Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz's project Carry That Weight has galvanized both her college peers and the nation at large. Her story has been a linchpin for a year that brought about a dramatic increase (for better and worse) in reporting and conversations about sexual assault at college. Now, her alleged rapist has spoken out for the first time.
Identified by the New York Times' Ariel Kaminer, student Paul Nungesser's name has, as the article made clear, already been known in many circles, at Columbia and by those who had access to the original, uncensored "Rapist List" put up by Columbia students. His name was also reported by The Columbia Spectator in May; after that piece came out, the editors explained their reasoning in naming him, pointing out that Sulkowicz had filed a police report about the alleged rape so Nungesser's identity was "publicly available."
In Kaminer's article, Nungesser comes off much the way other alleged rapists on college campuses who have chosen to speak out do – as someone who is attempting to garner sympathy but who finds themselves caught up in asserting that the nonconsensual sexual contact–a term colleges love–he had with the three partners (Sulkowitz; a woman who said Nungesser groped her until she forced him off her and a former girlfriend who alleges repeat abuse) was all consensual.
For example, Nungesser's thoughts on the possibility that rape can happen more than once, between two people who are in a relationship, as he has been accused of:
"Outside of a forced marriage or kidnapping, it just seems very hard to believe that a person would over and over again put themselves in a situation where they could expect this kind of behavior to occur."
"My mother raised me as a feminist," he says, well aware of how those words will strike some people, "and I'm someone who would like to think of myself as being supportive of equal rights for women."
His quotes echo those like the ones reported by former Jezebel/now BuzzFeed reporter Katie J.M. Baker in her piece about men at campuses across the country arguing that they have been unfairly wronged by the same system their adversaries have also found fault with. Kevin, a "social justice bro," is suing Wesleyan University for finding him guilty of breaking the student code of conduct for harassment and "nonconsensual kissing." These are men who consider themselves against sexual assault, and are shocked to find themselves accused of it. As the stories of their alleged victims garner more attention, their refutations of those stories will as well.
"At first I thought they didn't want me to participate in campus activities," Kevin told Baker. "Then I thought they didn't want me to graduate. Now they don't want me to have a job or be part of society. Do they want me to commit suicide? Is that what they want me to do? What is the endgame?"
Nungesser clearly agreed to participate in the Times piece in order to clear his name. He discusses how Carry That Weight is "an act of bullying, a very public, very personal and very painful attack designed to hound him out of Columbia," one that is being "conducted with the university's active support." He mentions how he is not "just another rich foreign student." (All of these quotes are Kaminer's description of their conversation).
But as is the case in all these stories, there is one thing Nungesser and Sulkowitz agree upon: the University they both chose to attend has failed them. They just each think that happened in different ways.
Image via Wally Gobetz/Flickr