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Emma Sulkowicz is an American arts student, born in New York in 1992, who gained media attention for carrying a mattress around campus to highlight what she saw as Columbia University’s lack of action to remove her alleged rapist from the campus.
An asterisk is such a small request. It’s the matter of a few points of ink. It’s so ridiculous that these people would prioritize the exclusion of a teeny little punctuation mark over a story of a woman’s abuse. These asterisks represent embodied experiences and are not these abstract punctuation marks. They have real consequences.
She also stands before Picasso’s “Demoiselles d’Avignon” in the Museum of Modern Art.
I grew up in New York. Every time we went on a field trip, I was expected to look at this violent depiction of chopped-up women’s bodies while being told it’s a fantastic painting. It felt important for me to stand in front of that as well.
Sulkowicz says she was catcalled and verbally harassed by passersby and museum guards during her performance at the Museum.
Columbia settles with Nungesser out of court for an unknown amount. Nungesser’s lawsuit contended the university had failed in its duty of care to protect him after the college investigation cleared him of the rape allegation. He stated that he faced discrimination because of Sulkowicz’s art project, and argued the university violated Title IX by allowing her to receive academic credit for a project that encouraged protest against a fellow student.
Paul Nungesser and Columbia University have agreed to settle the lawsuit he filed in 2015. While Paul was a student at Columbia, he was accused of sexual misconduct. In November 2013, after a diligent and thorough investigation, Paul was found not responsible for any misconduct. Columbia University stands by that finding. In 2015, Paul graduated from Columbia in good standing as a distinguished John Jay Scholar. John Jay Scholars, like Paul, are recognized for their remarkable academic and personal achievements, dynamism, intellectual curiosity, and original thinking. Paul is currently enrolled at an internationally recognized film school and has launched a career as a filmmaker. Columbia recognizes that after the conclusion of the investigation, Paul’s remaining time at Columbia became very difficult for him and not what Columbia would want any of its students to experience. Columbia will continue to review and update its policies toward ensuring that every student––accuser and accused, including those like Paul who are found not responsible––is treated respectfully and as a full member of the Columbia
We are very pleased with this settlement. Together with Paul and his parents, we have fought for three long years for a statement like the one Columbia released today. It gives Paul a chance to go on with his life and recover from the false accusation against him. We hope that the resolution of the case also ensures that no student will ever have to endure what Paul went through after he was exonerated.
The scarlet letter that comes with an allegation of rape is virtually indelible, and that is why universities must take great care in their approach to these matters. This dark episode in Paul’s life will never fully disappear, but we are extremely happy that Paul can now fully focus on following his passion and talent as an aspiring filmmaker.
In a 46-page opinion, Judge Woods dismisses Nungesser’s second lawsuit alleging that the university violated his Title IX rights and two state laws in its handling of Sulkowicz’s mattress-toting campaign to have him expelled from campus. The case is dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning Nungesser is prohibited from filing a third suit on the same claims. Nungesser’s suit said Sulkowicz “enabled reporters to stalk [him], defamed him as a ‘serial rapist,’ and her campaign resulted in public intimidation, isolation on campus and receipt of threats against him.” He described himself “male victim of gender-based harassment” at a federally funded university that did nothing to intervene, a violation of Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. Woods argued that there was no proof Sulkowicz’s actions were “motivated by gender” or that she deployed the term “serial rapist” as a gendered slur. As to his claim that harassment deprived him of educational opportunities at Columbia, Woods recognized that Nungesser’s “senior year at Columbia was neither pleasant nor easy,” but said the plaintiff’s case failed to meet the high bar set by Title IX for evidence. Nungesser’s lawyer:
We have carefully reviewed Judge Woods’ decision, and believe it to be erroneous in a number of critical areas. From the outset of this case, Judge Woods has been dead set against Paul Nungesser, which is further evidenced by his flawed reasoning in finding that the 101 page, extraordinarily detailed, Second Amended Complaint contains no viable causes of action. We are confident that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit will reinstate the case.
Sulkowicz is interviewed about her performance art piece, The Healing Touch Integral Wellness Center, where she will take on the role of a doctor, seeing ‘patients’ for 30-minute appointments from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for two weeks at the Philadelphia Contemporary gallery.
If the thesis of this project is that art heals in ways that medicine can’t, I’m trying to figure out what that means. I want this to be a space where people can safely explore their emotions—that’s what I think a ‘safe space’ is—and figure out what they need from art, not just as an intellectual journey but to really feel why art is important to them…It sounds corny, but if my goal with art is to actually change the world for the better, I think performance art is going to be the most effective tool for that.
Yes [I resent him], because people accused me of launching a bullying campaign against him. But no one knew his name until he put it out there…I’m doing other things now, but he still has a pending lawsuit. What’s he doing with his life? It’s crazy to me.
