Senator Gillibrand Criticized for Emma Sulkowicz State of the Union Invite

Emma Sulkowicz Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is being criticized for bringing a Columbia University student, Emma Sulkowicz, to last week’s State of the Union address.

Sulkowicz’s senior art thesis, Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight, has made national news headlines for its pointed critique of how sexual assault investigations are mishandled by universities.

“Senator Gillibrand’s honor to Ms. Sulkowicz is undeserved and violates the principles of confidentiality and gender equality of Title IX, the law that oversees sexual misconduct on campus,” said Families Advocating for Campus Equality in a statement released Sunday, as reported by the Washington Times. “Sulkowicz failed to establish any wrongdoing by the student she accused after a tribunal, and an appeal at Columbia, as well as an investigation by the New York Police Department.”

Since the beginning of the school year, Sulkowicz has carried a dorm room mattress across campus to raise awareness of the problem of sexual violence on college campuses, protesting how Columbia responded to her own sexual assault claim, refusing to expel the student she says raped her.

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Students help Emma Sulkowicz carry her mattress
Photo: via Carry the Weight Facebook

In an interview with New York Magazine, Sulkowicz’s alleged rapist, Paul Nungesser, also criticized the senator, claiming to be “shocked” that Gillibrand was “actively supporting Ms. Sulkowicz’s defamation campaign against me by providing her with a public forum in which to broadcast her grave allegation.” He further accused the politician of “participating in a harassment campaign against someone, who, for good reason, has been found innocent by all investigating bodies,” calling Sulkowicz’s claims of rape “untrue and unfounded.”

Gillibrand has since defended her actions, explaining to New York magazine that “I wanted Emma to have the opportunity to be part of the State of the Union. I think her presence alone sends a message to my colleagues and to the White House that this issue is important,” and that “my job is to create legislation that reforms this issue across all schools and to make sure that it doesn’t happen to someone else.”

For her part, Sulkowicz noted her disappointment in the President’s failure to mention sexual violence on college campuses during his speech, telling New York,”I am not going to lie, I was let down because I felt like there were points in his speech where he could have brought it up. I was really hoping he would mention it, since the issue has been raised to a new level.” She did, however, admit that “just seeing the President in person was such a wild experience.”

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