Culture

Again? Another White Professor Outed as Fake 'Chicana'

Furman University (via Wikipedia, CC BY SA 3.0)

Kelly Kean Sharp, a scholar of African American history at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., was outed on the blogging platform Medium as another teacher trying to pass herself off as a minority.

The outing was made by an anonymous writer who says he knew Sharp “distantly” when she was a Ph.D. student at UC-Davis. He says he was “surprised to find out that she was now describing herself as Chicana.”

She surprised a lot of other people who knew her when she was younger.

Though it remains unknown exactly when she took on this persona and how much she has used it professionally, many who previously knew her are quite confused. She had only ever identified as a non-Hispanic white woman as far as they knew. Allegedly, when some colleagues asked about her newfound identity she claimed that her paternal grandmother had been from Mexico.

In fact, researchers could find no grandmother from Mexico.

But when some of us looked into genealogical records, we found that Kelly had no grandparents who were born outside of the United States or had Hispanic names. This is much more in line with how Kelly identified at UC Davis. The maternal grandmother who she claimed was from Mexico, was born in LA to white parents and was residing in the US during all the census records of her upbringing. A servant was even employed and living at the home according to census records. This grandmother eventually married a wealthy, white lawyer from Iowa.

In Sharp’s case, there’s also a question about her scholarship. She claims her research on the antebellum South was inspired by her hometown and its “majority-minority population.” Encinitas, Calif., is an almost all-white, wealthy beach community.

We know why some racial fraudsters do what they do. But what is the primary motivation? Sharp apparently used her fake identity to snag a lucrative fellowship that put her on a path to tenure — the pot of gold for academics.

Inside Higher Ed:

Sharp was previously employed from 2018 to 2020 at Luther College, where she was an Associated Colleges of the Midwest Mellon Faculty Fellow.

The ACM describes these postgraduate-level fellowships as offering tenure-track appointments to junior scholars “whose backgrounds and life experiences will enhance diversity on the ACM campuses.”

Noting the fellowship, the Medium post says, “Perhaps she won the job simply because she investigated the role of slave women in shaping consumption and markets in the antebellum South. But is it possible that the complex identity provided by her imagined Mexican immigrant grandmother helped her to secure this diversity hire?”

Sharp resigned from the Furman history department a few days after the revelations about her true race became public. But there appears to be a lot of pushback from former students who feel betrayed by her. While at Luther College, she served on several social justice committees and panels passing herself off as a “Latinx.”

Barlament also confirmed that Sharp served as the faculty adviser for student group Latines Unides, as is noted in the Medium post. Sharp was a featured speaker at Luther College panel on Latinx faculty and student experiences during her time there.

The Medium post says that Sharp’s mentees “deserve the truth so that they can make a decision whether or not to trust her.” Going forward, the post says, “we also want to protect Latinx spaces from her deception and manipulative deployment of their identity. Overall, as someone who claims to be interested in racial justice and making disadvantaged students more comfortable on college campuses, she should have known better than to claim a Chicana identity in any way.”

From Kelly Kean Sharp to Elizabeth Warren to Rachel Dolezal, the list of academics wanting to claim minority status to take advantage of racial preferences in hiring is growing.

How many more fakes are out there? Probably a lot more than colleges would like to admit.

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