A white university professor who falsely claimed Mexican heritage resigned suddenly on Tuesday after an anonymous writer raised questions about her background.
Kelly Kean Sharp, a scholar of African-American history, resigned from her position as assistant professor at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina after an anonymous writer pointed out inconsistencies in her claims of Hispanic heritage in a Medium post earlier this week.
The anonymous author claimed she had “distantly known” Sharp when Sharp was a PhD graduate student at the University of California, Davis and was “more than surprised” to learn she was now describing herself as Chicana, which refers to American women of Mexican origin or descent.
Sharp appears to have posted on social media about her “abuela,” Spanish for grandmother, who she said was from Mexico and “who came to the U.S. during WWII who worked hard so I could become a teacher,” according to screenshots in the Medium post. She also used several hashtags to promote her supposed Mexican heritage, including #Chicana, #Chicanapride, and #Chingonasunite, and described herself as Chicana in her profile on her Twitter account, which she has since made private, until a faculty member from the UC Davis History Department reportedly spoke to her about the complaints from graduate students.
The writer said they started researching and talked to other people who had known Sharp at UC Davis, some of whom approached the writer to help “publicize her fabrication and strategic use of a Chicana identity.” Some also approached Sharp herself about the inconsistencies.
Taking their fact-checking a step further, the scholars skeptical of Sharp’s claims said they pored over genealogical records and discovered that the grandmother Sharp had claimed immigrated from Mexico was born in Los Angeles “to white parents,” and their home even had a servant employed and living on the premises, census records showed.
Sharp has also emphasized her upbringing in a city with a “majority-minority population,” including on her current faculty bio page for Furman University. However, Sharp’s coastal hometown of Encinitas, California north of San Diego has been a wealthy majority-white community since her childhood.
On Tuesday, Tom Evelyn, a Furman University spokesperson, said the school was investigating the accusations against Sharp, Inside Higher Ed reported. Later in the day, he announced that she had resigned effective immediately.
The school was “disappointed” to learn of Sharp’s alleged misrepresentation of herself, saying it expects “members of our community to be honest in the way they represent themselves to others,” Evelyn said. He said Furman does not inquire about a candidate’s ethnic background during the hiring process, and Sharp was hired “because of her demonstrated qualifications for the specific position.”
This year, several white academics have been outed as masquerading as people of color, including BethAnn McLaughlin, Jessica Krug, C. V. Vitolo-Haddad, and Craig Chapman.
In the summer of 2015, Rachel Dolezal, a blonde from Montana, shot to notoriety when it was discovered that she had lied for years about her race and had changed her appearance to look African American. She had snagged a leadership position in the Spokane, Wash., chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) but was forced to resign after her false claims of black heritage and of hate crimes committed against her came to light.
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