NEW YORK — Aided by four friends, and to the cheers of some of her classmates, the student who protested Columbia University’s handling of her sexual assault complaint by carrying a mattress around campus all year hoisted it for the last time Tuesday as she crossed the stage at a graduation ceremony.
Up until seconds before the student, Emma Sulkowicz, walked onstage, Columbia officials had asked her to leave the mattress behind. President Lee C. Bollinger turned away as she crossed in front of him, failing to shake her hand.
Sulkowicz’s graduation, and the end of her protest, brought to a close a tumultuous year, in which Columbia became a focus of the movement to change how universities address sexual assault. A student group called No Red Tape has held protests, including one in which it projected the words “Columbia protects rapists” on the facade of a school library, and a number of students on Tuesday put red tape on their baby-blue mortarboards to show their support.
As a result of her protest, which is also her senior art thesis, Sulkowicz herself has become the face of a national movement to raise awareness about sexual assault.
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She attended the State of the Union address this year as the guest of Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who is pushing a bill that would require every college to survey its students about their experience with sexual violence, create a uniform disciplinary process for accusations of assault and give law enforcement agencies a greater role.
Minutes before Sulkowicz walked across the stage, Paul Nungesser, the student she has accused of rape, did so as well, to little response from the crowd.
Nungesser, who was cleared by the university and has maintained that their sexual encounter was consensual, filed a federal discrimination suit last month, saying he has been the victim of a harassment campaign. Nungesser declined to comment Tuesday.
As for what will become of the mattress, which she bought online, Sulkowicz said she would hang onto it.
“If some sort of museum wants to buy it, then I’m open to that,” she said, “but I’m not going to just throw it away.”