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To Whom it May Concern,

Thank you to the Cornell Daily Sun for reaching out to us on this matter. We are ​eleven of the other
students in the ​Acting in Public class who were present during the events that unfolded on Wednesday. It
is our hope that, in this letter, we may share with the general public our experience and interpretation of
the events that unfolded during Wednesday’s class, in addition to addressing Letitia Chai’s Facebook

As students who firmly believe in the tenants of justice and the commitment to fair representation, we feel
that it is our duty to make the following statement. We support Letitia’s commitment to the cause of
women’s rights, there is no doubt about that – however, aspects of the Facebook post she made detailing
Wednesday’s incident do not align with our collective agreement of how events transpired that day and
the intentions behind them. All of us feel that our 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. It must be said that we are doing this of our own volition and have had no outside
influence preside over our decision in writing this letter. This is the first time the contents of this letter
have been viewed.

Our intention in writing this letter is in no way to invalidate any of Letitia’s experience. We strongly
support and identify with Letitia’s fight for equality in the treatment of all people, regardless of race,
gender, color, creed, sexuality, or appearance. The majority of us are students of color, from multiethnic
backgrounds, who very much relate to Letitia’s frustration with systemic oppression that is part of the
fabric of this country. We do not want to discredit her narrative. However, we feel it is important and our
obligation to share our impression of Wednesday’s events to provide a fair representation of the situation.

This letter will be divided into two parts: firstly, our recounting of events, as we remember them, and,
secondly, a defense of our teacher who we felt was unfairly portrayed in the post.


Our recollection of that day is as follows:

Letitia stood up to give her speech. Before she began, our professor asked Letitia if she would wear
“those shorts” to her actual presentation on Saturday. Our professor regularly asks all of the students,
male and female, such questions to clarify appropriate attire for public speaking. Our professor went on to
say that what you wear and how you present yourself make a statement. She noted that if you were to
wear jean shorts to your thesis presentation, that is a statement. Her focus on attire was a means of noting
the importance of professionalism in certain public speaking situations.

Our professor acknowledged the discomfort of speaking overtly about attire and perception, especially for
women, and encouraged us to share our thoughts and opinions. Students began discussing their beliefs on
the matter. Letitia became visibly upset by our professor’s earlier comments, and after one male
international student’s comment (mentioned in her post), she left the room. From the initial comments to
Letitia’s exit, only a few minutes had passed, and many people were speaking at once. Tensions were
high, and neither our professor nor Letitia was able to adequately defend her position.

After Letitia left, our professor listened and agreed with many of the student’s comments and criticisms.
She wholeheartedly agreed that her initial comment was about professionalism rather than the “male
gaze” mentioned in the student discussion. She also apologized for her choice of words, acknowledging
that the notion of “short shorts” on women carries a lot of cultural and political baggage. Unfortunately,
because Letitia was not in the room, she was not able to hear these comments, and we believe this
contributed to the miscommunication.

After giving Letitia some space and seeing the international student (mentioned in her post) leave, our
professor approached Letitia and spoke with her while the rest of us were in the classroom. We cannot
comment on what transpired during their interaction outside, but afterwards, our professor returned to tell
us that Letitia was “gracious enough to return and give her speech.”


We write this letter because we feel it is our duty to give a fairer representation of our professor than what
was portrayed. We do acknowledge that our professor could have been more conscious and careful of
word choice when discussing such sensitive topics. However, she has openly recognized this and
apologized on more than one occasion. As a professor, she is incredibly open to criticism and, following
the incident, listened to what her students had to say regarding her role in what occurred.

We were initially hesitant to speak up because of our knowledge of social media’s tendency to radically
conform to one narrative and to portray situations in black and white. Therefore, we are hoping, through
this letter, to convey the nuance of what occurred in class, despite the risks that may accompany doing so.
We recognize the validity of arguments on all sides.

Throughout the semester, our professor has fostered discussions about how to negotiate the challenges of
public speaking as individuals coming from different backgrounds, who may be accustomed to different
native languages. We have also had several meaningful dialogues on privilege, discussed how to avoid
(white) savior narratives, and engaged in frequent debate on social climate and its effect on public speech.
Our professor often encourages all students, but particularly those who are female, to not be apologetic in
framing our arguments. She illustrates the ways to us in which society can institute a socialized behavior
(for females, acting apologetic for opinions) due to systematic oppression.

Our professor has consistently been a source of empowerment for all of the students, but especially for the
women in this course. She constantly reminds us of our right to be heard, our right to take up space, and
that we should not apologize for our voices being present. We believe that the Facebook post does not
adequately represent her past and continued advocacy for women and minorities.

This next segment is specifically from those in the class who are of POC backgrounds and/or
international students:
We feel it is important that our voices are heard and included as well as distinguished from the rest of the
class. It was really surprising to turn up in class on the first day and find that ten of the fourteen students
in class were POC and/or students from international backgrounds. We realize that this was a deliberate
effort on the part of our professor to make sure that this class was inclusive and supporting of those from
often disadvantaged backgrounds in the arts. This kind of effort is almost unparalleled in the PMA
department and really revealed to us who our professor is. She is someone keenly aware of her place in
the world and of how important it is to elevate voices of color.

Our professor is a white, female ally who puts actions behind her allyship – which, in all honesty, is very
rare. Her directorial work focuses on the translation of plays from the Middle East that deal with issues
of social justice. She uses her privilege to bring original playwrights (often refugees) from overseas so
that they may get an audience for their immensely important pieces of work. There is no one else at
Cornell doing work like this for an area of the world largely ignored by the West, and yes – by Cornell.
She takes careful efforts with casting POC actors and actresses and has engaged in long discussions with
POC students outside of class about supporting us to make our voices heard in an industry that often
silences us.

We feel that these aspects of her character are fundamental to who she is. We acknowledge the
undeniable history of white peers mistreating POC students and the pain of microaggressions in the
professional space. While we do believe there was an error of phrasing on our professor’s part, her
intent, to us, has always been extremely sincere. For us, because she has mentioned the social role of
attire on multiple occasions to other students (male, female, of various backgrounds) as a natural
consequence of performing publicly, we do not believe this instance occurred with malicious intent.

We worry that any unfair representation may end the very important efforts and contributions she makes
to Cornell. We say wholeheartedly that she has given us, as POC students, so many powerful tools in
speech to empower us in moments when we will need to stand our ground and fight for just representation
and treatment. We thank her for that.

Our professor means a lot to us. She is an outstanding member of the PMA department, outshining most
of her peers in the care she shows her students, especially those from multiethnic backgrounds. 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. She allows us to express opinions on a variety of issues and grow from
them. She dedicates many hours outside of class and office hours to help us individually better our craft.
She is a gift to Cornell, and especially to us, for the time we have spent with her.

We would like to reiterate our support of Letitia in her advocacy and in the expression of her viewpoint.
We hope that our letter allows for some nuance of perspective of the day’s events. Our intent is to paint a
picture of who our professor is and what she means to us. We ask that you please consider our voice in
the sea of many.

Thank you.


**Signed by 11 of the 14 students in class. The remaining 3 classmates are Letitia, the international
student mentioned in her post, and one student who was absent on the day of the incident.

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