Columbia University president denies snubbing student protesting sexual assault

Video shows university president shaking hands with students until mattress-wielding student approached

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After a video went public apparently showing the Columbia University president declining to shake hands with students protesting sexual assault at the school’s graduation this weekend, the school has denied the snub.

Emma Sulkowicz has garnered attention over the past several months for carrying a mattress around Columbia’s campus in protest of sexual assault. She even brought the mattress to the Columbia Class Day graduation ceremony, despite being warned not to.


In a video taken from the crowd, Columbia President Lee Bollinger can be seen shaking hands with each of the first five students who walk across the stage. When he gets a break in the line of graduates, he gets a bottle of water from his seat and returns to his original position. See longer video below. 

Then five students, including Ms Sulkowicz, carry the mattress across the stage, passing Dean James Valentini before pausing in front of President Bollinger, who had turned his back on the students. After the brief pause, the students walk away without a handshake. Ms Sulkowicz can be seen shrugging as she walks off the stage.

Many have said after seeing the video that Mr Bollinger intentionally did not shake hands Ms Sulkowicz. Columbia has released a statement denying that President Bollinger snubbed any of the students.

“As thousands of people saw in person and video of the event illustrates, the students who chose to carry a mattress in their hands marched right past Dean Valentini and President Bollinger rather than pausing for traditional handshakes with either the college dean or university president,” the statement said. “That is their right, but the idea that there was any intended ‘snub’ is incorrect and does not ring true to anyone who knows President Bollinger and his graciousness.”

The male student that Ms Sulkowicz has accused of sexual assault has not been charged after the district attorney's office found there was a “lack of reasonable suspicion” and he is now suing the university.


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