A Columbia University student who has carried her mattress around the Ivy League campus all year in protest of the school's handling of her sexual assault case graduated on Tuesday — and the mattress crossed the stage with her.
Emma Sulkowicz, who claimed she was raped in her dorm room on the first day of her sophomore year, earned applause from the audience when she crossed the stage with the mattress, NBC News reported.
Columbia administrators said in an email to students Monday that “graduates should not bring into the ceremonial area large objects which could interfere with the proceedings or create discomfort to others in close, crowded spaces shared by thousands of people," Columbia's student newspaper reported.
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Teo Armus, a student reporter for the Columbia Spectator, reported before the ceremony Tuesday that a school official had asked Sulkowicz to leave her mattress in a room and pick it up after the event. But Sulkowicz was ultimately allowed to bring the mattress into the tent, Armus told NBC News.
In September, Sulkowicz started carrying the mattress wherever she went on campus to protest the way she said the university mishandled her rape complaint. She said the case against her alleged abuser was dismissed.
“It’s an art piece but also a protest,” said Sulkowicz, a visual arts major, who called the project "Carry That Weight."
Sulkowicz said she was raped on Aug. 27, 2012, but waited until April 2013 before telling campus authorities because she was scared to talk about it. She ultimately reported the sexual assault after other female students told her they had been raped by the same person, she said.
The student she accused of rape, Paul Nungesser, sued Columbia in April, saying the school failed to protect him against harrassment when Sulkowicz publicly claimed he raped her.
After Sulkowicz and 22 other students filed a Title IX complaint against Columbia, the school unveiled a revamped sexual misconduct policy this summer. It includes a new office aimed at making sex crime reporting easier for students.