Alleged Rapist Sues Columbia and Artist for Discrimination Over Emma Sulkowicz’s Mattress Performance

Columbia University's Low Memorial Library.
Photo Wally Gobetz.

Accused of rape by art student Emma Sulkowicz, fellow Columbia senior Paul Nungesser has sued the school for discrimination. Nungesser says he has been the target of a campaign of harassment since Sulkowicz began Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight), in which she carries a mattress with her everywhere she goes on campus. She conceived the piece to protest the school’s handling of her accusation against Nungesser. She says that he raped her in her dorm room bed, and the performance includes a standard twin-size dormitory mattress (see Columbia Student’s Striking Mattress Performance).

“She is actively earning course credit from Columbia for this outrageous display of harassment and defamation,” the lawsuit says, with the school aware that “Paul’s legal rights are being violated and that his well-being and future prospects are suffering immensely,” according to the New York Times.

The school cleared Nungesser of any wrongdoing, but the suit—which names the university; its president, Lee Bollinger; and art professor Jon Kessler—states that his professional and educational prospects have been ruined by the publicity brought by Sulkowicz’s widely hailed performance (see Columbia Student’s Performance Art Catalyzes a Full-Fledged Protest Movement). Kessler is named as having signed off on Sulkowicz’s project as her senior thesis, and having thereby “publicly endorsed [Sulkowicz’s] harassment and defamation” of him.

“Day-to-day life is unbearably stressful, as Emma and her mattress parade around campus each and every day,” the suit says.

Sulkowicz has been the subject of glowing articles and reviews in the New York Times and New York Magazine, and attended President Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address at the invitation of New York democratic senator Kirsten Gillibrand (see Mattress Artist Emma Sulkowicz to Attend State of the Union).

Nungesser has defended himself, saying the sex was consensual, and has published text messages he says support his version of events.


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