University 'charges students hundreds of dollars' to clean up mattresses from Emma Sulkowicz anti-sexual assault solidarity protest

The students knew they would be charged but were shocked by the figure

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The Independent US

Columbia University is charging student groups hundreds of dollars in fees over a protest in which they dragged mattresses around campus in solidarity with alleged rape victim Emma Sulkowicz.

No Red Tape (NRT), Carry That Weight (CTW), and Student-Worker Solidarity (SWS) organised an international day of protest on 29 October in support of Sulkowicz, a senior Columbia student. 

As part of her final year thesis, Sulkowicz is dragging her mattress around the college in New York in protest its handling of allegations that she and two other women were raped on campus by a fellow student who is still enrolled at the institution.

The international protest late last month saw students across 130 campuses, from Stanford University to Central European University in Budapest, carry mattresses in support of Sulkowicz.

As the day of protest drew to a close in New York, demonstrators at Columbia University trudged through the rain to dump 28 mattresses outside the home of Columbia President Lee Bollinger – known as ‘Presbo’ - and stood at his door chanting: ““Presbo, Presbo, you can't hide...Be the leader on our side.”

But as CTW and NRT are not registered student societies, official student group SWS booked space on campus, understanding they would be billed.

They have now been told they must pay $471 (£300) to clean up the mattresses left on the pavement, but maybe more for costs relating to the campus itself.

Becca Breslaw, a Columbia University student who took part in the protest, told Buzz Feed: “We did know we would be charged, but we did not know it would be for this large a number.”

“We decided to leave them there because we were putting all the balls in PresBo’s court, literally. We wanted the mattresses to be symbolic of how many students care deeply about this issue, are angry about it — we wanted the end of the action to be powerful. We wanted to see how the administration would respond.”

She added that feminist organisation Ultraviolet will foot the bill.

Columbia University said in an official statement that the sum of $471 “was provided by the sponsoring group’s student life adviser as a possible estimated cost based on prior experience - and student sponsors understood in advance that such costs could be incurred.

“The University chose to underwrite the costs of the campus clean up, but only assess the costs for additional clean up for materials left on a public sidewalk, which total $471. 

“These are entirely typical matters in apportioning direct costs for facilitating student events and, given our longstanding commitment to robust free speech, there is never such thing as a fine for any group because of its views,” it added.

Responding to the show of solidarity, Sulkowicz said: “Rather than charging the protesters money, PresBo should work on getting our rapists off campus.”

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