On whether she wishes she could escape the notoriety of her mattress performance:
Absolutely. It’s really depressing to not be anonymous. It’s an ongoing conflict because on the one hand, I’m happy that the movement needed someone to step up and be the face of it and humbled to have been chosen, but the sacrifices I’ve had to make for that have been really stressful. I’ve lost friends. It was a very tumultuous year and I was very depressed.
NOW gives Sulkowicz its Woman of Courage Award “for having demonstrated personal bravery in challenging entrenched power and in carrying out action that has the potential to benefit women in general.” Sulkowicz:
Camille Paglia has publicly called my artwork a “masochistic exercise” in which I neither “evolve” nor “move-on.” She speaks as if she, a white woman, knew what was best for me, a woman of color she’s never met. Many people ask me how I’ve “healed” from my assault, as if healing were another word for “forgetting about it,” “getting over it,” or even “shutting up about it.” To expect me to move on is to equate courage with self-censorship. The phrases—suck it up, move on, and get over it—are violence…I dedicate this award to everyone who has not told me to get over it. Thank you for validating my fear and my way of handling it. Thank you for creating a world in which we can tackle the things that terrify us by doing the unexpected right thing.
Nungesser files a second complaint against Columbia The 100-page complaint again alleges Columbia participated in gender-based harassment, sexual harassment and gender-based misconduct against Nungesser that “was severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” and that deprived him of educational opportunities. Nungesser questions whether male and female students have the same rights, and whether “a false accusation [is] all it takes to lose any right to a normal life and a normal college experience. Complaint:
Columbia’s institutional practice is largely based on the stereotype of the active, voracious, aggressive male and the passive, restrained, non-aggressive woman, which is sex-based stereotyping and overgeneralization that is discriminatory and a clear violation of Title IX.
Nungesser is seeking damages and declaratory relief. Nungesser:
I sincerely hope that Judge Woods allows my case to move on to trial. While I personally would like to put this case behind me, I also think this complaint raises some fundamental questions that our society deserves answers to.
Manhattan District Judge Woods dismisses Nungesser’s case against Columbia University, saying Nungesser failed to show that Columbia discriminated against him based on his gender by allowing and condoning conduct during the 2014-2015 academic year by Sulkowicz. Woods says he did not suggest that Nungesser’s final year at Columbia was “pleasant or easy, but that Nungesser’s position would stretch Title IX too far, and could permit any students accused of sexual assault to sue their schools, so long as the schools knew of the allegations and failed to silence the accusers.
Neither the text nor the purpose of Title IX supports this conclusion.
He says Nungesser could replead his Title IX claim and some other claims, including under a New York state human rights law.
[This decision] brings us closer to the point that this litigation, addressing issues understandably difficult for many, can be concluded.
While we’re disappointed with the judge’s ruling today, we believe that this is a very strong case and we will continue in our pursuit of justice for Mr. Nungesser.
Sulkowicz talks about her upcoming show in LA’s Chinatown. On the creation of multiple 3D figure of her image:
The idea is that I’ve been so widely publicized in the media, which was completely unexpected and unprecedented for me. I’ve seen my image become so mass-produced. Now, if anyone wants to mention anything about campus rape, they’ll invoke my name even if I’m only marginally related to what they’re talking about. My image has sort of become this currency that you use if you want to talk about anything related to these topics.
On her appearance with Emmatron, her life-size robot that answers question on her behalf:
I’ll be there during gallery hours every day that it’s open, and I’ll just be doing my thing. You can come talk with me. You can ask me whatever you want. [Emmatron] is a separation between me as a human being versus this sort of way that people can treat me as if I’m a robot when they ask me very repetitive, insensitive questions…The truth is that I was never able to cope [with Internet harassment]. It’s not like any amount of support was going to cancel out that people were Facebook messaging me to kill myself…It’s been fun to record these questions for Emmatron, and I think that she’ll be fun to play with, if you know what I mean. She’ll have fun things to say. Hopefully, the end result is lively and entertaining, but I’m also trying to drive home a serious point.
Sulkowicz will hold her first solo show, from Feb 27, titled Emma Sulkowicz: Self-Portrait, at Los Angeles’s Coagula Curatorial art gallery. The exhibition will include two new pieces. Sulkowicz will also make a return to durational performance art with Self-Portrait (Performance with Object), in which she will spend the first three weeks of the show’s run sitting in the gallery, answering visitors’ questions. Questions Sulkowicz is not willing to respond to will be answered by the Emmatron, a life-sized, ultra-realistic statue of the artist that has been programmed to answer set questions. Both Sulkowicz and her robotic double will sit on top of a sculptural platform, and visitors will interact with the Emmatron through an app. The performance will be accompanied by In-Action Figure, a 3-D printed statue of Sulkowicz produced in an edition of 20, which:
reflects the widespread commodification and flattening of her image in the news and on the internet.
