A male student is suing Columbia University for failing to protect him from sexual harassment. But the full story is complicated, since the alleged harassment was perpetrated by a female student who first accused him of sexually assaulting her.
The lawsuit is the latest front in a war of accusations between Paul Nungesser and Emma Sulkowicz, a pair of friends-turned-lovers-turned-enemies. Both sides agree they met on campus as freshmen in 2011; by the end of the school year, they had become close confidants and infrequent sexual partners. At the start of their sophomore year, they had sex for a third time. Seven months later, after drifting apart, Sulkowicz claimed that Nungesser had choked, assaulted, and raped her during this final encounter. She filed a complaint with the university, but Columbia found Nungesser not responsible and the police declined to press charges, saying there was a lack of probable suspicion.
Undeterred, Sulkowicz went public with her allegations and began carrying her mattress to class in protest of Nungesser's continued presence on campus. A faculty advisor endorsed this effort as a visual arts project for which Sulkowicz received course credit. Nungesser's lawsuit, filed on April 23, 2015, claims that Columbia "effectively destroyed" his college experience, reputation, and career prospects by allowing Sulkowicz to conduct a smear campaign against him.