Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student who has been carrying around her dorm room mattress as a protest against the way her rape case was handled by Columbia (the university decided against expelling her accused rapist), will be attending tonight’s State of the Union address as a guest of New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Understandably, Sulkowicz will be leaving the mattress in New York.
The New York Daily News reports that Gillibrand feels that “Sulkowicz’s presence… will be a sharp message to President Obama and Gillibrand’s fellow lawmakers, who she is pushing to back bipartisan legislation requiring colleges to strengthen policies against sexual assault at colleges.” The Senator has long advocated for victims of sexual assault, particularly when it comes to cases that take place on college campuses and within the confines of the military. Last year, Gillibrand fought for—and lost—a change in the way that the Department of Defense deals with the many sexual assault cases with which it is presented. Despite not getting the votes needed to push through said legislation, Gillibrand did prove herself a staunch advocate for women’s rights in an arena where they’ve so often been marginalized.
The guests politicians bring to the State of the Union address are designed to make a statement not only to the country as a whole, but to the president specifically. Gillibrand told the News that because one of Obama’s key talking points this evening will be his goal to make two years of community college free, she thinks this is the perfect time to highlight another major problem facing many college students today, safety: “I hope he will also talk about working with our bipartisan coalition in Congress to make campuses safer, too. 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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