Sulkowicz threatens to sue Newsweek over its story about campus rape.
Paul Nungesser’s complaint is filled with lies…. I want to warn you to be conscientious about what you publish as ‘fact’ for I may work with a lawyer to rectify any inaccuracies and misrepresentations.
Newsweek publishes a cover feature, The Other Side of The Sexual Assault Crisis, that includes an interview with Nungesser and his parents. His father on the graduation day:
I wondered…What would they do if they knew we were the parents of the guy Emma accused? What would they do? Would they spit in front of us?
I would have liked to go to every single parent in that audience and say, ‘I am the mother of Paul, and I am very proud of my son, and I hope you discuss with your sons and daughters what they did to him.’
My faith in justice has been so fundamentally shaken, that I’m hoping by going forth and putting this into a court of law there’s going to be someone who says this behavior that occurred here was [an] injustice. What happened to me…could happen to any other college male. Institutions are capable of intense cruelty without even realizing what they’re doing.
[It’s] a participatory art piece, a relational aesthetics art piece. It’s not just a stunt. I think there are things to think about in the piece…It’s the most egotistical thing on Earth. Yet, at the same time, because of the endurance quality of it where he has to sit there and suffer through himself, suffer through watching himself, it’s humble and inclusive. Like, ‘I will suffer through this with you guys, if you want.’
Columbia University asks for Nungesser’s case to be dismissed on First Amendment grounds.
Crediting an undergraduate student’s thesis on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses is a decision at the heart of academic freedom. [Courts should not] second guess the kinds of decisions made by professors and administrators at Columbia in applying disciplinary and academic policies.
The school says it asked Sulkowicz not to take her mattress to the graduation, but there wasn’t much it could do when she showed up with one anyway.
Taking action against Ms. Sulkowicz by literally grabbing the mattress out of her hands would have disrupted the ceremony for all the graduating students and their families and could have been dangerous given the space limitations and the size of the crowd.
In this instance, the disciplinary system worked correctly at Columbia. That still was not enough to save an innocent person from the wave of public sentiment regarding assaults on campus. Paul Nungesser quickly became a convenient scapegoat, a whipping boy, and Columbia not only stood idly by, but often participated in the attacks on Paul Nungesser. There is no amount of legal theory that can save Columbia from that reality.
Sulkowicz participates in 7 Women, 7 Sins, a group art show at Brooklyn’s Kunstraum LLC, where Sulkowicz’s work represents “wrath”. Her work consists of New York Times pages overlaid with drawings that question the content. A self-portrait in which her face is covered by her hands, covers a Times story about her, with text that reads, “you can take my story, but my body won’t be overwritten.” In another piece a drawing of a man holding his erect penis obscures an ad for Tiffany’s diamonds featuring a couple ice skating in Central Park. Sulkowicz’s text reads: “Fuck her. Believe this.” Curator Marcin:
Emma’s contributions confront us with a clear message: ‘You lost humans. Don’t judge. Listen to your inner self. Stop walking like a blind bird towards the cat. Now, consumption is at its highest peak; we are submissive. Emma makes her ‘rape’ purposely consumable and, therefore, attacks consumption at its most evil vein—the formation of inhumanity and our ill, irresponsible participation. She ‘rapes’ us and our judgment with a healthy dose of consciousness.
In her Salon interview, Paglia criticizes Sulkowicz:
I’d give her a D! I call it “mattress feminism.” Perpetually lugging around your bad memories–never evolving or moving on! It’s like a parody of the worst aspects of that kind of grievance-oriented feminism. I called my feminism “Amazon feminism” or “street-smart feminism,” where you remain vigilant, learn how to defend yourself, and take responsibility for the choices you make. If something bad happens, you learn from it. You become stronger and move on. But hauling a mattress around on campus? Columbia, one of the great Ivy League schools with a tremendous history of scholarship, utterly disgraced itself in how it handled that case. It enabled this protracted masochistic exercise where a young woman trapped herself in her own bad memories and publicly labeled herself as a victim, which will now be her identity forever. This isn’t feminism–which should empower women, not cripple them.
Nungesser amends his complaint against Columbia (document) with extra details, including that he repeatedly contacted the university to find out if Sulkowicz would be allowed to carry the mattress to his graduation:
In the weeks and months before graduation, Paul reached out repeatedly to Columbia administrators, requesting detailed information regarding whether Defendant Columbia would allow Emma to carry the mattress at the graduation ceremony. Despite repeated requests, Defendant Columbia refused to provide him with any information…
The complaint says that Sulkowicz asked twice to take the mattress to the graduation, and was denied, but that she took it anyway and the university did not stop her. The complaint also mentions threats against Nungesser by Sulkowicz (“it’s not safe for him to be on this campus”) and her friends, and says that the male student that Nungesser was cleared of touching is going to produce an interpretative dance about his claim.
