Columbia Spectator

The mattresser has become the mattressee, or something.

After Columbia University’s “Mattress Girl,” Emma Sulkowicz, continued her rape accusation campaign against exonerated student Paul Nungesser at the school’s graduation ceremonies Tuesday, posters calling Sulkowicz a liar popped up overnight in the school’s vicinity, according to Deputy News Editor Teo Armus of the Columbia Spectator.

Armus has been on a tweet-storm since Sulkowicz and her friends lugged the mattress to the podium for their diplomas, and he’s got pictures now of the posters (most of which didn’t stay up for long before getting torn down).

The allusion is to the popular ABC Family teen drama Pretty Little Liars:

Actress and provocateur Lena Dunham – whose own years-late rape accusations helped smear the completely wrong person – was also targeted in the poster campaign, according to Armus.

For more poster activism – which is definitely lighter and more nimble than mattress activism – follow Armus on Twitter.

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You may have seen pictures from Columbia University’s graduation ceremonies today floating around social media under the hashtag #ccclassday2015.

The Columbia Spectator has been tweeting out pictures and video in particular of “Mattress Girl” Emma Sulkowicz, who accused fellow (exonerated) student Paul Nungesser of anally raping her. Nungesser is now suing the school for its role in Sulkowicz’s witch hunt against him.

Unsurprisingly, Sulkowicz and Co. brought her mattress (where the alleged crime happened) and she was as defiant as ever.


What’s surprising is that Columbia apparently bent its own rules to let Sulkowicz continue her performance-art project at graduation.

The Spectator reported late last night:

A provision barring large items has been added to administrative guidelines sent to seniors before Columbia College Class Day on Tuesday. This may include the mattress that Emma Sulkowicz, CC ’15, plans to bring to the event for her senior visual arts thesis.

“Graduates should not bring into the ceremonial area large objects which could interfere with the proceedings or create discomfort to others in close, crowded spaces shared by thousands of people,” an email sent to graduating seniors from GradZone on Monday said.

This excerpt was not included in similar emails from GradZone—Student Affairs’ name for communications regarding graduation—in 2014 or 2013.

Sulkowicz did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A University spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment about whether Sulkowicz would be allowed to bring her mattress into the ceremony and what prompted the policy change.

Though the comments below the story are full of bile against Sulkowicz, the school apparently got enough crap that it folded and let Mattress Girl and her entourage “Carry That Weight” across the stage and all the way to a book deal and a made-for-TV movie (that’s really where this is ending, right?).

No update yet from the Spectator‘s live blog on why Columbia let the mattress through in clear defiance of its policy.

UPDATE: The Washington Examiner‘s Ashe Schow reports that Nungesser’s lawyer is predicting the school’s accommodation for Sulkowicz’s mattress at the ceremony will help their lawsuit: “This goes beyond mere facilitation; they have now granted a special exception.”

Read the Spectator article.

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Before I transferred to Columbia University, I went to a local college in my native West Virginia.

There, I was part of a student-run multicultural initiative – just a band of misfits who wanted to share our love of other cultural perspectives with whoever chose our company.

Though students who joined our group were like-minded in many ways, we did not try to alter the overall intellectual growth of our brothers and sisters in scholarship.

That might not be true at Columbia, if I’m correctly interpreting the implications of its own recent multicultural initiative: that all students (and faculty) must participate, and that this enforced participation will stymie the intellectual journey of many in favor of placating the sensibilities of a few.

The Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board has been meeting with administrators and faculty who lead the Core curriculum in a bid to make students feel “safe in the classroom” by recognizing “the multiplicity of their identities,” the board’s four members wrote in a Columbia Spectator op-ed.

The student-run organization’s mission is to ensure that “Columbia’s campus is welcoming and safe for students of all backgrounds.” It’s part of the school’s Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Its proposal, however, would do nothing short of compromise the Core curriculum.

Though they don’t explicitly recommend revising the content of Columbia’s Literature and Humanities (Lit Hum) curriculum, the members claim it’s harming students who find certain texts “triggering.”

In a forum the board hosted last semester, a young undergraduate claimed she was triggered by the content of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, an assigned required text in Lit Hum’s two-semester course progression, the board wrote.


Though Ovid’s text is “a fixture of Lit Hum,” the members said that like much of Western literature, Metamorphoses can also be “triggering and offensive” to “a [rape] survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.”

While the board asks the Core gatekeepers to educate faculty about trigger warnings and create a “mediation mechanism for students who have identity-based disagreements with professors,” perhaps their most far-reaching recommendation boils down to re-education.

They want “all professors” to go through a training program that will help them “constructively facilitate conversations that embrace all identities” and “think critically about how the Core Curriculum is framed for their students.”

This is not intended to “infringe” on professors’ academic freedom, they wrote. They simply want to give professors “effective strategies to engage with potential conflicts and confrontations in the classroom” and coax out “voices which presently feel silenced.”

