Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student who has carried a mattress around campus as part of an art project for the past year, has graduated. And she carried that mattress across the stage during the ceremony — to much applause.
Paul Nungesser, the man she accused of raping her, and who was cleared by a campus hearing and the police, was forced to watch, having walked across the stage just a few minutes earlier.
Nungesser is now suing Columbia for facilitating a harassment campaign against him. He alleges in his lawsuit that by allowing and even praising Sulkowicz's mattress project, the school was complicit in defaming him.
The harassment "significantly damaged, if not effectively destroyed Paul Nungesser's college experience, his reputation, his emotional well-being and his future career prospects," the lawsuit alleges.
On Monday, Columbia circulated an email banning students from bringing large objects to graduation. It appeared at the time that Sulkowicz was being disallowed from carrying her mattress across the stage. But evidently, that was not the case.
Allowing Sulkowicz to carry her mattress may have helped Nungesser's case in court, as the school made clear that large objects were banned but then did nothing to stop Sulkowicz.
Nungesser's lawyer, Kimberly Lau, told the Washington Examiner 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," Lau said.
Regardless of the facts of the case (including Facebook messages showing Sulkowicz continued to send positive and even loving messages to Nungesser after the alleged rape), it's clear the media is enthralled with the mattress.
MTV gave Sulkowicz a "slow clap" for her stunt. Refinery 29 called her a "rape survivor." Most outlets focused on her mattress, paying only lip service at the end of their articles to Nungesser's lawsuit and the fact that he was found "not responsible" by Columbia administrators or that the police declined to file charges.
Updated to include a quote from Nungesser's lawyer.