Both sides submit a letter (text) to the court summarizing the arguments they plan to raise in advance of a July 1 pre-trial hearing. Nungessers lawyer’s expand on their original claims, saying that despite Nuingesser being cleared by the University, Columbia did not curtail Sulkowicz’s activities, and actually honored her:
Emma’s time and indeed her academic work at Columbia has largely been defined by her part in the gender based anti-male discriminatory harassment campaign against Plaintiff Nungesser[;] these honors constitute yet another instant of Defendant Columbia directly rewarding, encouraging and celebrating Emma Sulkowicz’s role in the gender based discriminatory harassment.
They also say Columbia allowed Sulkowicz to display pornographic material that had Nungesser’s name attached to it in an art exhibition, and allowed Sulkowicz to carry the mattress to her (and Nungesser’s) graduation:
At the graduation ceremony, Emma Sulkowicz was given a special university privilege contrary to the rules by Defendant Columbia to carry the mattress to her and Plaintiff Nungesser’s graduation in another instance of Defendant Columbia perpetrated gender based discriminatory harassment of Plaintiff Nungesser
They also claim that Columbia allowed Sulkowicz to:
build a public persona surrounding her false allegations, which has led to the posting of videos and other proposed performances depicting Plaintiff Nungesser as a rapist.
Columbia’s attorneys do not rebut any of Nungesser’s claims, and while the school acknowledges that Sulkowicz’s campus activism made her a major figure in the sexual assault debate, it claims she was an independent third-party actor, and the school cannot be held responsible or liable for her conduct. The letter concludes by saying both sides are open to a pre-trial settlement.
After a claimed denial of service attack, that had kept the video offline for a few days, Sulcowicz reposts her sex tape video. This time, however, the date Aug 27, 2012 (the date of her alleged rape) is blurred out.
Sulkowicz talks about her sex tape project to the art site.
Question: One of the things that really struck me about the text accompanying the video is when you write “You might be wondering why I’ve made myself this vulnerable…I want to change the world.” Is it that thinking that made you want to become an artist?
I don’t know that it’s why I want to be an artist, but it’s why I’m forced to be an artist. It’s more that being an artist is the only way I know how.
Question: Do you think that making yourself vulnerable is what it takes to change the world these days?
Question: Are you concerned at all about being stigmatized or pigeon-holed byMattress Performance?
Yeah, I mean, when people call me “Mattress Girl” I find that really infuriating. It’s like, okay great, so you think that I’ll never progress beyond that point. That I’ll be a “Mattress Girl” rather than a living, breathing person who has the ability to change.
Sulkowicz’s video is taken down by a DDos (Distributed Denial of service) attack, an attack that overloads the host server with connection requests. Digital Ocean:
We can confirm that there was a denial of service attack on Thursday. On Friday there was also a spike in outbound bandwidth coming from the website, likely due to a sudden increase in traffic and unrelated to the attack, so we worked with their web team to resolve the issue and their site is back up and running.
Sulkowicz also comments on her friends’ reaction to the video:
The trolls don’t upset me as much as when my friends don’t support it. I expect the trolls but to see my friends not support it [vocally] is upsetting.
Sulkowicz releases a website and video entitled, Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol (link). The eight-minute video, which is dated August 27, 2012 (the same day as her alleged rape) features Sulkowicz’s and an unidentified man, whose face is blurred, engaging in what appears to be consensual sex that turns violent. The man open-palm slaps Sulkowicz, chokes her, removes the condom, then continues to have rough sex with Sulkowicz, who whimpers and protests from pain.
Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol is not about one night in August, 2012. It’s about your decisions, starting now. It’s only a reenactment if you disregard my words. It’s about you, not him. Do not watch this video if your motives would upset me, my desires are unclear to you, or my nuances are indecipherable. You might be wondering why I’ve made myself this vulnerable. Look—I want to change the world, and that begins with you, seeing yourself. If you watch this video without my consent, then I hope you reflect on your reasons for objectifying me and participating in my rape, for, in that case, you were the one who couldn’t resist the urge to make Ceci N’est Pas Un Viol about what you wanted to make it about: rape. Please, don’t participate in my rape. Watch kindly.
After nine months Sulkowicz completes her performance art project, laying the mattress to rest in her parents living room, with the intent to later sell the art piece to a museum. With Nungesser and herself having both graduated, she says that she has no further use for the mattress.
