Source: Inside Higher Ed (news)
Historian Jessica Krug, who last week admitted to being white and faking being Black for her entire career, resigned from her associate professorship at George Washington University, effective immediately, the institution announced Wednesday.
But on the heels of her scandal comes another confession of racial fraud from a scholar. This time it’s a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison -- where Krug got her own Ph.D.
The graduate student in question is CV Vitolo-Haddad, a Ph.D. candidate in journalism and mass communication. They (Vitolo-Haddad's preferred pronoun) were outed last week via an anonymous post on Medium and subsequently wrote two posts of their own on the platform.
Vitolo-Haddad described their own actions as letting "guesses about my ancestry become answers I wanted but couldn’t prove" and allowing people to "make assumptions when I should have corrected them."
“I am so deeply sorry for the ways you are hurting right now because of me,” Vitolo-Haddad wrote in their first public apology. “You have expressed confusion, shock, betrayal, anger, and mistrust. All of those things are a consequence of how I have navigated our relationships and the spaces we share.”
In the second, edited apology, Vitolo-Haddad described themself as "Southern Italian/Sicilian." In trying to make sense of their experiences with race, "I grossly misstepped and placed myself in positions to be trusted on false premises. I went along with however people saw me."
On social media, spanning years, however, Vitolo-Haddad has described themself as other than white -- in various ways.
This summer, for instance, Vitolo-Haddad described themself as “italo habesha,” meaning of Italian and Eritrean or Ethiopian descent, and “lightskin,” according to screenshots included in the anonymous post outing them.
Several posts are also in Spanish, and allude to Latinx and/or Afro-Latinx ancestry. Tweeting about Krug just last week, they said that their mother described them as Cuban and that the “colorism we uphold and lean into to distance ourselves is actually why no one trusts.” Ironically, in retrospect, they called Krug a “Kansas cracker” who got a Ph.D. in “performing blackface.” They also described “transraciality” as “violence.”
In another 2017 post, Vitolo-Haddad wrote that their mother faulted them for not having enough burning sage to keep their dog “safe from los espíritus malignos,” or evil spirits. The post also seems to say that their mother is a “bruja,” or witch.
Other posts refer to their family’s history of being “colonized.”
The anonymous author of the Medium post says that Vitolo-Haddad is from a white, affluent Italian American family that lives in Florida. Haddad, according to the post, is a name Vitolo-Haddad kept from their past marriage. The author -- described only as an affiliate of Madison -- notes that Krug also described herself as having different nonwhite backgrounds, including North African and Afro-Latinx.
"Though their claim to a POC identity was vague, the one consistency was their insistence that they were a constant target of acts of racism and that they came from some kind of nonwhite background," the anonymous author wrote, accusing Vitolo-Haddad of changing their appearance over time to appear nonwhite. "They referenced it frequently on social media and in interpersonal conversations. Their behavior was reminiscent of the way people who knew Krug have described her: perpetually in a victim status, but also perpetually shifting in terms of the specifics. Their stories lacked coherence, but they intimated an insider status that made (and makes) people hesitant to question them."
Vitolo-Haddad’s initial apology said that they were stepping down from all positions of organizational power at Madison, including their co-presidency of the Teaching Assistants’ Association and their teaching position.
Vitolo-Haddad did not agree to an interview request. Asked via email whether they would remain at Madison as a student only, with no teaching responsibilities, they said, “Those I harmed will be the ones to determine the consequences.”
The now former George Washington professor, Krug, has blamed her actions on past trauma and mental health issues. She may have benefited from her mimicry academically, though, and her critics are demanding a full accounting of that. At Portland State University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree, for instance, she was part of the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program. The program is for underrepresented students, including first-generation and low-income, but also minority students.
Krug, who did not respond to an interview request, is from a white Jewish family and went to a private preparatory school near Kansas City, Mo. A former classmate of hers there, Quinton Lucas -- now the mayor of Kansas City, Mo. -- recently retweeted a yearbook photo of them together, writing, “One of the stranger person-in-your-yearbook-photo-did-this stories I’ve stumbled upon. Yes, Jessica graduated a few years ahead of me. She was interesting back then, but it is really surprising she’s tried to pass as Black for 20 years. Her apology in reflection is warranted.”
More Questions Than Answers
What about Vitolo-Haddad? They said Wednesday via email that while they benefited “socially” in certain ways from the situation, they never applied for scholarships, fellowships or awards for people of color or identified as Black on any forms asking about their identification. They also said they’d never represented themself as Black in their published scholarship, which includes work on the rhetorical strategies of far-right groups.
Vitolo-Haddad directed further questions to the second apology post, which says there were “three separate instances,” otherwise unspecified, when they were asked if they were Black but did not say no. They apologized for entering Black organizing spaces and for “failing to correct varied misconceptions about my identity over the years, and for everything I did to aid or advance those ideas.”
In particular, they said, “I want to apologize for ever taking lies about Cuban roots at face value,” though it’s unclear to what they are referring. “Additionally, I want to apologize for how my failure to own up to these harmful decisions publicly made every conversation on social media about the varied ways I’ve been racialized a source of confusion and deception.”
Meredith Mcglone, spokesperson for Madison, said that the university “expects that people represent themselves authentically and accurately in all aspects of their academic work.” She confirmed that Vitolo-Haddad is “not currently employed as a teaching assistant.”
Regarding Krug's degree status, Mcglone said, "We have policies in place to investigate and address misconduct." Federal student privacy law limits what the university is able to share about current and former students without their consent, she added.
Conversations about Krug have resurrected other stories about faking racial identities in the academy.
Andrea Smith, professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, Riverside, has long faced accusations that she is not really Native American, but she said in 2015 that she identifies as Cherokee even if she isn’t enrolled in the Cherokee Nation. That same year, Rachel Dolezal, former Spokane, Wash., NAACP chairperson and an adjunct instructor of Africana studies at Eastern Washington University, was outed as being white. Dolezal later wrote a memoir about how she still identified as Black. That wasn’t always the case, though; in 2002, Dolezal unsuccessfully sued Howard University for allegedly discriminating against her as a white master of fine arts student there.
In 2018, Senator Elizabeth Warren shared genetic test results showing that she is in fact part Native American while simultaneously insisting that she's always been evaluated professionally, as a professor of a law, as a white person.
More recently, the family of the late Cuban writer H. G. Carrillo, who died of COVID-19, said he was not actually Cuban at all, but rather born to a non-Latinx Black family in Detroit. In a connection to the Krug case, Carrillo was an assistant professor of English at George Washington.
Actress Mindy Kaling’s brother, Vijay Chokal-Ingam, has written about why he faked being Black to get into medical school, which he eventually dropped out of. Chokal-Ingam says he benefited from affirmative action in admissions decisions but, to his surprise, faced discrimination in other areas of his life while he faked being Black.
Krug’s departmental colleagues called for her resignation or ouster. She had already ceased teaching prior to her resignation.
Vitolo-Haddad in the second confession post said, "What I know now is that perception is not reality. Race is not flat, it is a social construct rife with contradictions. Fighting racism never required dissociating myself from whiteness. In fact, it derailed the cause by centering my experience."
While "most of the trust I destroyed cannot be rebuilt," they said, they seek "redress that is appropriate for each individual I’ve harmed.” This will be a “long-term and ongoing process, prioritizing those most directly impacted. I won’t pretend to know what that looks like, but I am committed to being part of it until the end.”