Student presents thesis in underwear after professor says her 'shorts are too short'

Letitia Chai said her protest was against 'oppressive beliefs and discrimination' 

Chloe Farand
Sunday 13 May 2018 14:38 BST
Student Letitia Chai strips off to present her thesis

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A student has stripped down to her bra and underwear during her thesis presentation in protest against her professor’s comments that her choice of clothing was inappropriate.

Letitia Chai, a senior student at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, took off her clothes during her presentation, which was filmed on Facebook live, to stand up against “oppressive beliefs and discrimination”.

Ms Chai organised the protest after her teacher allegedly questioned her choice of clothing during a test run of her thesis presentation and told her: “Your shorts are too short”.

Describing the incident in a Facebook post, Chai wrote: “She 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.

Ms Chai said that some students in the class were also surprised by the teacher’s comment but one international student agreed with the teacher and told her she had “a moral obligation to dress more conservatively” in respect for her audience.

“Needless to say, I was shook,” Ms Chai wrote.

After she left the classroom, her teacher came out to talk to her and according to Ms Chai, she asked her what her mother 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,” she wrote.

When asked what she was going to do, Ms Chai replied: “I’m going to give the best damn speech of my life.”

Writing on Facebook, Ms Chai invited others to support her on the day of her actual presentation and asked people to “strip down” to their underwear with her during her 15-minute address.

The event was filmed on Facebook Live as Ms Chai removed her clothes and some of the students in the room joined her in support.

She told the audience of several dozens that this was a call for “solidarity” with students like her who had been asked to “question themselves about their appearances for the comfort of others”.

The teacher involved told local media: “I do not tell my students what to wear, nor do I define for them what constitutes appropriate dress. I ask them to reflect for themselves and make their own decisions.”

Following the incident, 11 of the 13 other students in the class issued a statement saying they “supported Ms Chai’s commitment to the cause of women’s rights” but did not agree 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,” they said.

The students described their teacher as an “outstanding member” of the university and “a gift to Cornell”.

“In an environment like Cornell, where it is so easy to feel dismissed by both your peers and higher-ups, she is unparalleled in her support of us,” the statement read.

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