A student at Cornell University stripped to her underwear during the presentation of her senior thesis last week, prompting 28 others in the classroom at the time to join her in protest of a professor whom the student said shamed her over her clothing during a practice run of her presentation.
Speaking to The Cornell Daily Sun, Letitia Chai said that she was dressed in a blue button down shirt and cutoff jean shorts when she began a rehearsal of her thesis presentation on rehabilitation for displaced peoples and refugees during the Wednesday section of her public speaking class. According to Chai, the course instructor, professor Rebekah Maggor, commented that her shorts were “too short” and that her state of dress would distract “men’s attention” away from her presentation. After a male international student chimed in to say that presenters have a “moral obligation” to dress conservatively, Chai fled the room as two students followed to comfort her.
In a statement, Maggor said that she does “not tell my students what to wear, nor do I define for them what constitutes appropriate dress,” and noted that she had also had another student remove a cap from their head during their presentation. In response, Chai told The Sun that “telling someone to take their cap off is not the same thing as telling a girl her shorts are too short.” Chai added that Maggor later followed her outside the room and asked her whether her mother would approve of how she was dressed. Chai told Maggor that her mother was “a feminist” and had no problem with her shorts, and then defiantly stripped down to her bra and underwear before marching back into the room and continuing her presentation.
A Facebook post written by Chai about the incident, which didn’t name Maggor or any other students, swiftly went viral and prompted 11 of the 13 students in her class to issue a statement saying that they supported her protest but that they didn’t want any punishment for Maggor, noting that the professor had apologized and that she was a “past and continued [advocate] for women and minorities.”
On Saturday morning, Chai wore the same clothes she had during her trial run while officially presenting her thesis, and again stripped down as 28 of the 44 people present in the room joined her in solidarity.
Watch video of Chai’s thesis presentation, and protest, below.
Read the full story at The Cornell Daily Sun.