by Catherine Smith
Dr. Kelly Kean Sharp, a white assistant professor at Furman University resigned Tuesday, after university officials investigated an allegation that she pretended to be a non-white Latina, The Daily Caller reports.
An anonymous essay posted on the blog website Medium claimed the African American Scholar had been posing as Chicana, a term used to describe an American woman of Mexican descent, InsideHigherEd reported.
The writer said that he or she “distantly” knew Sharp when Sharp was in graduate school at the University of California, Davis, and was more than surprised to find out that she was now describing herself as Chicana.
The professor reportedly formerly identified herself as Chicana in her Twitter profile, which has since been removed.
The Medium essay, posted under the username “Producingwhiteness”, included screenshots of Sharp’s Twitter bio showing “#Chicana Asst professor” and tweets that said Sharp’s grandmother, referenced in the screenshots as her “abuela,” immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico during World War II” and “worked hard so I could become a teacher.”
The Medium post writer said that Sharp had never spoken about being Mexican before, and the writer reportedly spoke with other colleagues who were also “confused” and asked Sharp about her “newfound identity.”
“She described herself as a #Chicana Asst Prof in her Twitter bio,” the Medium post writer said.
“This was later changed to #Chicana at the end of the intro. Then, it was ultimately removed after a faculty member from the UC Davis History Department allegedly spoke with her due to numerous complaints from former graduate students.”
The anonymous blogger claimed to have researched Sharp’s genealogical records, according to the post, and found that “Kelly had no grandparents who were born outside of the U.S. or had Hispanic names” and that Sharp’s grandmother was born in Los Angeles “to white parents and was residing in the U.S. during all the census records of her upbringing.”
“This grandmother eventually married a wealthy, white lawyer from Iowa,” the Medium post said.
According to the writer, Sharp’s since-deleted Furman biography, also said she grew up in Encinitas, California, and “chose to research foodways of the antebellum US South because the region was a majority-minority population, much like her own hometown.”
Encinitas is 88.7% white, census records show, and “known to anyone from California for being a wealthy beach community,” according to the Medium post.
Furman University spokesman Tom Evelyn told InsideHigherEd that Sharp had resigned, effective immediately.
The Medium post writer questions how much Sharp benefitted from her claims to Chicana heritage, noting that Sharp “found a tenure-track job after graduating, a rare commodity in academia today,” and “astutely applied for a job in African American history (there are many less PhDs in this field)” before immediately moving “into a tenure-track professorship in that field, working dually in the Africana Studies and History departments at Luther College.”
“Perhaps she won the job simply because she investigated the role of slave women in shaping consumption and markets in the antebellum South,” the anonymous author writes.
“But is it possible that the complex identity provided by her imagined Mexican immigrant grandmother helped her to secure this diversity hire?”
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Catherine Smith is a newcomer to Washington D.C. She met, and married an American journalist and moved to D.C from the U.K. She graduated with a B.A in Graphic, Media and Communications and worked in design and retail in the U.K.
Photo “Furman University” by Lucid Nightmare CC BY-ND 2.0.