Paul Nungesser Files New Complaint Against Columbia, Asks What If 'Genders Were Reversed?'

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Paul Nungesser, the alleged rapist of Columbia graduate Emma Sulkowicz—who came into the spotlight for her senior thesis art project, Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight)—has filed a new 100-page complaint against the school one month after a judge dismissed his case.


Nungesser, who has faced multiple rape allegations, originally argued that Columbia had violated his Title IX rights by allowing Sulkowicz to continue with her art project and other forms of protest, even after a disciplinary board found him to be not guilty of her rape. Title IX states that no one in an educational program should “be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination” on the basis of gender. When Judge Gregory Woods dismissed his case last month, he wrote:

“Nungesser’s argument rests on a logical fallacy. He assumes that because the allegations against him concerned a sexual act that everything that follows from it is ‘sex-based’ within the meaning of Title IX. He is wrong. Taken to its logical extreme, Nungesser’s position would lead to the conclusion that those who commit, or are accused of committing, sexual assault are a protected class under Title IX.”

Judge Woods also questioned whether Nungesser was actually prevented from attending on-campus career events as a result of Sulkowicz’s project, as alleged in his suit. However, Judge Woods allowed Nungesser to file a new complaint, and it is...really something.

Nungesser told Newsweek that “While I personally would like to put this case behind me, I also think this complaint raises some fundamental questions that our society deserves answers to.” The complaint is filed against Columbia University, University president Lee Bollinger, Columbia’s trustees, art professor Jon Kessler, visual arts professor Tomas Vu-Daniel, and Marianne Hirsch, English professor and director of the school’s Institute for Research on Women, Gender and Sexuality.

The “fundamental questions,” via Newsweek:

Monday’s complaint offers updated arguments for why Columbia allegedly discriminated against Nungesser as a male. It urges the judge to consider “the case at hand if the genders were reversed,” and then proposes a scenario involving people named Paula and Emmet, with details mirroring what happened between Nungesser and Sulkowicz.

The new complaint also alleges that Columbia’s policies and practices “perpetuate the stereotype of the sex-driven male,” which violates Title IX. For example, the complaint says, Columbia’s policies include no examples of sexual violence involving a male victim and a female perpetrator, only female victims and male perpetrators, or gender-neutral victims and perpetrators. Also, it says, all videos shown during a mandatory sexual respect program for students focused on “violence against women” and not gender-based violence more generally. Further, the complaint alleges, the school’s sexual violence policies focus only on penetration as opposed to someone being “made to penetrate.”


Ah, the old “what if this thing were an entirely different thing” argument. What if women, instead of men, had written history? What if women, rather than men, were 26 times more likely to commit a homicide? What if 1 in 6 men, rather than 1 in 6 women, were the victims of an attempted or completed rape?What if I took a different route to work, and that route was slower? What if something I wrote was a different thing, and that thing was offensive?

Hypothetical scenarios are often dangled when no rational argument materializes. Rather than operating under an extremely false sense of parity, the policies that are so astounding to Nungesser (and, I should also note, the policies that twice worked in his favor) are a reflection of the fact that when it comes to sexual assault, women are much more likely to be the victim, and false rape allegations are statistically rare.


Nungesser is one of a number of students accused of sexual assault who are now suing their institutions (something Newsweek, never one to avoid a man’s point of view, has covered extensively); recently, former Yale basketball captain Jack Montague aired plans to sue the school following his expulsion for sexual assault. However, Higher Ed points out that the cases being won by accused students are based on arguments that the students’ rights to due process were violated; claims like Nungesser’s, based on the idea that a student was discriminated against for being male, have for obvious reasons been largely unsuccessful.

Nungesser’s lawyer Andrew Miltenberg, who has taken up a number of similar cases, told Newsweek that he expects Columbia to file a motion to dismiss.


Image via AP.


Adrastra, patron saint of not giving a fuck

While I personally would like to put this case behind me, I also think this complaint raises some fundamental questions that our society deserves answers to.”

I don’t believe you.