A senior at Cornell created her own new, bold form of protest after a professor allegedly criticized her during class for the length of the denim shorts she was wearing while practicing a presentation, says Teen Vogue.
Letitia Chai told the Cornell Sun she was practicing her thesis presentation which Rebekah Maggor, her professor, decided to ask her “Is that really what you would wear?” She was wearing cutoff denim shorts and a button-down shirt and she says Maggor called the shorts “too short.” Maggor also allegedly added that Chai would “attract men’s attention” away from her presentation and was only making “a statement” with her clothing choice. Chai told the Sun that she left the room following comments one of the male students in her class made. He allegedly told her she had a “moral obligation” to not show what he considered to be too much skin.
Chai alleges Maggor then followed her out into the hallway and asked what her mother would think of her clothing choices. “My mom is a feminist, gender, and sexuality studies professor," she replied. "She’s fine with my shorts."
After that, Chai says Maggor asked her what she would do, presumably about her outfit in order to “correct” the situation. She responded that she would “give the best damn speech of her life.” She then took off her shirt and shorts and returned to the classroom to finish her practice presentation.
She turned her actions into a larger protest shortly after that incident, taking to Facebook to invite her fellow students to join her in the actual presentation. Of the 44 audience members that attended, 28 of them stripped down to their underwear alongside Chai.
As she took off her clothes at the start of the presentation, she said, "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."
Maggor made a statement to The Cornell Sun that she doesn’t “tell my students what to wear, nor do I define for them what constitutes appropriate dress." She maintains that she leaves it up to her students to make decisions and reflections about their actions. There were 13 other students in the class, and 11 of them released their own statement to the Sun, defending Maggor. They said, "Our professor’s words and actions were unfairly represented in [Letitia's Facebook post], with certain quotes taken out of context."
The students did say, however, that they still supported the fight for equality that Chai’s actions represented.
"I am not responsible for anyone’s attention because we are capable of thinking for ourselves and we have agency," said Chai.