Male student sues Columbia University for 'gender-based harassment' after alleged 'Mattress Performance' rape victim Emma Sulkowicz went public with claims

Ms Sulkowicz began carrying a mattress around campus in protest against the University’s decision not to expel the man she accused of raping her

Heather Saul
Friday 24 April 2015 16:11
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Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress in protest
Emma Sulkowicz, a senior visual arts student at Columbia University, carries a mattress in protest

A male student is suing Columbia University for what he claims is its failure to protect him from harassment after a female student went public with allegations that he had raped her.

Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz said she was attacked in her dorm room by a male friend. Two years later, she began carrying a mattress around campus in protest against the University’s decision not to expel the man she accused of raping her for her senior thesis, entitled 'Mattress Performance' or 'Carry That Weight.”

In a lawsuit filed in a Federal District Court in Manhattan this week, Paul Nungesser, a German citizen, said Ms Sulkowicz has repeatedly and publicly called him a "serial rapist," resulting in national and international media attention. He was cleared of responsibility of the rape by the university.

Emma Sulkowicz, carrying her mattress in protest of the university's lack of action after she reported being raped during her sophomore year

Mr Nungesser’s suit claims the University effectively sponsored his “gender-based harassment and defamation”, according to the Associated Press. It says the University’s failure to protect him from harassment resulted in him living in “an intimidating, hostile, demeaning ... learning and living environment”.

Ms Sulkowicz has condemned the suit as “ridiculous”, telling AP: "I think it's ridiculous that Paul would sue not only the school but one of my past professors for allowing me to make an art piece.

Emma Sulkowicz carrying the mattress

"It's ridiculous that he would read it as a 'bullying strategy,' especially given his continued public attempts to smear my reputation, when really it's just an artistic expression of the personal trauma I've experienced at Columbia. If artists are not allowed to make art that reflect on our experiences, then how are we to heal?"

The lawsuit alleges that a website owned by Columbia presented as fact that he sexually assaulted Ms Sulkowicz and states that the school allowed her to carry a mattress into classes, the library and on campus-provided transportation as part of her thesis.

It also claims that Ms Sulkowicz’s Professor Jon Kessler, who is named as a defendant, approved the mattress project for her course credit and states that her pledge to carry her mattress to graduation may prevent Nungesser and his parents from participating in graduation ceremonies.

"Day-to-day life is unbearably stressful, as Emma and her mattress parade around campus each and every day," his suit states.

“Paul’s legal rights are being violated and that his well-being and future prospects are suffering immensely.”

Ms Sulkowicz’s project was reported on in 35 countries across the world. The suit claims Nungesser was “subjected to severe, pervasive […] and threatening behaviour by other Columbia students, believing that Paul is a 'serial rapist,' whenever Paul has appeared at university activities”, as a result of this publicity.

Colombia University was contacted by The Independent but declined to comment.

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