I’m not going to just throw it away. It tells of all the times when things didn’t really go according to plan and all the f-cked-up things that happened. People think I was supposed to have this warlike relationship with it and it was supposed to be this object that I was angry with, but for me, that related to how people chose to read my piece rather than the way I lived with it … I have a scenario planned for the exhibition of my piece…If some sort of museum wants to buy it, then I’m open to that. But I’m not going to just throw it away.
Sulkowicz’s ideal scenario for exhibiting the piece includes the mattress, the collection of plastic bed-wetting sheets that protected it in the rain, instructions to re-create the “Rules of Engagement” she had painted on her studio wall, and a 59,000 word diary that tracked her experiences.
It [the diary] tells of all the times when things didn’t really go according to plan and all the f-cked-up things that happened. It’s the real record of the piece…To me, the piece has very much represented [the fact that] a guy did a horrible thing to me and I tried to make something beautiful out of it…I’ve had the most crazy two years of my life, so I’m ready to go incognito and try to make a life where not everyone is recognizing me. Maybe I’ll change my hair color.
When I filed the complaint against Paul, I didn’t know it would turn into a national event. It was over a year before Emma started carrying that weight, months before what happened at Columbia helped sparked a national dialogue about rape on college campus. I was just trying to do the right thing.
The incident happened my junior year at Columbia, when Paul followed me upstairs at a party, came into a room with me uninvited, closed the door behind us, and grabbed me. I politely said, “Hey, no, come on, let’s go back downstairs.” He didn’t listen. He held me close to him as I said no, and continued to pull me against him. I pushed him off and left the room quickly. I told a few friends and my boyfriend at the time how creepy and weird it was. I tried to find excuses for his behavior. I did a decent job of pushing it out of my mind.
The anonymous student says that when Nungesser was given an appeal, she—having already graduated—withdrew from the process because she felt frustrated with “Columbia’s incompetence’ as the appeals process began.
Nungesser is found “not responsible” for any sexual assault on Adam, his alleged male victim, due to contradictions within Adam’s account and to Facebook exchanges between the two men. Adam had alleged that during a private conversation between the two men, in response to “relationship troubles” between him and his then-girlfriend (the “Natalie” who would later accuse Nungesser of assault) Nungesser massaged Adam’s back and shoulder and then gently pushed him down and massaged his crotch for approximately two to three minutes, while he was frozen in shock. Nungesser said that there was no sexual contact between the two during this conversation.
Additionally, the Alpha Delta Phi officer known as “Leila” who testified on behalf of Adam is the same person who wrote an email to the ADP listserv calling for Nungesser’s resignation and allegedly encouraged other members to come forward against Nungesser. Investigators:
At the time of the Complainant’s initial disclosure, at least several of his close friends and co-fraternity members were engaged in a process intended to evict the Respondent from the fraternity house.
Our son’s graduation should have been a joyous moment for our whole family. We are extremely proud of Paul for graduating, even more so because of the harassment campaign he was subjected to. For over two years, he had to fight false accusations and a public witch-hunt, even though Columbia and the NYPD exonerated him. At graduation, Columbia University again broke its own rules and afforded Emma Sulkowicz a special exception. It was the second devastating experience in just a few days: Last week, Columbia exhibited Emma Sulkowicz’s highly disturbing and extremely graphic drawings of our son publicly on campus…A university that bows to a public witch-hunt no longer deserves to be called a place of enlightenment, of intellectual and academic freedom. By failing to intervene in this injustice, Columbia ceases to be a place where critical thinking, courage and democratic practice are taught, learned and lived.
Bollinger does not shake Sulkowicz’s hand at the graduation ceremony. As Sulkowicz and her friends ascended the stage, Bollinger, who had been shaking the students’ hands, turned his back and picks up a water bottle. Ms. Sulkowicz leans over the mattress and tries to catch his eye, then straightens up and keeps walking, shrugging with her free hand. Sulkowicz:
I even tried to smile at him or look him in the eye, and he completely turned away. So that was surprising, because I thought he was supposed to shake all of our hands.
A spokesperson for Columbia denies the move was on purpose:
The mattress had been between Ms. Sulkowicz and Mr. Bollinger and that no snub was intended.
Ten minutes after Nungesser’s graduation, Sulkowicz walks across Columbia College Class Day stage with her mattress, despite a provision barring large items that was added to administrative guidelines sent by email to seniors the day before the event.
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.
Nungesser’s lawyer says that Columbia’s acceptance of Sulkowicz’s graduation stunt was “absurd” and would help her client’s case.
