As graduation day approaches, officials at Columbia University face a dilemma: whether to allow a student who protests the university’s decision to exonerate a classmate she accused of rape to carry the symbol of her antirape art project -- a mattress -- to the commencement ceremony. The university hasn’t said what it will do, but The Wall Street Journal says students it talked to are sharply divided on the issue.
The accuser, Emma Sulkowicz, and the accused student, Paul Nungesser, are both scheduled to graduate on May 20 at the same commencement ceremony. Ms. Sulkowicz has gained national attention with her vow to carry the mattress as part of a university-sanctioned art project until Mr. Nungesser is expelled or leaves the campus, or until they both graduate.
Mr. Nungesser says he didn’t rape Ms. Sulkowicz and, in a Title IX lawsuit, accuses Columbia of allowing Ms. Sulkowicz to carry out a campaign of sustained harassment against him. Part of the lawsuit asks Columbia to bar Ms. Sulkowicz from carrying the mattress at commencement.
A university spokeswoman told the Journal that Columbia did not comment on pending litigation and had no comment on whether Ms. Sulkowicz would be allowed to bring her mattress to the ceremony. Ms. Sulkowicz and her family have not commented.
Ron Kuby, a civil-rights lawyer in New York City who doesn’t represent anyone involved, says Columbia faces difficult options. “As a university, you’re trying to promote two utterly inconsistent values,” he told the Journal. “One is academic freedom and the vigorous exchange of ideas. The other is creating a safe space where students feel comfortable expressing those ideas.”