Back in September 2014, Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz began carrying a twin mattress around with her everywhere she went. The performance art piece, which she called “Carry That Weight,” was a form of protest—Sulkowicz said she’s been raped on that mattress, but Columbia had refused to punish her alleged rapist, Paul Nungesser. Sulkowicz said she’d carry the mattress until Nungesser was expelled. Her art piece drew national media attention, even earning a compliment from famous performance artist Marina Abramovic, and last May she walked across the stage to receive her diploma still carrying the mattress.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nungesser objected to being called out in such a public way. He filed a lawsuit against Columbia, its president Lee Bollinger, and visual arts professor Jon Kessler, who oversaw Sulkowicz’s project. He claimed his Title IX rights had been violated; Title IX states that no one in any educational program or federally funded activity should “be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination” on the basis of sex. According to Reuters, Nungesser said the “unwanted attention hurt his academic experience, made him fear for his safety, and forced him to return to his native Germany after graduation to find a job.”
But a Manhattan judge threw out Nungesser’s case, calling his argument logically faulty. “Nungesser’s argument rests on a logical fallacy,” the judge wrote. “He assumes that because the allegations against him concerned a sexual act that everything that follows from it is ‘sex-based’ within the meaning of Title IX. He is wrong. Taken to its logical extreme, Nungesser’s position would lead to the conclusion that those who commit, or are accused of committing, sexual assault are a protected class under Title IX.”
In a statement to the school paper, Columbia University officials said, “We are encouraged that today’s ruling brings us closer to the point that this litigation, addressing issues understandably difficult for many, can be concluded.”