Giving a presentation in front of a class can be stressful. Maybe you’re afraid of making mistakes or having people laugh at you. But imagine how much more difficult the presentation would be if the professor criticized your outfit in front of the entire class moments before you are to present.
Letitia Chai, a senior at Cornell University, was preparing to present her thesis Saturday evening when she took off her shirt and shorts in front of the class. The Ivy League student claimed that she did it in response to her Acting in Public professor, Rebekah Maggor, who allegedly criticized how short her shorts were in a mock presentation.
According to Chai, who wrote her thoughts about the issue on Facebook, she said, “The first thing that the professor said to me was ‘is that really what you would wear?”‘ She then proceeded to explain to her Facebook friends that her professor was white and that she has said: “Your shorts are too short.”
“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,” she wrote. “She said I was making a statement by wearing my outfit. I told her that I sure as hell wouldn’t change my statement to make her or anyone else feel more comfortable.”
She then asked the student what her parents would think about her outfit. “My mom is a feminist, gender and sexuality studies professor. She’s fine with my shorts,” she responded.
After her Facebook post went viral, 11 of the 14 students in the class at the time released a statement that explained professor Maggor’s comments were an “error in phrasing” and that she was trying to show the class “the importance of professionalism in certain public speaking situations.”
Chai and an absent student were the only two that did not sign the joint statement, accoridng to the Daily Mail. Professor Maggor tried to explain what had happened in her classroom that led to Chai taking her clothes off to the Cornell Sun.
“I do not tell my students what to wear, nor do I define for them what constitutes appropriate dress,” she said. “I ask them to reflect for themselves and make their own decisions.”