle class and I support the system because I know it's going to turn on me last."
posted by mhoye at 5:26 PM on September 3 [20 favorites]


For all the people who think that colleges shouldn't get involved, if you were assaulted in the office by a co-worker, would you want your employer to fire him? Or would you say, "That's not their job; of course I'll be happy to work with him until his guilt is proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law"?
posted by Ralston McTodd at 5:36 PM on September 3 [19 favorites]


This afternoon I went, no lie, to my academic employer's mandated sexual assault awareness seminar, which literally featured talking points like: "Alcohol impairs judgement and leads to poor decisions!" & "False accusations are terrible!" & "We need to tell victims who are reluctant to come forward or make a statement that their attacker could hurt someone else (and it would be implicitly the first victim's fault for not speaking up)!" & "We need to investigate everything thoroughly to find out THE TRUTH! but obviously we can't make anyone cooperate with us if they don't feel like it." LITERALLY.

I'm told this is the "new and improved" seminar meant to adhere more strictly to Title IX. I want to murder everything.
posted by nicebookrack at 6:15 PM on September 3 [15 favorites]


Bonus I'm-not-making-this-up WTFery about that seminar: there was a sexual assault on campus over the weekend (hence the seminar, I guess?), and we are to believe that the campus and local law enforcement are taking it v. v. seriously for reals.

This morning's front-page news: an article about the assault, next to an article about a local police officer fired for misconduct on the job--this time just getting in a fight, unlike the 3+ other cops under investigation for sexually assaulting people while on duty. I FEEL SAFER ALREADY
posted by nicebookrack at 6:31 PM on September 3 [9 favorites]


I really appreciate the posters in this thread discussing this project as art, who've given me much to think about. It's such a simple but clear symbol, the mattress as the weight she carries. People will tell her to drop it, move on, so the weight can be invisible again. Eventually she will develop impressive arm muscles from carrying a heavy awkward mattress with her everywhere. "Oh, look how strong she is, carrying that heavy load everywhere! How brave, how inspiring!" And on the one hand, she totally is! But on the other hand, what choice does she have? She can either carry the mattress everywhere, or she can lie down on the mattress and die there.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:08 PM on September 3 [10 favorites]


I'm told this is the "new and improved" seminar meant to adhere more strictly to Title IX. I want to murder everything.

Same rug, different broom you want to snap in half with a sharp report and plunge through patriarchy's undead heart.

A system, continuously re-branded - always designed specifically to deprecate women's reports of their rapes;
to intimidate and actively discourage women from the pursuit of justice;
to ultimately leave women adrift, while the powers that be smack their chops and collect their tithes.

Ms. Sulkowicz's rapist should thank his lucky stars that she continues to pursue justice, rather than simply incinerate him in his bed.
posted by Pudhoho at 12:02 AM on September 4 [6 favorites]


I've served for 7+ years on boards that hear cases of misconduct at the large public urban research university where I work, and I have a couple things to say that I hope will prove useful. I don't speak for my employer or any other academic institution, nor can I speak to policies or cultures at other institutions, or to specific cases on which I've served.

* At my institution, we are annually re/trained on hearing process, our board's mission, similarities and differences between the university process and the legal process, why we use "preponderance of the evidence," etc. In years past this included training on sexual misconduct, covering everything from nuances of consent to understanding societal frameworks conditioning understanding of rape, victims, reporting, etc. This expanded a while back with my university's proactive stance on addressing Title IX issues to an annual multi-hour re/training, separate from the basic training to serve. The bulk of the investigative work, however, is done by university employees whose job is, among other things, investigating & interviewing parties involved in alleged misconduct.

* I have never seen a board member display the kind of ignorance suggested by the above "anal rape" comment. Not doubting this was asked, nor that it could happen... but I ask accused and accusers many different questions designed to elicit their understanding of events, up to and including basic facts like, e.g., what quantity of alcohol is a "safe" amount for a 150 pound man to consume in an hour (what if they're 18? driving?). I have a difficult time conceiving of asking the rape question of a person who has filed rape charges, but hearings can go down many different alleys. I have no idea what students have thought of some of my questions because all of the usual privacy and confidentiality stuff applies--I don't get to talk with them later and learn how they experienced the hearing.

I have tremendous sympathy for what this woman suffered, and to her response to Columbia's alleged mishandling. I hope that she gets justice, or, at the very least, finds peace.
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:57 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


In my rape case, where the rapist was an ex-boyfriend, the case failed at the grand jury level. Then the ADA barked at me, "why didn't you explain that [the guy] was naked when you entered [your apartment and was then raped]?"

