Columbia University president refuses graduation handshake with anti-rape activist Emma Sulkowicz

University head Lee Bollinger reportedly turned away from Sulkowicz as she carried her mattress across the stage

Published May 20, 2015 3:48PM (EDT)

Emma Sulkowicz
Emma Sulkowicz

Overcoming efforts by Columbia University officials to prevent "large objects" from appearing on stage at this week's commencement ceremonies, anti-rape activist Emma Sulkowicz managed to carry her mattress -- with the help of friends -- across the stage as she graduated on Tuesday. But, as with Sulkowicz's entire senior thesis project, "Carry That Weight," the move wasn't without consequences.

Columbia University president Lee Bollinger reportedly refused to shake hands with Sulkowicz at the Class Day commencement ceremony as she passed him with her mattress, despite greeting all other students as their names were called. The New York Times reports:

As Ms. Sulkowicz and her friends ascended the stage, Mr. Bollinger, who had been shaking the students’ hands, turned his back and leaned down as though to pick something up from his seat. Ms. Sulkowicz leaned over the mattress, trying to catch his eye, then straightened up and kept walking, shrugging with her free hand.

“I even tried to smile at him or look him in the eye, and he completely turned away,” she said later. “So that was surprising, because I thought he was supposed to shake all of our hands.”

A spokeswoman for the university, Victoria Benitez, said that the mattress had been between Ms. Sulkowicz and Mr. Bollinger and that no snub was intended.

Bollinger, along with the university and the professor who approved the mattress project, were recently named in a federal lawsuit filed by Sulkowicz's alleged rapist, Paul Nungesser, who alleges that his Title IX rights were violated by the performance piece. With Nungesser's graudation and her own this week, Sulkowicz says she considers the project finished.

By Jenny Kutner

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