“Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States!” boomed the Sergeant in Arms, who traditionally announces the President’s arrival into the House chamber to deliver his annual State of the Union address. Among the many invited guests of the President, First Lady, Vice President and the hundreds of Congressmen and women, was Columbia’s own Emma Sulkowicz, invited by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) for her “Carry that Weight” project and ensuing efforts against campus sexual violence.
Once President Obama began his address, he talked in great breadth, and in many cases, great depth. He ran the gamut of topics one could cover in an address that lasts about an hour: a host of social issues, energy (oil independence), college (Obama’s proposal is to make community college free for all), better bipartisanship cooperation, climate change and both military and diplomatic force in foreign affairs (dealing with ISIS and a non-nuclear Iran are items Obama addressed), among other issues. It seemed as if the only thing Obama neglected to talk about was the reason Emma Sulkowicz was there: sexual violence on college campuses.
Gillbrand, Sulkowicz’s host, is currently trying to pass a piece of legislation called the “Campus Safety and Accountability Act,” and according to a TIME magazine article on Sulkowicz’s appearance, Gillibrand also pushed Obama to include Emma’s story as a segment on the issue in the State of the Union address. He did not. And while she was not the most important person in the chamber, Emma was not shown on the broadcast, despite the plentiful media coverage (see above) surrounding her appearance.
In addition to Emma, though, there were at least a few people in the room with Columbia educations, none more obvious and important than Obama himself. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler (NY) studied at Columbia Law School and Columbia College, respectively. While it may have been disappointing to not hear the President speak on sexual assault on college campuses in his address, it is still impressive to consider the influential Columbia presence in the room.
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