I mean, the answer to that is that it was my apartment, I had broken up with the guy and was staying elsewhere, it was morning when I entered, he had been sleeping, and sometimes people sleep naked. And nobody had asked me whether or not he was naked. To me, before getting scolded, it wasn't an issue.

I remember how absolutely shitty I felt when the ADA said that to me. I was like, "god, maybe I did bring it on myself -- people expect me to hightail it out of my apartment upon the sight of a naked ex-boyfriend -- what is wrong with me."

I mean that's like one shitty example out of a bunch that resulted from my interaction with law enforcement after my rape.

This little PSA is to show why women might sometimes be reluctant to go to the cops with rape.
posted by angrycat at 6:48 AM on September 4 [15 favorites]


"I think the most upsetting thing about it is ... if they find you guilty of plagiarism they kick you off campus or your major but if they find you guilty of rape...they keep you."

No, I'm not reposting from upthread. Different case, different University...same fucked up nonsense.

I used to volunteer for a local Rape Crisis center. Women are reluctant to report for many, many reasons, but nearly all of them have to do with the stone fact that if you report that you have been raped, your entire life is dissected and you are asked what you did to bring the attack upon yourself.

I got the same questions in the aftermath of my own rape. I was 9. But clearly, it was my fault, I must have done SOMETHING!
posted by MissySedai at 7:43 AM on September 4 [11 favorites]


As an art project, I think this is brilliant. Meaningful art pretty much always provokes, informs, enflames. I'm glad people are provoked by this. I'm glad people are made uncomfortable by this.

And I cannot imagine the kind of strength it takes her to do this. Mental and emotional strength, I mean. Being raped, as mentioned above (and obviously the entire point of the project) is a weight you carry forever, but for some lucky people, it fades, a little. She is consciously reliving that experience every moment of every day, taking it upon herself to do so to rub into everyone's faces what too many women (one is too many) and too many men (but not nearly as many as women, I'm not doing a what about the mens thing) have to carry with them every day of their lives in the face of a so-called justice system that is outright contemptuous and antagonistic to their needs for redress.

I don't care when she reported it. I don't care what she was wearing or who she knew or even if (as is so often trotted out) she initially said yes and then changed her mind. Because it simply does not matter. She said no. That's all anybody needs to know. She said no. Literally everything else about her choices in the situation is so irrelevant it may as well have taken place on another planet.

She's putting that in our faces. She's making the University confront the depth of their complicity. She's making the public understand how ineffectual and openly hostile the police are to victims of sexual assault.

I truly hope the University tries to ban her from doing this on campus, or if she takes it off campus tries to sue her for stealing University property. She'll have every Constitutional lawyer across the USA falling all over themselves to act for her.

The question we should all be asking ourselves as a result of this isn't 'why didn't she go to the police,' or anything else; it's, to steal from menialjoy's brilliant commentary, "how do we help her carry the weight, and how do we help stop other people from ever having to carry this weight?"
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:52 AM on September 4 [13 favorites]


“For every single rape I’ve had, I’ve had 20 that are total bull----,” he added. “It’s also my type of job to get to the truth. If that means being harsh about it, that’s what I do.”

Statistically, almost totally impossible. What is more likely -- that 20 women are lying about rape to this one officer, unique in the universe, or that this one officer's mechanisms of addressing rape victims are so hostile and unpleasant that the rape victims choose not to pursue this case?
This officer should be fired.


Actually, I'd say it's more likely that the officer has committed rape more than once himself... of course, he never considered it rape.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:32 PM on September 4 [4 favorites]


Artnet: "Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight is almost certainly already one of the most important artworks of the year."
posted by nicebookrack at 9:35 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


Today's interview with Emma in NYMag. Some parts that struck me:

- There's a no-contact order between Sulkowicz and her probable-rapist, seemingly from him against her, though it's not entirely clear.

- Reporters are triggering her rape memories:
"I received an email from one reporter, “Subject line: Mattress Girl. Content: I have her contact info and I am going to get her.” I didn’t know that he was a reporter at first so I thought I was going to die, and so I was so scared and really fearing for my life. My boyfriend came and picked me up because I was so afraid of the reporters."

And this is just enraging:
"In the new Columbia policy it is even harder than it was before to try a serial rapist, and have him expelled. Now they have explicitly stated that each case will be treated separately until the first one has closed. If one person rapes three girls in one night, those girls won’t be able to testify at each other’s cases, the way it currently stands."
posted by nicebookrack at 9:52 PM on September 4 [5 favorites]


For anyone interested, I got an email from columbia this morning, presumably as a response to the media around this particular case:

Dear ,

The national discussion about sexual assault and other forms of gender-based misconduct at colleges and universities around the country has generated a lot of media attention recently, some which has been focused on Columbia, as well as our peer institutions. As former students, I know that you have a continued interest and investment in what’s going on at the College, so I want to make sure that you are able to place this news in the greater context of our efforts on campus in recent months to improve our students’ experience and ensure their safety and well-being.

