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Art Or Pornography? Controversy Erupts Over Racy Student Video Shot At Columbia

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A racy video shot between stacks of books at Columbia University has gone viral, and while the students who made the video have called it art, others have deemed it lewd and pornographic.

The video starts innocently enough, with five college women seated at a table looking through books at Butler Library at Columbia University.

But the 3-minute, 22-second video takes a bizarre turn just 17 seconds in. One of the women strips off her shirt and is rendered topless as the title, “Initiation,” appears – with the Greek letter phi in place of the O.

The action moves out of the library as the women are seen topless and performing rituals. Many of the images and scenes are too graphic to show on television.

“The video is us exploring the idea of female sexuality and female desires, through the lens of an Ivy League secret society,” said Coco Young, the Columbia student who co-directed the film.

As the video continues, one woman leads another down a hallway and bizarre rituals ensue. The women run through the halls – at one point with one appearing to ride on the back of another while a third follows behind them with a riding crop.

Later in the film, one woman appears to be doused in milk while seated on a toilet, and afterward, raw egg is rubbed on another participant and smeared on the floor.

In another scene, a dead blue chicken is doused with chocolate sauce, which the women then appear to use to draw on each other’s backs.

Both Young – the co-director of the controversial film for Purple Magazine and a Columbia junior – and participant Sara Powell — a Barnard College senior – said the film is not meant to be pornographic. Rather, it is intended to raise questions about gender equality and sexism, they said.

“Personally, like, when I think of porn, I think of sexual intercourse. I think of full nudity,” Young said, “and those two things are not in our video.”

“I think we wanted to create a dialogue, and we are,” added Powell, “and we’re engaging people, sort of across the spectrum.”

Young said the film was shot guerrilla style on a Saturday night in November – no questions asked. Other students were in the stacks at the library at the time.

“We tried to do it as quickly as possible. We cleaned up after ourselves,” Young said. “No one said anything to us and we just left.”

Some other Columbia students to whom CBS 2 showed the film were not sure what to make of it.

“I know it’s disturbing, at least. That’s definitely my first reaction,” said Columbia student Aram Balian. “I don’t think of it as art.”

“Personally I think it was kind of perturbing,” added Columbia student Helena Shi.

Young and Powell said they have been in communication with Columbia and Barnard, and will not face any punishment for the video.

CBS 2 reached out to Columbia for a response, but calls and e-mails were not returned.

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