Updated, 10:05 p.m.
First-years in Frontiers of Science were supposed to hear a lecture on quantum mechanics from renowned physics professor Emlyn Hughes on Monday morning. But what they witnessed first was a bizarre performance from Hughes that left many of them baffled and confused.
As students filed into the lecture hall, all of the lights were off, except for two spotlights on stage where Hughes was sitting. With Lil Wayne's “Drop It Like It’s Hot” playing in the background, Hughes stripped down to his underwear, then proceeded to change into a black T-shirt and pants. Afterwards, he sat down on the chair, hugging his knees in a fetal position.
Then, as a jumbled video that included footage of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers on 9/11 continued to play on the screen, two figures dressed in black came on stage with long swords. One of them proceeded to chop a stuffed animal in half on a stool.
Students said they were shocked and confused by what was happening on stage.
Darializa Chevalier, CC ’16, said that she was caught off guard by the whole thing.
“I walked in the class, and the lights were out, so I thought something was off,” she said. “Then the song comes on, and we were like, ‘What version of ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ is this?’”
Danielle Niemann, CC ’16, said that she didn’t realize Hughes was the professor because of how he was dressed.
“I was very confused. I didn’t know if it was the professor or some crazy person,” she said. “I thought I was maybe asleep and it was a dream.”
The video on screen also showed footage of Osama Bin Laden and battles from World War II.
Maura Barry-Garland, CC ’16, said that the incident was all the more disconcerting because Hughes did not provide an explanation for using those images.
“It was very disturbing, and I don’t think anyone in the audience got what he was doing. He didn’t explain it or provide a context, and that’s why it was offensive to me and to other people,” Barry-Garland said.
“This is a school in New York,” Barry-Garland added. “I’m sure lots of people have personal connections to what happened here on 9/11, or have family members who died during World War II.”
Reyna Pacheco Rios, CC ’16, said that she has friend who served in the Marines, and she was shocked when the clip of the 9/11 attacks came on.
“I was like, ‘How is this funny at all?’” Pacheco Rios said.
After the episode, students said that Hughes began teaching the rest of the lecture on quantum mechanics as though nothing had happened. He did, however, wear dark sunglasses and keep his hood up for the entire lecture.
“I was really confused,” Niemann said. “He wore his sunglasses the whole time, so I couldn’t really see his face.”
Rios said that while she was intrigued by what Hughes was doing, she was also thoroughly confused.
“I liked that he was captivating our attention,” she said. “But at the same token, he didn’t take off his sunglasses the whole lecture…I didn’t know what to think of that.”
Others said it was tough to concentrate after witnessing what happened on stage.
“The actual lecture was normal, but I couldn’t get the first 10 minutes out of my head. It was really hilarious, and at the same time, really bizarre,” Chevalier said.
Hughes did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday night.
It was surprising “that someone would think that was a good idea,” Barry-Garland said.
The performance was not Hughes’ first classroom stunt. In a FroSci lecture in fall 2011, he showed students nude photos of Woodstock attendees.
For a video, see Bwog.
While an earlier version of this article identified the song Hughes played as a remixed version of Snoop Dogg's “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” the song actually played was a Lil Wayne song with the same title. Spectator regrets the error.
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Updated, 10:05 p.m.