What about the voice of students at large who don’t have a “university-funded bureaucracy” to implement their will, as Cornell Law School Professor William Jacobson wrote about the members’ proposal?

Won’t their voices be “silenced” if the Core is neutered into a bland puddle of inoffensiveness?

I’m not the only student worried about how this could play out.

A fellow Columbia undergrad who requested anonymity was candid in an interview about the shortcomings of the proposal.

The very existence of an advisory board for multicultural grievances is alarming because it has “a big selection bias for membership,” the student told me.

He claimed no one had been accepted to the board “who thinks that ideas and logic can trump emotions and identity.” Instead, it is composed of those who consider identity itself “the most” important factor in decision-making.

This is why the Spectator op-ed “didn’t even bother” establishing such a premise, the student told me – the board just takes it for granted that identity will trump all else.

I reached out to the advisory board members to flesh out their recommendations, as well as the Office of Multicultural Affairs and director of the Center for the Core Curriculum, Roosevelt Montás, to get their take on the board’s proposal and what it could mean for the Core.

Since these issues probably won’t stay confined to Columbia, I tried to reach the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ John Tessitore, who directs its humanities and education program, for his take on challenges to such curricula.

So far only advisory board member Tanika Lynch has responded, and asked for more time to formulate a response. (Finals week is wrapping up at Columbia.)

However they feel about the Core curriculum, students and faculty deserve to know how it might change in response to perceived slights to certain groups on campus.

College Fix contributor Micah Fleck is a student at Columbia University.

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IMAGES: Columbia University Office of Multicultural Affairs, Wikimedia Commons

From ignoring broken confidentiality to paying for rally’s cleanup, an issue of favoritism

Columbia University systematically used its own resources to attack a student whom it cleared of sexual-assault allegations, according to a lawsuit by Paul Nungesser against school leaders.

Though it doesn’t name his accuser, the so-called “Mattress Girl” Emma Sulkowicz, as a defendant, the suit repeatedly cites communication between the ex-sex partners as evidence of Sulkowicz’s duplicity.

Columbia took the “politically correct route” in promoting Sulkowicz’s “Carry that Weight” art project, Nungesser attorney Paul Byler told The College Fix in a phone interview.

By toting her mattress around campus as a protest of Columbia’s refusal to expel Nungesser, Sulkowicz has enchanted national figures such as Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who brought her to this year’s State of the Union address and flat-out called Nungesser a “rapist.”

The campus judgment directed at Nungesser and his defenders throughout the ordeal bothered even one of Sulkowicz’s supporters, who wrote a letter in the Columbia Spectator asking students to “end Emma’s story.”



School failed to protect a student it exonerated

Though Columbia cleared Nungesser under the low “preponderance of evidence” standard and a subsequent New York County investigation ended for lack of evidence, Columbia continued to promote and fund – both directly and indirectly – many of Sulkowicz’s exploits, the lawsuit claims.

Lawyer Byler told The Fix the school had an obligation to protect Nungesser.

“If you’re a male and you’re exonerated,” the only conclusion is there’s “no merit at all to the accusation,” Byler said.

The problems started when the university began tolerating “and then embraced” Sulkowicz’s behavior, Byler said.

Columbia gave course credit to Sulkowicz for her mattress-oriented performance art project and paid most of a bill for a rally against sexual assault headlined by Sulkowicz, the suit says.

Efforts “to wreak havoc on Paul’s life” were aided by Professor Jon Kessler, named as a defendant, who “jointly designed” the mattress project with Sulkowicz as her senior thesis.

By allowing “Emma to carry the mattress into each of her classes, the library, and on Columbia campus-provided transportation,” Columbia is facilitating gender-based harassment and stalking of Nungesser, the suit claims.

School guilty of ‘sponsoring a defamation and harassment movement’

bollingerUniversity President Lee Bollinger, another defendant, showed “contemptible moral cowardice in bowing down to the witch hunt against an innocent student” by repeatedly praising Sulkowicz’s project, the suit says.

University resources were used to slur Nungesser: Columbia’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender published articles praising Sulkowicz on its blog and promoted her art project, the suit says.

Columbia bent its own rules to help Sulkowicz’s cause, according to the suit.

Following the rally where Sulkowicz spoke of her own alleged rape by Nungesser, Columbia picked up $1,000 of the $1,500 cost of cleanup rather than requiring its student organization sponsors to pay the full cost – “effectively sponsoring a defamation and harassment movement against Paul.”

The lawsuit alleges the university failed to protect Nungesser numerous times, including after Sulkowicz broke the confidentiality agreement.

It failed to penalize students who broke confidentiality agreements by speaking with the Spectator and allowed the paper to name Nungesser as the alleged rapist.

Bollinger patted the university on the back in an October New Republic article, praising its efforts against sexual assault, while ignoring the universities’ activities and omissions “that had falsely branded Paul a rapist and constituted gender based harassment,” the suit says.