This goes beyond mere facilitation; they have now granted a special exception
Emma Sulkowicz, CC '15, walks across Columbia College Class Day stage with mattress
Nungesser files suit against Columbia, saying that by allowing Sulkowicz to receive course credit for her protest, the school violated Title IX, a 1972 law mandating that federally funded education programs cannot discriminate against people based on sex. The suit alleges the university is complicit in allowing the harassment to commence, and did nothing to stop it, which according to the suit:
significantly damaged, if not effectively destroyed Paul Nungesser’s college experience, his reputation, his emotional well-being and his future career prospects.
The 54-page complaint includes more Facebook messages than were included in the Daily Beast article, including declarations of Sulkowicz’s love for Nungesser before and after the alleged rape. The lawsuit says Sulkowicz tried to get other women to accuse Nungesser of sexual assault, and that just days after Sulkowicz’s appeal was denied, she began getting advice from a publicist and Nungesser began being followed by the media. The accusers shared Nungesser’s name to a Columbia student reporter, and to the New York Post, despite a confidentiality agreement with Columbia. Nungesser’s lawyer:
Here, Columbia University, as an institution, was not only silent, but actively and knowingly supported attacks on Paul Nungesser, after having determined his innocence, legitimizing a fiction. Emma Sulkowicz is merely a footnote to this story, we already know that she cleverly crafted a story and rode it to celebrity on the back on [sic] someone found not responsible.
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. [It is] 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.
The Jezebel article also mentions that there is a fourth Nungesser victim, Adam, who says that he was close friends with Paul during his freshman year in 2011. Adam claims that, in the midst of an emotional conversation in Nungesser’s dorm room, he was pushed onto his bed and sexually assaulted. He claims that after much self-doubt and internal struggle, he finally reported this incident, first to a student society to which both he and Nungesser belonged and then in a formal complaint to the university in the fall of 2014.
Jezebelposts Sulkowicz’s rebuttal to the Facebook messages provided by Nungesser. Sulkowicz:
It is extremely upsetting that Paul would violate me again—this time, with the help of a reporter, Cathy Young. I just wanted to fix the problem of sexual assault on campus—I never wanted this to be an excuse for people to dig through my private Facebook messages and frame them in a way as to cast doubt on my character. It’s unfair and disgusting that Paul and Cathy would treat personal life as a mine that they can dig through and harvest for publicity and Paul’s public image.
This is why I have chosen to release the full conversation, plus the context in which things were said. I want people to have all the information so that they can make informed decisions for themselves, rather than seeing a redacted version of the conversation with bits and pieces picked out to make me look a certain way.
If I had a choice, no one would see my private Facebook messages at all. However, Paul and Cathy have put me in a position where I either do nothing, and they publish the conversation, or I take the lead and publish it on my own. It’s the only thing I can do to maintain a modicum of control over my private life, which becomes more public by the second, thanks to reporters who don’t treat me with respect.
In a feature story on The Daily Beast, Nungesser says he did not rape Sulkowicz. According to Sulkowicz, after starting consensual sex (their third sexual encounter), Nungesser suddenly and brutally assaulted her, then picked up his clothes and left without a word, leaving her stunned and shattered on the bed. However, according to Nungesser, they briefly engaged in anal intercourse by mutual agreement, then went on to engage in other sexual activity and fell asleep. He says that he woke up early in the morning and went back to his own room while Sulkowicz was still sleeping. Nungesser says that for weeks after that night, he and Sulkowicz maintained a cordial relationship, and says she seemingly never indicated that anything was amiss. He then describes a series of friendly texts made by Sulkowicz after the alleged incident (these are documented here, and have been included in the newsline at the appropriate points).
Sulkowicz says she was disappointed the president did not mention sexual assault on college campuses in his State of the Union speech.
I can’t say I was entirely surprised because since when has violence against women ever been a man’s issue? “I am not going to lie, I was let down because I felt like there were points in his speech where he could have brought it up. I was really hoping he would mention it, since the issue has been raised to a new level.
Just seeing the president in person was such a wild experience. And shaking John Kerry’s hand was also extremely surreal. He didn’t really know who I was, and even when Senator Gillibrand introduced me no one seemed to know who I was. But that’s okay.
Sulkowicz attends President Obama’s State of The Union speech as Gillibrand’s guest. Gillibrand:
[Sulkowicz is] a woman of great courage who got no justice
Sometimes it takes a federal hand to make the colleges listen. I feel so excited. It’s a dream come true. The piece I am doing is not just based on Columbia. It’s based on all survivors’ experiences at every college, so I hope that when people think of my art piece they don’t think of it as just a Columbia piece. I hope they think of it as something that is meaningful to every person that’s ever been assaulted.
I am shocked to learn that Sen. Gillibrand is actively supporting Ms. Sulkowicz’s defamation campaign against me by providing her with a public forum in which to broadcast her grave allegation. By doing so, Sen. Gillibrand is participating in a harassment campaign against someone, who, for good reason, has been found innocent by all investigating bodies.
