Every College President Needs to Read This Open Letter From the Parents of a Rape Victim
On Thursday, the parents of Emma Sulkowicz — the Columbia University student who has been carrying her mattress around until her alleged rapist is brought to justice — published an open letter to the school, its president and its board of trustees.
"On April 18, 2013, our daughter, Emma Sulkowicz, CC '15, reported that she was raped by a fellow student to the Office of Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct," wrote Sandra Leong and Kerry J. Sulkowicz. "What followed was a prolonged, degrading, and ultimately fruitless process. ... The investigation, hearing, and appeals process that followed her complaint to the University were painfully mishandled. We feel that they violated standards of impartiality, fairness, and serious attention to the facts of the case."
Sulkowicz's story was brought to national attention in early September after her performance art piece titled "Mattress Performance" or "Carry that Weight" was made public. In it, she vowed to carry her mattress around Columbia's campus until her alleged rapist was brought to justice.
Her parents have now joined her public battle against the school. In particular, they highlighted the poor responses of Lee Bollinger, the school's president, and Rosalie Siler, then the assistant director of Student Services for Gender-Based and Sexual Misconduct and Emma's sole adviser in the case. They also criticized Columbia for its failure to take a stand when sexual assault and colleges are in the spotlight.
"We find it necessary to remind the University that rape is not merely an assault on the body, but an assault on the mind, and in particular, the will," they wrote. "Those who have withstood the violence of rape are often injured in their ability to assert themselves and to trust that they will be treated with humanity when they attempt to be heard. It is inhumane and unrealistic to expect that every survivor of sexual assault who can bear reliable witness will also have the strength, determination, and support that are currently required to lodge, and see to its conclusion, a formal complaint."
The letter also comes on the heels of an email sent to alumni and students of Barnard College, which is affiliated with Columbia. In it, the school offers a somewhat tepid response to the college rape crisis, writing, "Barnard has long been actively engaged in the push for sexual assault prevention and response, and we have entered the academic year with renewed vigilance and commitment to appropriating additional resources and support for our students." However, it also included the caveat that "there are some things we cannot do."
But Sulkowicz's parents aren't satisfied with answers like this. As their letter makes abundantly clear, the university and its staff failed their daughter, and now she has been forced to reckon with the consequences.
"In a few months, Emma and [her alleged rapist] will graduate," the letter concludes. "If Columbia does not act to expel him before then, their graduation will not relieve Columbia of the burden of this episode. Instead, in this important moment in the history of sexual assault on college campuses, Columbia will remain indelibly in the public mind as the university where good men and women did nothing."