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...A Night Of Nakedness


Roddy

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At Columbia, an Invitation to a Night of Nakedness

An invitation to an all-night party at an undisclosed location is spreading among Columbia University's student body with viral intensity.

"Compadres," the e-mail states, "join us in refusing to comply with a culture that tells us to hide our body, to be ashamed of its scents, secretions, curves, and hair, to conceal those parts that have been dealt sexual connotations. We're gonna f-- this bondage we call clothing and party like the savages we really are."

Following in the footsteps of their exhibitionist peers at Brown and Yale, Columbia undergraduates are staging parties with one basic ground rule - all guests must part with their clothes upon arrival. The invitation circulating around Morningside Heights bans three additional items: cameras, masks, and "spikey things."

"Join us for a night of champagne, martinis, witchcraft, psychedelia, syncopated rhythms, thin bass lines, and body paint," reads the invitation, which was obtained by The New York Sun.

While it's too early to say whether a tradition has been born, the naked party appears to be taking root at Columbia, a school better known for its stringent sexual misconduct policies and grinding course work than for its freeloving co-eds.

"Columbia students are generally not into the exhibitionist realm," said Zachary Bendiner, a senior who edits a campus periodical, the Blue and White. "Rightfully so, because by and large they aren't terribly attractive."

The idea of a naked party may conjure up some of the more outrageously lurid campus scenes found in Tom Wolfe's recent novel "I Am Charlotte Simmons" and feed into parental paranoia about the coarsening of college life. Students who have mustered up the courage to go to one, however, are more likely to downplay the sexual nature of the event. It's more of a social opportunity, they say, to lose one's inhibitions, to engage in interesting, more personal, conversation, and to feel comfortable in one's own skin.

When she was a Yale student, Barbara Bush is said to have been a frequent guest at naked parties, leading Hustler's publisher, Larry Flynt, to offer $1 million for a photograph of the president's daughter at one of them.

The idyllic conception of the party has in the past confronted a harsher reality. At Yale last year, a student who graduated from the university pleaded no contest to a charge of fourth-degree sexual assault of a woman, who accused him of drugging her and assaulting her in a dorm room following a naked party that they both attended in 2002.

"Unfortunately, young people in university environments make mistakes in judgment that can have long-lasting effects," the defendant's lawyer, William Dow, said, according to the Hartford Courant. "The decision to attend a naked party is the epitome of bad judgment by all concerned."

Columbia students say the upcoming party follows one that was held in a law student's apartment in the spring. Both parties were organized by a third-year student from Atlanta, Carla Bloomberg. She is majoring in comparative literature and society, often quotes George Bernard Shaw, and was the subject of a profile in the Blue and White, which described her as a "provocateur."

"If I want to walk around naked, I should be able to do it," she was quoted as saying. She told the publication that the idea of the party originated from an attempt to rebel against the notion that people construct their image through clothing. She also disagrees with society's views on gender differences.

In an e-mail to the Sun, Ms. Bloomberg said, "Why is it ok for a man to walk around shirtless but not for a woman? Why is body hair only acceptable on males?"

A student who attended the party in the spring, Richard Lipkin, said about 80 to 100 naked people - including a fair number of law and business school students - were concentrated in one apartment. Clothes were dumped near the entrance. Women slightly outnumbered men, and people were generally - if not exclusively - good looking, the type who are often more willing to flout culture's restrictions on nudity.

Mr. Lipkin said he had no recollection of the music that was played.

"It was surprisingly comfortable," he said. "Most of the people were quite comfortable. Everyone was pretty mature about it. I don't think anything inappropriate went on. ... People were definitely networking, but there wasn't anything bad going on."

He didn't feel awkward afterward either, he said. He performs Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as an extracurricular activity and was perfectly comfortable wrestling classmates who had attended the party, he said. The next party, which is slated for December 2, will have the theme of "mythology," the invitation says, and guests are encouraged to wear beads and fairy wings, "as long as you're still nekked."

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