In an article written for Time, Sulkowicz talks about what she is thankful for, including her family, boyfriend, and supporters:
My education. I learned about performance art in high school, whereas so many people will never know what it is. And, although Columbia betrayed me, I am thankful for how I’ve learned to think clearly and critically about my situation, and for the opportunity to collaborate with inspiring student activists and a wonderful art faculty and community there. Everyone who has believed in me. Everyone who has helped carry the mattress. Everyone who has carried mattresses in support around the world. Everyone who has stood up for themselves and spoken out. Everyone who has worked to end the silence. These are the people who make real change.
Hundreds of students carry 28 mattresses and leave them at the door of Bollinger’s home, in a protest organized by No Red Tape, an anti-rape campus group whose members wear red X’s and stickers urging passers by to “Imagine a world without rape”. The mattresses bear slogans like “NO MORE” and “CARRY THAT WEIGHT”. Students:
The administration isn’t really paying attention to what’s important. They’re dancing around the issue, saying it’s not really Columbia’s problem but society in general’s. Though they’re the people who are not expelling the rapists.
As a trans man, I feel sometimes that … I need to be involved in the male part of it. The entire reason that assault happens is because of the attacker, not the victim.
Sulkowicz’s parents make a statement, supporting their daughter and criticizing what they see as Columbia’s lack of action:
If Columbia remains passive in the face of Emma’s suffering, and does not attempt to rectify the injustice done to her, survivors at Columbia will feel discouraged from entrusting themselves to the system that Columbia has recently worked so hard at putting into place.
Emma’s performance piece, “Carry That Weight,” has galvanized forces around the world for gender equality, sexual assault policy reform, and empowerment of the disenfranchised, and has received praise from the art world. Needless to say, we are proud…However, as Emma’s parents, we do not want her recent celebrity to be a distraction from the fact that the University’s failure to place sanctions on the man she reported for rape, Jean-Paul Nungesser, CC ’15, is a cause of her continued suffering. The investigation, hearing, and appeals process that followed her complaint to the University were painfully mishandled. We feel that they violated standards of impartiality, fairness, and serious attention to the facts of the case.
If Columbia does not act to expel him before then, their graduation will not relieve Columbia of the burden of this episode. Instead, in this important moment in the history of sexual assault on college campuses, Columbia will remain indelibly in the public mind as the university where good men and women did nothing.
Sulkowicz is interviewed in New York magazine’s The Cut section. She talks about the mattress project, her alleged rape, and the reaction so far:
Physically, I’m really sore. The reporter response has been really aggressive and not what I expected. It is a sensitive subject, and I can’t be accosted in the middle of campus to talk about it. One guy, while I was carrying the mattress, he just opened up my backpack and threw his business card in, which was a real violation of my space and made me really upset and triggered a lot of memories of being raped.
On the student response:
So far students I have never met before have helped me carry it. As I was walking across campus last night I heard someone shout, “Go, Emma!” and I’ve gotten such an overwhelming positive response on the internet. One girl seems to be organizing some sort of website that will allow students to organize and figure out how to help me carry it to all my classes.
On the perception of the protest:
In the news, people have been calling my piece a protest, and just ignoring the fact it is not really a protest but a performance-art piece. Yes, I would like for my rapist to get kicked out of school, but I realize that the university is so stubborn that it may never happen and I may be carrying this mattress for a while.
She also claims to have dropped the police action:
It got transferred to the district attorney’s office, and I decided I didn’t want to pursue it any further because they told it me it would take nine months to a year to actually go to court, which would be after I graduated and probably wanting to erase all of my memories of Columbia from my brain anyway, so I decided not to pursue it.
After seeking guidance from visual arts professor Kessler over the summer, Sulkowicz starts carrying her mattress wherever she goes on Campus.
Rape can happen anywhere. I was raped in my own dorm bed, and since then that’s become fraught for me. And I feel like I carry the weight of what happened there with me everywhere…For my senior thesis I will be doing a piece called ‘Mattress Performance’ or “Carry that Weight’ where I will be carrying this dorm room mattress everywhere I go for as long as I attend the same school as my rapist.
Carrying around your university bed—which was also the site of your rape—is an amazingly significant and poignant and powerful symbol. I felt I had something to offer in terms of how artists have done endurance performance pieces in the past, and the connection between activism and performance…The best art comes from a very personal place and from personal commitment and belief—otherwise you’re just doing an assignment…As a physical metaphor, the piece has tremendous power.
According to Nungesser’s later suit against Columbia, immediately upon hearing of Sulkowicz’s police report, he had a criminal lawyer contact police and the District Attorney’s office expressing his intent to speak to them to clear his name. Nungesser voluntarily returns to the United States from Germany, and is interviewed by District Attorney Holderness and the Assistant District Attorney for three hours. Immediately after the interview, Holderness informs Nungesser’s lawyer that no charges will be brought against him, as there is a lack of reasonable suspicion to proceed.
