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Columbia Student Brings Mattress to Graduation Event

May 20, 2015

Despite the administration's attempt to ban "large objects" from Columbia University's Class Day ceremonies Tuesday, a student carried a mattress with her on stage in protest of the university's handling of sexual assault complaints.

Emma Sulkowicz has carried the mattress around campus all year as her senior art thesis and was expected to bring the mattress with her to the Class Day ceremony, an event separate from the main commencement ceremony. The day before the ceremony, the university sent an email to Columbia's seniors, warning them of a new rule that barred students from bringing "large objects which could interfere with the proceedings or create discomfort to others in close, crowded spaces shared by thousands of people."

Sulkowicz brought the mattress on stage with her anyway, prompting cheers from the crowd. Her alleged rapist, a fellow graduating senior who was never charged and is suing the university for allowing the art project to go on, was listed on the Class Day program. Many students and activists praised Sulkowicz for seeing her project through to the end. Other students criticized the university for not forcing Sulkowicz to follow the rules it set.

“We communicated to all students that the shared celebratory purpose of Class Day and commencement calls for mutual respect for the security and comfort of graduating students and their families in attendance,” Columbia said in a statement. “We are not going to comment on individual students; it is a day for all members of the Class of 2015. We were not going to physically block entry to graduates who are ultimately responsible for their own choices.”

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Jake New

Jake New, Reporter, covers student life and athletics for Inside Higher Ed. He joined the publication in June 2014 after writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education and covering education technology for eCampus News. For his work at the Chronicle covering legal disputes between academic publishers and critical librarians, he was awarded the David W. Miller Award for Young Journalists. His work has also appeared in the Bloomington Herald-Times, Indianapolis Monthly, Slate, PBS, Times Higher Education and the Australian. Jake studied journalism at Indiana University, where he was editor-in-chief of the Indiana Daily Student.

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