Cornell student Letitia Chai was going through a practice run through of her thesis presentation for her Acting in Public: Performance in Everyday Life when her professor , Rebekah Maggor, questioned her choice of outfit.
According to Chai, “The first thing that the professor said to me was ‘is that really what you would wear?’ I think that I was so taken aback that I didn’t really know how to respond.”
Chai also recounted “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.”
While several students stood up for her, at least one male international student told Chai she had a moral obligation to dress in an unprovocative manner.
Chai eventually stormed off in tears during the heated discussion. Professor Maggor’s attempts to speak with her privately backfired when she asked what Chai’s mother would think of her clothing choice. Chai reportedly shot back “My mom is a feminist, gender and sexuality studies professor. She’s fine with my shorts.”
Later in the week, she came back with a vengeance. For her final presentation on the tense relationship between Tibet and India, she stripped down to her underwear and urged her friends and supporters watching to do the same in solidarity. She also livestreamed the performance on Facebook. Her parents also watched from their home in South Korea.
The class’s official syllabus does stipulate that students should “wear clothes and footwear that are comfortable” as well as those that offer “a free range of movement.”
Professor Maggor stresses that she was only critiquing Chai’s choice of dress for that particular performance, emphasizing that she asks students to “dress appropriately for the persona” or occasion that they are presenting for.
Now, 11 of Chai’s 13 classmates are saying that while they supported her and her protest, they feel that the situation was misrepresented and that by leaving the room before the discussion was over, Chai missed Professor Maggor’s apologies and full explanation.
They ultimately expressed support for their professor, wrote that they thought her apologies were adequate, and hoped that her representation in the media would not hurt her job.
They also emphasized that she has done a mostly great job at making sure everyone in class had a voice and that people’s concerns were respected.
In closing, they expressed support for both Letitia’s message and right to protest and Professor Maggor’s abilities as a teacher.
The full video of Letitia’s presentation can be watched on Facebook.