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Columbia University’s ‘Mattress Girl’ Carries Mattress to Graduation

On Tuesday, Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student whose questionable story of how she was raped by another student led her to carry a mattress everywhere she went on campus for years, gaining her enough notoriety that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand invited her to President Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, ignored the university’s email banning large or heavy objects from the graduation ceremony and carried the mattress onstage when she accepted her diploma.

Somehow, Sulkowicz managed to get a hand free to grab the diploma, but she could not get a hand free to shake Columbia University President Lee Bollinger’s hand. Sulkowicz and 22 other students filed a complaint last year with the university, claiming they failed to deal with cases of campus sexual assault in the proper fashion.

Sulkowicz accused Paul Nungesser, a student from Germany, of raping her in her dorm bed in her sophomore year, although an internal investigation did not indict him and a NYPD investigation found a “lack of reasonable suspicion.” Nungesser has filed suit against the university for its failure to protect him against backlash and harassment.

Sulkowicz had said she would carry the mattress around the campus until he was expelled. Nungesser also graduated Tuesday.

Sulkowicz used the mattress to her advantage, gaining course credits as part of her senior project for doing so. Her senior project, called “Carry That Weight,” amounted to a protest against what she claimed was Columbia’s tolerance of sexual assault.

Nungesser’s lawsuit named Columbia University, its board of trustees, President Lee C. Bollinger, and Professor Jon Kessler as defendants.

Kessler approved Sulkowicz’s project for her course credit. The lawsuit claimed that Nungesser “has been subjected to severe, pervasive … and threatening behavior by other Columbia students, believing that Paul is a ‘serial rapist,’ whenever Paul has appeared at university activities.” It also adds that Nungesser’s job prospects have been “severely jeopardized” because the university supported Sulkowicz.

Bollinger had ignored Nungesser’s complaint that allowing Sulkowicz to carry her mattress around constituted an attempt to force him out of college, saying, “The law and principles of academic freedom allow students to express themselves on issues of public debate; at the same time, our legal and ethical responsibility is to be fair and impartial in protecting the rights and accommodating the concerns of all students in these matters.”

The university’s email to students clearly stated, “Graduates should not bring into the ceremonial area large objects which could interfere with the proceedings or create discomfort to others in close, crowded spaces shared by thousands of people.” Sulkowicz ignored the warning; no action was taken.

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