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Columbia University’s 2015 graduation ceremony.

Columbia University Settles Lawsuit over Art Student’s Mattress Performance

Former Columbia University student Paul Nungesser, who was accused of raping artist and fellow student Emma Sulkowicz, has settled his lawsuit against the college, Kate Taylor of the New York Times reports.

Nungesser, who was cleared of wrongdoing by a university disciplinary panel, sued Columbia one month before he and Sulkowicz graduated in 2015, claiming that her art project, Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight), was an “outrageous display of harassment and defamation” against him. For her senior thesis performance, advised by Jon Kessler, Sulkowicz carried a twin-size mattress around campus for an entire year. The artist declared she would only cease hauling the fifty-pound bed when Nungesser was no longer at the school. She even lugged it to their graduation ceremony.

The university did not disclose the terms of the settlement with Nungesser but said in a statement: “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 community.”

Nungesser’s lawsuit had been dismissed twice in Federal District Court, but his lawyer noted that, shortly before settlement talks began, he had filed a notice saying that he intended to appeal the case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

While Sulkowicz did not respond to requests for comment, Dana Bolger, a founder of Know Your IX, an organization that works to eradicate sexual violence on college campuses, said, “I hope that schools don’t interpret this as a sign that they should be cracking down on student activism. Especially now as we see some retrenchment from the current administration, it’s more important than ever that student speech is allowed to thrive on campuses.”

The settlement coincides with the Trump administration’s decision to review policies regarding sexual assault cases at schools across the nation. On Thursday, July 13, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos began the evaluation process by meeting with victims of sexual violence, students who have been accused and their families, and advocates on both sides of the issue.

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