Campus tribunals are ill-equipped to deal with alleged major felonies
This is a thing that’s actually happening at Columbia University in New York City.
Rather than taking her allegations of rape to local law enforcement, Emma Sulkowicz has decided to carry around her mattress as long as her alleged rapist remains on campus. Sulkowicz didn’t report the rape immediately after it happened, but was convinced to report the alleged incident months later. The case was ultimately dismissed by university authorities.
According to the Columbia Spectator:
As long as her alleged rapist goes to Columbia, Emma Sulkowicz, CC ’15, plans on carrying a navy blue, extra-long twin-sized mattress wherever she goes.
Entitled “Carry That Weight,” the mattress is both the visual art major’s senior thesis and a step in her journey to come to terms with her experience. Over the past year, Sulkowicz has become a prominent critic of the University’s sexual assault adjudication policies, retelling her story to various administrators and media organizations to raise awareness.
“The past year of my life has been really marked by telling people what happened in that most intimate and private space,” Sulkowicz said, referring to the dorm bed where she was allegedly raped on the second night of her sophomore year.
“I was raped in my own dorm bed and since then, that space has become fraught for me. I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there since then,” she added.
Months after her alleged rape, Emma reported the incident to the school. Her case, one of three individual complaints filed against the same student, was closed, and her rapist found “not responsible.” She appealed, but it was denied and the decision was upheld.
Sulkowicz has turned what she says was a horrible tragedy into performance art.
Performance art that will suffice as her senior thesis. A fact I’ll just leave there without commenting on further:
Sulkowicz plead her case to the university. But why didn’t she go to the police?
Why rely upon the school’s justice system to take action?
Cases like this highlight what seems to be a growing problem in higher education.
Professor Jacobson wrote about a similar case in May, also occurring at Columbia. A male former Columbia student filed a complaint with a federal court in New York alleging he was found guilty of sexual assault by university officials based on weak evidence. He also claimed he was denied proper due process proceedings.
Legal Insurrection frequently writes about the death of due process on college campuses.
Serious allegations would be better be handled by law enforcement equipped to handle them and by a justice system designed to dispense justice as opposed to whatever is most politically expedient.
Sulkowicz made this argument herself in an interview with Time:
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.
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.
Rape and sexual assault are major felonies. Treat them that way.
In an interview, Sulkowicz discussed her experience with the NYPD:
Emma, as well, reported to the police. As much as her attempts to work with the New York Police Department have already been documented, she reiterates to me how disconcerting the experience has been. “The first responder told me that what happened to me was consensual because I’d had sex with him before. I have [heard from the NYPD since], but just after being mishandled by them as well, I just didn’t feel safe or comfortable talking to them anymore, and they passed the case on to the district attorney’s office, who contacted me and said it would take up to nine months or a year for it to go to court. By then I would have graduated, and if I sit around waiting for that, I’ll be missing out on other opportunities like creating this piece, or doing other work, it’ll just be a waste of my time.” In short, she has been unable to work with the NYPD.
All accounts vaguely indicate Sulkowicz chose not to pursue her case with the NYPD. It took Columbia seven months to deal with the case once it was reported.
We still maintain major felonies should be treated as such.
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