In an article written for Time, Sulkowicz talks habout the alleged rape, the circumstances of the hearing, and her criticisms of Columbia’s processes:
Every day, I am afraid to leave my room. Even seeing people who look remotely like my rapist scares me. Last semester I was working in the dark room in the photography department. Though my rapist wasn’t in my class, he asked permission from his teacher to come and work in the dark room during my class time. I started crying and hyperventilating. As long as he’s on campus with me, he can continue to harass me.
I’ve lost friends because some people just don’t understand what it means to be raped. One friend asked me if I thought that my rapist would be expelled from school. I said, “I really hope so.” And he said, “Poor guy” because I think many men see rape as kinky sex that went wrong. They say girls are confusing and it’s hard to tell when you’re supposed to stop. When I was raped, I was screaming “no” and struggling against him. It was obviously not consensual, but he was turned on by my distress.
I think the school is pressured to find him not guilty because up until now Columbia could just push these things under the rug and no one would know. But that means the Columbia administration is harboring serial rapists on campus. They’re more concerned about their public image than keeping people safe.
Sulkowicz reports Nungesser to the police. This is the first public mention of Nungesser’s name. She says that she didn’t want to report her attack to the police because she was embarrassed and ashamed of what had happened to her.
When it first happened, I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t even tell my parents. … I didn’t even want to talk to my best friend….I realized that if I didn’t report him he’d continue to attack women on this campus. I had to do it for those other women. I understand if it’s too late, but I really hope he does [get charged].
Sulkowicz says she felt badly mistreated by the officers who came to her residence to take her statement. Because she and Nungesser had had consensual sex twice before he allegedly assaulted her, Sulkowicz said the police were dismissive of what she had to say.
There’s a reason survivors choose not to go to the police, and that’s because they’re treated as the criminals. The rapists are innocent until proven guilty but survivors are guilty until proven innocent, at least in the eyes of the police. [The officer] emphasized certain things, like the fact that I had consented earlier on in the night. And I said, ‘Yeah, but then he [Nungesser] started strangling me and I definitely didn’t consent to that’.
She says that the officer who had taken her statement dismissed her account to friends who had accompanied her to a follow-up interview at the station:
They told me he said stuff like, ‘Of all of these cases, 90 percent are bullshit, so I don’t believe your friend for a second.
A list of “sexual assault violators” is written on the walls of various womens’ bathrooms on the Columbia campus. While the names are redacted in the reports, it is believed that Nungesser’s name is one of those mentioned. The messages are repeated over several days, titled “Rapists on Campus.” All names are written in the same style this time, suggesting a single author, and include the names of a big campus DJ, an athlete training for the Olympics, and a male student who worked at the Bwog, a campus news blog. Sulkowicz says she does not know who was behind the graffiti, but that the list includes the name of the man who had assaulted her.
I think that it’s important for people to know the names, because it’s a matter of safety
The fact that the University sends Public Safety to tape down the bathrooms—I think that’s a stifling of sorts. For other graffiti they wouldn’t tape the bathroom down. If it were a drawing of a smiley face, they wouldn’t do that.
Sulkowicz is one of 23 students who are part of a federal Title IX complaint filed against Columbia in April for mishandling sexual-assault cases. The allegations in the 100-page complaint include that the University treats survivors and alleged perpetrators unequally, perpetrators are allowed to remain on campus, students are discouraged from reporting sexual assault, LGBTQ students face discrimination in counseling, advising, adjudication, and Greek life, students do not receive accommodations based on mental health disabilities, and sanctions for perpetrators are too lenient.
Columbia decides, on appeal, that Nungesser is ‘not responsible” for sexual assault on Josie. Josie had claimed that Nungesser had followed her and tried to kiss her at a party. Initially the University finds Nungesser responsible, and he receives a “disciplinary probation” sanction, a warning that further violation of University policies will likely result in more serious disciplinary action. Josie:
It didn’t change that something shitty happened to me or that he’s walking around. But it did feel good that the system worked…And then the feeling when they were listening to his appeal and they gave it to him was the worst feeling in the world.
When Nungesser asks for an appeal, Josie declines to participate due to work conflicts. The University decides Nungesser is “not responsible”. The University sends her Paul’s letter by accident.
We were unable to determine that it was more likely than not that you engaged in behavior that meets the definition of sexual assault: non-consensual sexual contact. Therefore, the charge has been dismissed.
I was surprised that they listened to the appeal; I was not surprised that they overturned it. I wasn’t there. My testimony was not included. It was different panelists.
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