Last May, a former Columbia University student sued the university over the circumstances around Emma Sulkowicz’s widely publicized “Mattress Project,” in which Sulkowicz vowed to carry a mattress around campus so long as the plaintiff, a man named Paul Nungesser whom Sulkowicz had accused of sexual assault, remained on campus. Nungesser’s lawsuit was dismissed on Friday. In addition to the interesting tactical aspects of the case—most prominently Nungesser’s decision to sue Columbia, but not Sulkowicz, who if Nungesser is to be believed has been defaming him—the dismissal is an important result in the growing campus battles over efforts to try to enforce prohibitions against expression or restrict the ability to give offense. In that sense the dismissal is a welcome result.
Columbia University has been at the center of the growing conversation about campus life and sexual assault in the past year, and now is the target of a new lawsuit by a student accused of misconduct. The case spotlights the collision between free expression and disparagement and the often uneasy balance between them. It also raises some questions about the level of intimate detail included in the documents in a case that is not actually about that conduct, but rather about an educational atmosphere. Nothing in the following article should be read as an adoption of any particular version of events.
Topics: sexual assault, Jon Kessler, Columbia University, Mattress Performance/Carry That Weight, Performance Art, Title IX, Paul Nungesser, motion to strike, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Litigation, university disciplinary board, First Amendment, U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Right, The Mattress Performance, Emma Sulkowicz