mfort on our mattress, but for Emma Sulkowicz it is a terrible reminder of her rape. The 21-year-old Columbia University student is carrying a mattress around campus until her alleged attacker, a fellow student at Columbia, is expelled from the school.
Sulkowicz was raped in her dorm room on the first day of her second year. She did not report the rape until two other female students came forward with assault allegations against the same man. All three reported the incidents, but the university has dismissed all the cases. In May, she reported the rape to the New York City Police Department (NYPD). Sulkowicz’s senior thesis entitled “Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight,” symbolizes the weight of the trauma she carries every day.
When a rape victim needs to carry a mattress around the campus of an Ivy League school to highlight her plight, it’s clear the issue is graver than it appears. Rape culture in schools is prominent and it is apparent universities are handling it very poorly.
In April 2012, McGill University came under fire after three members of its football team were charged with sexual assault and were allowed to continue to play for the team. Only after immense outcry did the students quit.
In September 2013, students from the University of British Columbia reportedly sang a chant promoting rape of underage girls during frosh week. Students chanted, “Y-O-U-N-G at UBC, we like ‘em young, Y is for your sister, O is for oh so tight, U is for underage, N is for no consent, G is for go to jail.” In a CBC.ca article posted on Sept. 7, 2013, Vaibhab Verma, who was present at the event, said “If you don’t feel like doing the chants, you can just ignore them.”
Ignoring pro-rape chants is the kind of behaviour that fuels rape culture. Considering rape as part of the university experience normalizes the crime and the victim’s suffering. Rape victims suffer from anguish, trauma, and often shame. The leniency of school administrations is appalling. By dismissing sexual assault cases, the school effectively promotes rape culture.
Sexual assault incidents are not new to Ryerson. In 2012, the staff of the Ram in the Rye pub informed Ryerson’s security of several sexual assaults that took place on Sept. 5 of that year. Reportedly, a male student was grabbing women’s buttocks. Ryerson’s discrimination and harassment prevention policy sets out the penalties for sexual harassment, solicitation and reprisal. They range from a verbal/written apology to the complainant to the dismissal/expulsion of the perpetrator.
Columbia University’s president Lee C. Bollinger announced a new university gender-based misconduct policy for students. In his letter, posted on the school’s website, he says the policy will ensure better handling of reported assaults. The policy enables the victim to be accompanied by an attorney to all hearings and students will no longer be able to serve on hearing panels.
Prevention, however, is better than cure. Policies alone won’t make a difference. It’s important university administrations acknowledge the existence of rape culture on their campuses and work to eliminate it. Next frosh week, we should be chanting “Rape is a crime, don’t be a criminal!”
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on Sept. 10, 2014.