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Columbia University Rape Activist Carries Mattress at Graduation

By Emily Frost | May 19, 2015 2:31pm | Updated on May 19, 2015 5:10pm
 Students helped Emma Sulkowicz carry her mattress across the stage at graduation.
Students helped Emma Sulkowicz carry her mattress across the stage at graduation.
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COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY — A Columbia College student who has hauled a dorm room mattress around campus since September to protest her alleged rape carried it across the stage at the university's graduation ceremony Tuesday — despite a university warning that she would be banned from doing so. 

Emma Sulkowicz, a senior who said the university bungled the case against her accused rapist, has carried the mattress in protest of the university's policies and as her senior thesis art piece, called "Carry That Weight."

Sulkowicz carried her mattress across the graduation stage with the help of fellow senior and campus sexual assault activist Zoe Ridolfi-Starr and three other student activists who were graduating, Ridolfi-Starr told DNAinfo.

The university emailed students in advance of graduation to tell them "no large objects" would be allowed at the ceremony.

"[The university] told her she couldn't but we went anyway and they couldn't stop us!" said Ridolfi-Starr of the graduation ceremony.

Students also wore red tape across their black graduation caps in solidarity with the campus group No Red Tape, which has fought for new policies surrounding how sexual assault is handled and prevented on campus. 

Sulkowicz, who could not be reached for comment, has told DNAinfo she would carry the mattress until her alleged rapist was removed from campus or left on his own. 

Last month, Paul Nungesser, the Columbia senior Sulkowicz accused of raping her, sued the university for allowing Sulkowicz to engage in her protest, claiming her activism was a form of bullying that the university allowed. He claimed she became angry and accused him of rape after she said she loved him and he did not reciprocate, according to his federal lawsuit.

Nungesser, whose parents were in town from Germany for graduation proceedings, crossed the stage prior to Sulkowicz Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for the university said the school was "not going to comment on individual students; it is a day for all members of the Class of 2015," in a statement Tuesday. 

"We were not going to physically block entry to graduates who are ultimately responsible for their own choices.”

Listen to DNAinfo's podcast interview with Zoe Ridolfi-Starr: