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Columbia President Didn't Shake Hands With Student Who Carried Her Mattress To Graduation

Video of the ceremony shows university president Lee Bollinger turn back toward his chair as Emma Sulkowicz and her friends crossed the stage with the mattress. The university denied the allegation that it was a deliberate move.

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Bollinger appears to turn back to toss a plastic bottle onto his chair just as Sulkowicz and her friends approach him.

The handshake is standard at most academic ceremonies, and Bollinger can be seen shaking other students' hands after Sulkowicz and her friends passed.

"I even tried to smile at him or look him in the eye, and he completely turned away," she told the New York Times. "So that was surprising, because I thought he was supposed to shake all of our hands."

A spokesperson for the university told BuzzFeed News that the article "reflects a highly selective and strained interpretation of actual events," and that Sulkowicz and the students who walked the stage with her "marched right past Dean Valentini and President Bollinger rather than pausing for traditional handshakes."

The spokesperson acknowledged that that is the students' right, but that anybody who knew the university president personally would know that the snub was unintended.

On Tuesday, Sulkowicz, the visual arts senior who accused another student of raping her in 2014, carried her mattress to her graduation ceremony even though "large objects" were banned at the venue.

Walking mattress down ramps in Lerner for #ccclassday

On Monday, campus administration sent an email to students outlining different rules for graduation procedures. It included a line that specifically addressed large objects.

A Columbia Daily Spectator report quoted the email as saying that graduating students "should not bring into the ceremonial area large objects which could interfere with the proceedings or create discomfort to others in close, crowded spaces shared by thousands of people."

The campus newspaper added that there was no evidence of this memorandum being distributed to students in 2014 or 2013.

A university spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, "We communicated to all students that the shared celebratory purpose of Class Day and Commencement calls for mutual respect for the security and comfort of graduating students and their families in attendance."

The spokesperson did not comment on individual students, but added that the administration would not "physically block entry to graduates, who are ultimately responsible for their own choices."

It is unclear if this seemingly new rule was intended to prevent Sulkowicz from bringing the mattress she had used as a symbol to protest her rape since September.

Emma Sulkowicz is with her mattress, waiting in the processional line for #ccclassday

The incident sparked a massive movement on Columbia's campus, with other students joining Sulkowicz in solidarity by carrying their own mattresses despite being fined for doing so.

One student group took to projecting signs such as "Columbia Protects Rapists" all over campus buildings the same day prospective students were scheduled to visit.

A federal complaint filed in 2014 launched a Department of Education investigation into Columbia's process of handling sexual assault cases.

Last month, the accused rapist, Paul Nungesser, sued the university for failing to protect him from harassment.

Tamerra Griffin is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based Nairobi, Kenya.

Contact Tamerra Griffin at tamerra.griffin@buzzfeed.com.

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