by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
To anyone who’s followed the case of Emma Sulkowicz, Columbia University’s “Mattress Girl,” the fact that her symbolic protest doubled as a credit-earning work of performance art seems a fitting commentary on the whole situation.
Sulkowicz, who graduated Sunday, spent her senior year hauling a 50-pound mattress around campus to protest the Columbia administration’s failure to expel her alleged rapist. It would be difficult to overstate the adulation showered upon her: She won the National Organization for Women’s Susan B. Anthony Award and the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Ms. Wonder Award; she was the subject of a glowing New York Magazine profile (“she’s the type of hipster-nerd who rules the world these days“); she was invited to this year’s State of the Union as a guest of New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand; earlier this month, United Nations ambassador Samantha Power likened Sulkowicz to women fighting for their rights in Afghanistan; the “art” itself was reviewed in the New York Times. (Assessment: “Analogies to the Stations of the Cross may come to mind.”)
Such praise might have been deserved — if Emma Sulkowicz had actually been raped. But unlike New York Magazine, the New York Times, the New York Post, and a bevy of other national and international publications, Reason’s Cathy Young actually dug into Sulkowicz’s claims that she was anally raped in August 2012, and in early February published a long investigative report in The Daily Beast that threw serious doubt on her accusations.
The essay included not only an interview with Sulkowicz’s alleged rapist, German scholarship student Paul Nungesser (whom no one else had bothered to talk to), but transcripts of text-message conversations between the pair — you know, “evidence.” Young revealed that Nungesser had been cleared by the university of Sulkowicz’s accusations, and of similar accusations by two other women whose complaints were apparently encouraged by acquaintances sympathetic to Sulkowicz, and possibly by Sulkowicz herself. At Reason today, Young adds that accusations from a fourth accuser, a male who says Nungesser sexually assaulted him in 2011, also were found unreliable by the university. Keep in mind, the university adhered to a minimal preponderance-of-evidence standard, meaning not a single of Nungessser’s accusers could show that it was “more likely than not” that what they claim happened did, in fact, happen.