BY: SOFIA DEAN, AQSA RASHID, AND MOMAL RIZVI
On Sept. 3, Jessica Krug, a now former associate professor of history at George Washington University in Washington D.C., posted an article confessing to falsifying her identity as an Afro-Latina.
Krug came forward after she was caught by a group of Black and Latinx scholars, who have remained anonymous due to security purposes. Krug, a white Jewish woman from Kansas, taught at George Washington University from 2012 to 2020. During her time there as a professor, she focused on imperialism, colonialism, and African American history in her classes. Although students shared mixed opinions on her teaching, several had raving opinions of her. A RateMyProfessors.com review mentioned that Krug "steps out of the Eurocentric bubbleâ€¦she is also great for having an Afrocentric approach."
In an article published on Medium, Krug repeatedly stated that she should "absolutely be cancelled" and that her "actions are inexcusable." However, she also continued to bring up the topic of her mental health and childhood trauma, saying that "it was likely the reason she formed a false identity."
Listening to people try to justify destructive actions with mental health issues is not an uncommon phenomenon. Nor is it uncommon to hear white people justify their exploitative actions through that lens. In larger conversation, it brings us to question how we as a society forgive some people more than others.
When the conversation is constantly re-centered around white people and their trauma or mental health, we push aside the feelings of BIPOC who are harmed during incidents such as this. A former student at GWU called out Krug in her own article, saying that she had no need to release a confession. She could have resigned from the university, returned to her true appearance, and taken on a new identity, sparing the community from pain and not centering the conversation around herself.
Krug highlights the intimate relationships she built while posing as an Afro-Latina, noting how other scholars, faculty, and students were the ones who "trusted [her], who fought for [her], who vouched for [her], who loved [her], who [are] feeling shock and betrayal and rage..."
One online rating for Krug urged BIPOC students to enroll in her classes.
Rebecca Amadi, a recent GWU graduate with a degree in International Affairs and double minors in History and Africana Studies, took Krug twice during her time at the university.
"I looked up to her as a role model. I thought, this is like an Afro-Latina woman who is doing everything I want to be doing," Amadi said.
Amadi saw Krug as one of her favorite professors, and even recommended her to other Black students. Recently, before the scandal came out, Amadi was even considering reaching out to Krug to write a recommendation letter for her graduate school applications.
"[Her actions] also betray students of color, who thought that they found a home in her classroom," Amadi said.
On top of this, other faculty members and scholars are also let down, and they lose opportunities that Krug claimed for herself through her false identity.
"When you deprive and take away opportunities while living off a lie, it harms Black and Latinx scholars who struggle within academia," she said.
Adjunct professorial lecturer Dr. Donald Collins in the History, African American, and African Diaspora Studies Departments at American University also emphasized how Krug's colleagues and students were hurt by this situation.
He elaborated that Krug was given many opportunities in her career that are quite difficult to obtain, making it hard for even faculty to see how she was able to lie so much to get where she was. He also emphasized that students hurt by this should know that their feelings are valid, and faculty feel them too.
"Anybody who's ever been involved in the endeavor of trying to get a job and an academic job, particularly someone who's contingent faculty like me, where I'm not considered a full-time permanent member of the faculty, knows how hard it is. And then you see someone who has lied their way to attain not only a tenure track, but to a tenured faculty position full-time where they are representatives of the elite within the faculty. It is upsetting and frustrating for other faculty who have been honest to see this," Collins said.
Dr. Collins mentioned how this issue could have been solved with a simple background check during the hiring process, making him question how GWU missed such a large lie.
"The people who are doing the hiring, the people who are doing the background checks, the people who supposedly care about diversity and inclusion at predominately white institutions are white. The white folks, those folks tend to have blinders on when it comes to, you know, all the ways in which people can be hurt by whiteness," Collins said.
Incidents like this will continue to occur if we don't address white privilege and the need for PWIs to go beyond cosmetic diversity. This is not unique to GWU. In fact, less than ten days after Krug's confession was posted, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison confessed to falsely identifying as Black, when in reality, they identify as Southern Italian/Sicilian.
While something like this has yet to happen at AU, BIPOC students at AU are no strangers to feeling harmed by similarly racist sentiments. An Instagram account called @blackatamericanuniversity, created in June, has now posted over 200 anonymous allegations of racism and other experiences submitted by former and current American University students. Over the last three months, the account has gained almost 3,500 followers. Out of these submissions, 29 posts were about faculty members, including professors and academic advisors.
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In one post, a student mentioned that the reason they left AU was due to uncomfortable experiences they had with some of their professors. Another post detailed a student's experience in her AUx class, outlining how it had been detrimental to her mental health as a Black woman.
Resilience has long been glorified as integral to being a successful student at any university. But students of color are tired. It is exhausting to navigate the shackles of an educational system so deeply tied to faux inclusivity and diversity measures, to be taught about BIPOC history through the lens of whiteness, and to do so in the current racial climate we are living in 2020. Students have taken to creating social media spaces like @blackatamericanuniversity as a means to express grievances in the community after feeling betrayed by faculty members who exploit them.
"It is easier for the conversation to focus on whiteness, and focus on what white people need to doâ€”their thoughts, their opinionsâ€”because when you turn the focus back on to Black people and other people of color, you have to grapple with some really pressing questions," Amadi said.