Students Accuse Columbia University of Protecting Rapists

One of the buildings on Columbia University's Campus. Courtesy of Columbia University.

Columbia University is back in the media spotlight after protests erupted on campus Monday evening. The student group No Red Tape swathed an administrative building and the Low Library with projected slogans that read “Columbia Protects Rapists,” “We Deserve a Safe Campus,” and “Rape Happens Here.”

The public rally comes in the wake of a federal investigation against Columbia for mishandling sexual assault cases. Federal complaints were filed last year alleging the school’s violation of the Clery Act, a law requiring public dissemination of campus crime statistics. It is no coincidence that Monday also marked National Day of Action, a day where students across the country spoke out against their university’s response to an alarming rape culture.

The university initially fell under heavy pressure this fall, when senior and studio art major Emma Sulkowicz initiated a performance piece entitled Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight, for which she hauled around a twin mattress in protest of the school’s unwillingness to expel her alleged rapist (see Columbia Student’s Striking Mattress Performance). The performance-project, part of her senior thesis, kindled a much larger protest effort for which hundreds of students gathered to share their personal experiences with assault, and pile their own mattresses on the campus grounds (see Columbia Students’ Performance Art Catalyzes A Full Fledged Protest Movement).

Sulkowicz’ efforts were not in vain. This January, she attended the State of the Union address, mattress-in-tow, to support voting for the Bipartisan Campus Accountability and Safety Act, an edict that would require universities to improve their response to on-campus sexual violence (see Mattress Artist Emma Sulkowicz To Attend State of the Union). She also peaked the interest of one almighty performance artist, Marina Abramović, who told New York magazine, “I really want to meet her […] many people don’t have the willpower to stick to something no matter what, and that’s what she’s doing” (see Marina Abramović Is Down With Emma Sulkowicz’s Mattress Piece).

The demonstrations Monday night came at a decisively sensitive time for Columbia: it coincided with “Days on Campus,” or visiting days for prospective students. Though administration and a police force tried to appease the protesters and mitigate public damage, the student-group remained stalwart in their campaign.

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