Contradicting the DA

Throughout the ordeal, Sulkowicz repeatedly lied or bended the truth, according to the lawsuit.

During the investigation by the university, she “was able to continuously alter and tweak important facts,” and she claimed at her April 2014 press conference with Sen. Gillibrand that her “serial rapist” was on campus, despite knowing that he was studying abroad in Prague.

In August 2014, after the New York County district attorney’s office cited a lack of “reasonable suspicion” as its reason for not bringing charges, Sulkowicz claimed that it was she who had decided against pressing charges against Nungesser, citing the long wait to go to trial.

She repeated this claim in an interview with Democracy Now.

Sulkowicz and Nungesser had engaged in consensual sexual intercourse previous to the alleged rape and she was often flirty with him, according to the suit.

As Robby Soave at Reason noted, “the messages she continued to send him even after he allegedly attacked her—as well as some of her demonstrably false assertions, including that she never brought up anal sex with him—certainly look bad for her.”

Columbia University declined to comment and Sulkowicz did not respond to requests for comment.

College Fix reporter Matt Lamb is a student at Loyola University-Chicago.

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If you want to peruse any records associated with your admission to Columbia University, you’ll be quite limited in what you receive.

What Columbia junior Frederic Enea got back when he made a request to do just that included his original college application and an email sent to the school by his high school guidance counselor, but “any documents created or comments made by Columbia admissions officers were missing from his file.”

This is policy, it seems.

The Columbia Daily Spectator reports:

Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jessica Marinaccio said that in the admissions process, admissions officers create a written assessment of the student’s application called a “reader rating sheet.” That document is shared with the admissions committee, which may add comments.

“We have a document retention policy here at Columbia that has been in place for a little while,” Marinaccio said. “And part of that document retention policy is that we do delete, we remove those reader rating sheets before a student matriculates.”

According to Marinaccio, those records are destroyed to provide students with a clean slate when they begin college.

“If we feel they’re going to be good fits here and they’re admissible and they make the choice to come, [their reader rating sheets] shouldn’t necessarily follow them throughout their entire career here,” Marinaccio said.

Columbia is the latest institution known to liquidate such documents.

Stanford began doing so shortly after the anonymous group Fountain Hopper “sent emails to its subscribers encouraging them to request access to their admissions records.”

Yale has eliminated such records, too.

The group Students for Fair Admissions has sent letters to all Ivy League schools but Harvard (with whom it’s currently involved in litigation) requesting they retain their admissions archives. SFA says “schools should not be able to ‘destroy evidence essential to judicial review of its admissions policies,’ especially if such policies were racially discriminatory.”

Unfortunately, currently there is nothing in the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that prevents universities from extinguishing student admissions forms.

NOTE: This story has been updated to correct the year of student Frederic Enea, and to note that his college application and counselor email were not the exclusive contents of what he received from Admissions.

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A group of some 220 students at Barnard College want the school to require a “more diverse and critical first-year curriculum.”

The petitioners, led by senior Claire Bouchard, say “the current curriculum ignores marginalized perspectives, does not provide enough opportunity to question the academic canon, should provide a better understanding of the construction of identities, and should take a more global approach.”

Bouchard adds that “[t]here was a need to incorporate some sort of critical thought and incorporate the ability to contextualize what you’re looking at, and being able to analyze the assumptions that go behind the works you’re looking at.”

Sounds as if either Barnard isn’t doing its job, or it’s just more of the silly “I can’t relate” message all too prevalent at colleges today.

It appears the latter is more likely.

The Columbia Daily Spectator reports:

“We read a piece about one Korean princess and that was it. We didn’t read any marginalized voices, except Juana Iné de la Cruz. Everything else was just European, Western, white women or men,” [student Ami] Sosa said. “Including other voices would be really beneficial to see other points of view and different versions of feminism.”

“As a woman of color, I have difficulty identifying with some of the reading material. First-year English options are limited in many ways. The topics are geared and related to the white man or white woman, and people of color have little to no voice, and if we are given a voice it is most likely going to be through a white man’s perspective,” [student Lauren] Babb said.

Fortunately, some students feel it’s worthy to maintain course material on Western canon:

Naina Sahrawat, BC ’18, who is currently taking the first-year seminar Legacy of the Mediterranean, said she worried that veering away from teaching the Western canon would inadequately prepare students for the world.

“If we suddenly changed the canon to include only books from Zora Neale Hurston, Margaret Mead, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and you went out into the world and said, ‘Hey, look at this canon I know,’ people would say, ‘That’s nice, but there’s no frame of reference for it,’” Sahrawat said.

Sahrawat says the petition is “irresponsible” due to it being too vague with no way to implement it.

Bouchard counters that the vagueness is purposeful.

“What we intend to set forward are learning objectives simply because we don’t know what it takes to set a professor’s curriculum. We don’t believe it’s our place to tell our professor how to teach a class.”

Regarding the desired change, she adds that “everyone knows it’s necessary.”

Indeed? 220 people is “everyone?”

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