The University has been aggressively working on many fronts to prevent and better respond to sexual assault and other types of gender-based misconduct. We have announced a new Gender Based Misconduct Policy for Students; opened a second Sexual Violence Response and Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center in Lerner Hall that is more accessible to College students; and significantly expanded the mandatory training that students receive during our New Student Orientation Program (NSOP) to ensure a complete understanding of consent and the importance of bystander intervention, as well as the responsibilities that students have to one another as members of a shared community.

The recent changes to our policies and practices include allowing an attorney or other advisor to accompany students who are parties to the investigative and disciplinary process, if the student desires; and the hiring of several case managers within the Gender-Based Misconduct Office dedicated to helping students access available support services and secure necessary accommodations regarding their academic work and residential living arrangements. Every student involved in the University’s investigative and disciplinary proceedings must be able to rely on the fairness and sensitivity of a process that leads to outcomes with lasting consequences for all involved parties.

The University fully respects the choice of every member of our community to peacefully express personal or political views on this and other issues. At the same time, it is important to understand that both federal student privacy law and our policies aim to ensure that students are not deterred from reporting gender-based misconduct out of a concern for their privacy. The University therefore does not comment on specific cases and steadfastly respects the confidentiality of those involved.

While this is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach, it is a most serious one that we are addressing in many ways. To learn more about the range of activity dedicated to preventing gender-based misconduct, I encourage you to visit the newly-expanded Sexual Respect website. You may also be interested in a recent Columbia Spectator article describing the reaction of our new students to the enhanced orientation sessions on prevention, consent, and bystander intervention. We encourage you to share your thoughts and suggestions, and will continue to reach out throughout the coming academic year to continue this discussion about how to improve our policies and practices for preventing and responding to sexual assault and other forms of gender-based misconduct.

The safety and well-being of Columbia undergraduates is my greatest priority, and I want to assure you that I am doing everything I possibly can to ensure that all our students feel safe, respected, and fully able to experience our exceptional education and social opportunities.

Sincerely,

James J. Valentini
Dean of Columbia College and
Vice President for Undergraduate Education
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:21 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]


Lutoslawski, that's great and all, I am glad those changes are happening, but FWIW I feel Emma Sulkowicz deserves the credit, not them.

She should cite that letter as part of her senior project, because I doubt your alma mater would be doing any of those things if she hadn't gone public.
posted by misha at 6:23 PM on September 6 [1 favorite]


that's great and all, I am glad those changes are happening, but FWIW I feel Emma Sulkowicz deserves the credit, not them.

Well I don't disagree with that but Columbia would of course never do that.

I actually think their response is pretty lame. At my current grad school (large state institution), all new students have to do a (pretty good, actually) few hour training at the beginning of the year about sexual assault/harassment/rape (including how to out potential creepers and help out vulnerable students). On top of that, after a couple emails went around about sexual assault claims on campus after the first couple weeks this year (mandated by the Clery act - every student gets notified when an assault claim is made), the president sent out an email with a link to a list of pretty severe and concrete consequences that you'd incur if found guilty of sexual harassment. To me, that seemed a little less lip-service-y than Columbia, but, even as an alum, I don' t expect more much from Columbia.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:01 PM on September 9 [2 favorites]


God, this and the Sandusky thing are reminding me of when my college deeply, deeply fucked up its Clery Act obligations by issuing a statement (and leaving it uncorrected for about a month) that there was no foul play suspected in a rape-murder.

(Unfortunately, the main thing that debacle taught me was that if I ever — God forbid — get faced with something like dealing with a serious crime within a bureaucracy to document, document, document. I knew one (Jim Vick) of the three people fired over the debacle, and he was very much a scapegoat for the other two, who were mendacious idiots to the core. But instead of documenting what he was told by the police and what he told the university president, he got caught out without any paper to hide under. He made mistakes too, but ugh.)
posted by klangklangston at 6:49 PM on September 9


Lutoslawski, I think your grad school sounds pretty awesome.
posted by misha at 6:57 PM on September 9


Misha, I'm not saying that my current school's pretty great and proactive actions on sexual harassment are because the president is a woman, but I don't think it hurts.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:47 PM on September 9 [1 favorite]


Students help Emma Sulkowicz carry mattress to class in first collective carry (via @willbrooker)

(It took ages to load and the picture links appear to be broken/not loading, although the first picture does load, fyi.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 7:39 AM on September 11 [9 favorites]


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