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Lifelike sculpture of man wearing underpants causes stir at US college

A statue of a man sleepwalking in his underpants is surrounded by snow on the campus of Wellesley College, in Wellesley, Mass., Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. The sculpture entitled

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A statue of a man sleepwalking in his underpants is surrounded by snow on the campus of Wellesley College, in Wellesley, Mass., Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. The sculpture entitled "Sleepwalker" is part of an exhibit by sculptor Tony Matelli at the college's Davis Museum. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

WELLESLEY, Mass. - A remarkably lifelike sculpture of a man sleepwalking in nothing but his underpants has some students at a U.S. women's college protesting, but the school president says it's part of the intellectual process.

The sculpture is part of an exhibit by sculptor Tony Matelli at Wellesley College. Its placement at a busy area of campus on Monday prompted an online student petition to have it removed.

The sculpture is a "source of apprehension, fear, and triggering thoughts regarding sexual assault" for many, according to the petition, which had nearly 300 signees on Wednesday.

But a joint statement issued Wednesday by President H. Kim Bottomly and museum Director Lisa Fischman says, "The very best works of art have the power to stimulate deeply personal emotions and to provoke unexpected new ideas, and this sculpture is no exception." The sculpture "has started an impassioned conversation about art, gender, sexuality and individual experience, both on campus and on social media."

The sculpture was placed outdoors specifically to get a reaction and to connect the indoor exhibition with the world beyond, Fischman said.

Freshman Bridget Schreiner told The Boston Globe she was "freaked out" the first time she saw the sculpture, thinking for a moment that a real, nearly naked man was lingering on campus.

"This could be a trigger for students who have experienced sexual assault," she said.

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