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Accusers and the Accused, Crossing Paths at Columbia University

Knit cap pulled down over his ears, shoulders hunched against the biting wind, Paul Nungesser was almost indistinguishable from the dozen or so other students traversing the steps of Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library one menacing December day. But a few of those students recognized him anyway, flicking their eyes up for a discreet peek before hurrying on to the last classes of the semester.

He has gotten used to former friends crossing the street to avoid him. He has even gotten used to being denounced as a rapist on fliers and in a rally in the university’s quadrangle. Though his name is not widely known beyond the Morningside Heights campus, Mr. Nungesser is one of America’s most notorious college students. His reputation precedes him.

His notoriety is the result of a campaign by Emma Sulkowicz, a fellow student who says Mr. Nungesser raped her in her dorm room two years ago. Columbia cleared him of responsibility in that case, as well as in two others that students brought against him. Outraged, Ms. Sulkowicz began carryinga 50-pound mattress wherever she went on campus, to suggest the painful burden she continues to bear. She has vowed to keep at it until he leaves the school.