photo: iStock

We've all heard the stories at this point about the countless students who have protested against their school's restrictive and sexist dress codes. One student, a senior at Cornell University, decided to fight back against a teacher shaming her shorts with a protest was just as much about race as it was about sexism.

Letitia Chai, a senior college student, explained her professor said her shorts were too short for class.

college dress codes
photo: iStock

Chai told the story in a series of Facebook posts, later compiled to a Google drive. "I was supposed to perform a draft of my College Scholar thesis presentation in my Acting in Public class," she wrote. Chai goes on to explain how hard she worked to research refugee rehabilitation for the project, but instead of being able to shed light on the important topic, she was met with the question "Is that really what you want to wear?" by her professor.

"I was wearing a long-sleeve blue button-down shirt and denim cut-offs. She, a white woman, continued: 'Your shorts are too short,'" Chai added.

The professor argued her outfit was "inviting the male gaze away from the content" of the presentation and onto Chai's body.

college dress codes
photo: iStock

Even worse, she called out the student's outfit in front of the whole class instead of pulling her aside or telling her at a later time. "She said I was making a statement by wearing my outfit," Chai wrote. "I told her that I sure as hell wouldn't change my statement to make her or anyone else feel more comfortable."

Chai's classmates were torn about the conflict at hand. Some, including one man and another woman, stood up to defend her choice to wear whatever she wanted. Others, including an international male student, said she should dress more "conservatively."

And outside the classroom, the situation was made even more inappropriate. 

college dress codes
photo: iStock

"What would your mom think?" the professor asked Chai after they stepped out of the room to talk.

"What would my mom think?" Chai wrote in her Facebook post. "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 fine with my shorts."

This is what inspired Chai to make her next move: give her speech in front of her class in nothing but her bra and underwear.

college dress codes
photo: iStock

"I stripped to my bra and underwear, walked into the black box theater, and shared my thesis with my classmates. Needless to say, I've never been prouder to be my mother's daughter," she wrote.

Chai also shared a livestream of her presentation on Facebook. "I am more than Asian, I am more than a woman, I am more than Letitia Chai," she said as she took her clothes off during the speech. "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 to seeing each other for who we truly are."

According to The Sun, the class doesn't have a "formalized" dress code, but instead asks for students to "dress appropriately for the persona [they] will present."

photo: iStock

In addition, the professor responded: “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.”

Chai responded that “telling someone to take their cap off is not the same thing as telling a girl her shorts are too short." Plus, she reiterated the fact that her professor was worried about attracting "men's attention." “I am not responsible for anyone’s attention because we are capable of thinking for ourselves and we have agency,” the student added. 

And she's right — a woman choosing to wear whatever she wants has NOTHING to do with how someone else responds to it. The sooner we as a society realize this, the quicker we'll be able to stop telling women what they "should" and "shouldn't" put on their bodies.

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