Emma Sulkowicz

Judge Dismisses Accused Rapist’s Suit Against Columbia Professor Who Advised Emma Sulkowicz on Mattress Project

On March 11, US District Judge Gregory Woods dismissed a lawsuit brought by Paul Nungesser against Columbia University, its president Lee Bollinger, and art professor Jon Kessler, according to Reuters.

Nungesser, a student who was accused of rape by classmate Emma Sulkowicz, alleged in the suit that Columbia—and Kessler specifically, as a faculty member of the university’s art department—violated Title IX by allowing Sulkowicz to execute a performance art piece for which she carried a mattress around campus to protest the university’s decision to allow Nungesser to remain enrolled. (Title IX specifies that no students will be subjected to discrimination in the context of any educational program or activity benefiting from federal financial assistance.)

Kessler was Sulkowicz’s thesis advisor when she undertook the piece, which drew national headlines. The judge presiding over the case concluded that ruling in favor of Nungesser’s suit “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,” in the words of Reuters.

Nungesser’s team will now have thirty days to file any amendments to their claim; otherwise the dismissal of his case will become final.

“While we’re disappointed with the judge’s ruling . . . we believe that this is a very strong case and we will continue in our pursuit of justice for Mr. Nungesser,” said one of the plaintiff’s attorneys.

“I think 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,” Sulkowicz had said earlier as the suit made its way to court, according to the Washington Post. (She was not named as a defendant in the case.)

She had added: “It’s ridiculous that [Nungesser] 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. If artists are not allowed to make art that reflect on our experiences, then how are we to heal?”