Why You Should Pay Attention to this Activist’s Attendance at the State of the Union

Politicians often invite guests to the State of the Union who are the face of a campaign they are championing. But at least one invitee this year stands out for championing a movement herself: Emma Sulkowicz.

Sulkowicz made headlines last year for carrying her mattress around Columbia University as an art project to protest her rapist’s presence on campus.     

“I was raped in my own dorm bed, and since then that space has become fraught for me," Sulkowicz said in a video published by the Columbia Spectator. "And I feel like I've carried the weight of what happened there with me everywhere since then."

Along with other sexual assault survivors, Sulkowicz founded the No Red Tape, a student organization pushing for better management of sexual assault cases at their university. Their pressure has seen several successes at the university, including the opening of a second rape crisis center and free emergency contraception. Sulkowicz is also one of the 28 students who filed a Title IX complaint against the university.

Since Sulkowicz and the movement she’s helped build took off, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been at the forefront of trying to reform the way campuses handle sexual assault. Gillibrand invited Sulkowicz to accompany her to the State of the Union. Gillibrand and Senator Claire McCaskill are co-sponsors of the Campus Safety and Accountability Act.

According to The Washington Post,  “the bill would establish minimum training standards for campus employees responsible for handling rape cases and outline specific penalties for Title IX violations, plus provide more resources for campus rape victims.”

While Obama is expected to talk about his plan to offer free tuition for two years at community college, Gillibrand said she hopes he also talks about making campuses safer for students.

Gillibrand told New York Daily News, “I hope the President will seize this opportunity to shine a national spotlight on the need to flip the incentives that currently reward colleges for sweeping sexual assaults under the rug.”

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