A senior at Cornell University delivered her thesis presentation in just her bra and underwear in order to make a point to her teacher.
Letitia Chai not only stripped while presenting her thesis on refugee rehabilitation for an “Acting in Public” class, she got more than half of the people in the class to join her, according to the Cornell Daily Sun.
Professor Rebekah Maggor had questioned Chai’s choice of a button-down shirt and short shorts earlier in the week when the Ivy League student attempted to give her presentation.
“The first thing that the professor said to me was ‘is that really what you would wear?” Chai wrote in a Facebook post. “The professor proceeded to tell me, in front of my whole class, that I was inviting the male gaze away from the content of my presentation and onto my body.”
“I think that I was so taken aback that I didn’t really know how to respond,” she told the Cornell Sun.
While some of the students came to Chai’s defense, one international student agreed that a speaker has a “moral obligation” to the audience to dress conservatively.
“Am I morally offending you?” Chai said she asked before leaving the class.
Once Chai had left the room, Maggor, “apologized [to the class] for her choice of words” and said “the notion of ‘short shorts’ on women carries a lot of cultural and political baggage,” according to a statement by 11 of the other 13 students in the class.
Outside of the class, the teacher reportedly asked Chai what her mother would think of her clothing choices.
“My mom is a feminist, gender and sexuality studies professor. She’s fine with my shorts,” the student replied. When asked what she was going to do, Chai responded simply, “I’m going to give the best damn speech of my life.”
In a Facebook post about the incident, Chai invited the public to join her for her thesis presentation and asked that they wear their favorite underwear, “in solidarity with anyone who has been asked to change how they look to make other people feel more comfortable.”
More than two dozen people, including several professors, joined Chai as she invited, “Strip, everybody!” The presentation was livestreamed on Facebook and followed by an informal roundtable hosted by Chai.
Although there is no formal dress code, according to the course syllabus obtained by The Sun, students are to “dress appropriately for the persona [they] will present.”
“I do not tell my students what to wear, nor do I define for them what constitutes appropriate dress,” Maggor told The Sun. “I ask them to reflect for themselves and make their own decisions.”
Chai claimed she was not looing to attack the professor directly but just raise awareness about this “huge societal issue.”
The 11 students who gave The Sun a statement said they agreed with Chai’s protest but not her public account of the incident.
“The majority of us are students of color, from multi-ethnic backgrounds, who very much relate to Letitia’s frustration with systemic oppression that is part of the fabric of this country,” the statement read. “We do not want to discredit [Letitia’s] narrative.”
They also added that there was an “error of phrasing” by the professor whom they defended as always being “extremely sincere.”
Chai’s post did not “adequately represent [Maggor’s] past and continued advocacy for women and minorities” the students wrote, ading that Maggor had “apologized on more than one occasion.”
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