TIME TIME for Thanks

Emma Sulkowicz: What I’m Thankful For

Emma Claire Sulkowicz
Courtesy Emma Claire Sulkowicz

I am thankful for…

My mom, dad, and sister. We have spent so many long nights talking and learning from each other. We believe in speaking out when we feel betrayed, and we won’t take another person’s crap. My family members are not afraid to voice their opinions. They are intelligent beyond belief. They awe me with their strength. They are each leaders in their own way. They teach me thoughtfulness, and respect.

My boyfriend. He has such an open mind. He teaches me patience.

My friends. People I’ve grown with. We are so incredibly close.

The other students who stood up for themselves and reported their cases against Paul. Alone, we were scared and mute. Together, we supported each other and braved the process. Without them, I would have never reported my case. They taught me to see beyond the pain Paul caused me, and realize that inaction would cause harm to others. They taught me responsibility.

My mentors and teachers who give me feedback when I am most vulnerable. Thank you to those who have helped me with my current and upcoming work.

The awe-inspiring artists who have reached out and supported me since my piece began.

My past professors who still support me today.

My suitemates.

The Shepards, who are like family.

Dawn, who helped raise me.

My home.

My dogs, Tybalt and Ophelia.

Being born and raised in the fastest city on earth. There is no place like New York.

Being a woman, which I am proud of.

My education. I learned about performance art in high school, whereas so many people will never know what it is. And, although Columbia betrayed me, I am thankful for how I’ve learned to think clearly and critically about my situation, and for the opportunity to collaborate with inspiring student activists and a wonderful art faculty and community there.

Everyone who has believed in me. Everyone who has helped carry the mattress. Everyone who has carried mattresses in support around the world. Everyone who has stood up for themselves and spoken out. Everyone who has worked to end the silence. These are the people who make real change.

Emma Sulkowicz is a student at Columbia University. A visual arts major, she is carrying her mattress around campus until her accused rapist is expelled.

TIME Sexual Assault

‘My Rapist Is Still on Campus’

Emma Sulkowicz is a junior at Columbia University. She 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.

I was raped by a fellow classmate the first day of my sophomore year. I didn’t report it at first because I didn’t feel like dealing with the emotional trauma. 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.

During my hearing, which didn’t take place until seven months after the incident, one panelist kept asking me how it was physically possible for anal rape to happen. I was put in the horrible position of trying to educate her and explain how this terrible thing happened to me.

I also had to watch my rapist give his testimony on a television in another room. It’s that feeling where your stomach drops. Not only was he lying, but he was also making up these entire fantasy stories of sex that we’d had. They were so graphic and disgusting. He had every detail made up: “And then she put her hand here and then she said this word.” It was scary to see someone’s mind work like that.

Ultimately they decided he wasn’t guilty. I appealed, but appeals go to the dean who basically has the autonomy to make the final decision for every case of sexual assault on campus. That’s not right. They either must find a disinterested party or they should train him because he hasn’t been trained to know to deal with survivors.

Every day, I am afraid to leave my room. Even seeing people who look remotely like my rapist scares me. Last semester I was working in the dark room in the photography department. Though my rapist wasn’t in my class, he asked permission from his teacher to come and work in the dark room during my class time. I started crying and hyperventilating. As long as he’s on campus with me, he can continue to harass me.

I’ve lost friends because some people just don’t understand what it means to be raped. One friend asked me if I thought that my rapist would be expelled from school. I said, “I really hope so.” And he said, “Poor guy” because I think many men see rape as kinky sex that went wrong. They say girls are confusing and it’s hard to tell when you’re supposed to stop. When I was raped, I was screaming “no” and struggling against him. It was obviously not consensual, but he was turned on by my distress.

I think the school is pressured to find him not guilty because up until now Columbia could just push these things under the rug and no one would know. But that means the Columbia administration is harboring serial rapists on campus. They’re more concerned about their public image than keeping people safe.

(Columbia University has declined to comment on the particulars of ongoing disciplinary proceedings.)

(You can read more opinions in TIME’s special report: Ending Campus Sexual Assault and get the full story in this week’s cover article by Eliza Gray: The Sexual Assault Crisis on American Campuses.)

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