Student Strips for Presentation in Protest of Professor’s Comments

Student Strips for Presentation in Protest of Professor’s Comments
Susan Dutca-Lovell
Photo credit: Jeffrey Vinocur

A Cornell University senior presented a trial run of her senior thesis wearing nothing but her bra and panties in protest of her professor's comments about the length of the shorts she was wearing. Offended and taken aback by the comments, she further invited others to support her on the day of the presentation by stripping down to their undergarments with her during her 15-minute address.

"Is that really what you would wear?" asked Letitia Chai's professor as she stood up to give her presentation wearing a blue button-down shirt and cutoff jean shorts. "The class does not have a formalized dress code, but asks students to 'dress appropriately for the persona [they] will present.'" Professor Rebekah Maggor also claimed that Chai was "making a 'statement' with the clothes she was wearing" and that her attire could divert "men's attention" away from the presentation.

Chai was "shook" and decided to strip down to her bra and underwear, triumphantly stating, "I am more than Asian. I am more than a woman. I am more than Letitia Chai. I am a human being, and I ask you to take this leap of faith, to take this next step - or rather, this next strip - in our movement and to join me in revealing to each other and seeing each other for who we truly are: members of the human race. We are so triumphant, but most importantly, we are equals." Twenty-eight of the forty-four audience members joined in protest by stripping down to their underwear with Chai.

Maggor asked Chai to consider what her mom would think of her outfit. "What would my mom think? My mom is a feminist, gender, sexuality studies professor. She has dedicated her life to the empowerment of people in all gender identities. So, I think my mother would [be] fine with my shorts," said Chai. Following the event, 11 of the 13 other students in the class issued a statement saying that, while they "supported Ms. Chai's commitment to the cause of women's rights," they disagreed with her recollection of the events. "All of us feel that out professor's words and actions were unfairly represented in the post, with certain quotes taken out of context and we wish to clarify any misunderstandings that may have occurred."

"I do not tell my students what to wear, nor do I define for them what constitutes appropriate dress," Maggor said. "I ask them to reflect for themselves and make their own decisions." In your opinion, did the student handle the situation appropriately? Why or why not?

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