The National Organization for Women has announced that Emma Sulkowicz will be the recipient of its 2016 Woman of Courage Award, in honor of her now-famous piece Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight), 2014–15. The performance was developed as Sulkowicz’s senior thesis project in response to Columbia University’s handling of her accusations of rape against fellow student Paul Nungesser. The performance called for Sulkowicz to carry her 50-pound mattress around with her on campus until Nungesser left the university, whether due to expulsion or other circumstances.
Nungesser was absolved of the rape charge and is now suing Columbia for permitting Sulkowicz to carry out her performance, which he claims “violated his rights by allowing Sulkowicz to brand him a rapist,” according to a Slate article. Nungesser is now filing a second Title IX lawsuit against the school, which forbids sex-based prejudice at schools that receive federal funds. (His former Title IX lawsuit was thrown out by U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods, who asserted that Nungesser misunderstood “sex-based” to mean “based on the act of sex” as opposed to “gender.”)
In an Instagram post, Sulkowicz rebuked feminist and social critic Camille Paglia for publicly calling Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) “a ‘masochistic exercise’ in which I neither ‘evolve’ nor ‘move-on.’ ”
She writes further:
“[Paglia] speaks as if she, a white woman, knew what was best for me, a woman of color she’s never met….To expect me to move on is to equate courage with self-censorship. The phrases—suck it up, move on, and get over it—are violence. People who say these phrases equate what is right with what is expected. I dedicate this award to everyone who has not told me to get over it. Thank you for validating my fear and my way of handling it.”