Is lying about one’s ethnicity a pervasive academic trend?
George Washington University associate professor Jessica Krug admitted in a blog post on Medium that she had lied to colleagues, university officials, and students for years about her racial ethnicity and upbringing.
Krug said that she has “eschewed my lived experience as a white Jewish child in the suburban Kansas City under various assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim: first North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness.” She later blamed her actions on “unaddressed mental health demons” throughout her entire life.
For much of her professional life, she claimed she was a minority. Her university biography called her a “historian of politics, ideas, and cultural practices in Africa and the African Diaspora, with a particular interest in West Central Africa and maroon societies in the early modern period and Black transnational cultural studies.” Her cited areas of expertise were Africa, Latin America, African American History, Early Modern World, and Imperialism and Colonialism.
So far, it appears that Krug’s lie about her ethnicity stemmed from her time as a graduate student in Wisconsin. Her biography listed her doctorate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2012, and as Inside Higher Ed reported, a former classmate tweeted that he always suspected Krug was lying.
She taught the following classes:
- HIST 1011: World History, 1500-Present
- HIST 3501: Topics in African History
- HIST 3510: African History to 1880
- HIST 3520: Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World
- Caribbean on the Move: The Politics of Immigration and Popular Dance in the Caribbean and Its Diasporas
- Africa and the African Diaspora: (Trans)Nationalisms and the Politics of Modernity
She also published a book entitled, “Fugitive Modernities: Politics and Identity Outside the State in Kisama, Angola, and the Americas, c. 1594-Present,” which “interrogates the political practices and discourses through which those who fled from slavery and the violence of the slave trade in Angola forged coherent political communities outside of, and in opposition to, state politics.”
Before the scandal, she was slated to publish another book on racial politics, called “Fathers of No Nation” on “gendered politics of authority and state in São Tomé, the Dominican Republic, and Jamaica from the sixteenth century through the present.”
Her employer, George Washington University, said it will replace her in the university’s Department of History in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and that she will not teach classes for the fall 2020 semesters. It has hinted that it will take a look at an internal hire, most likely someone from its part-time adjunct faculty staffing pool. It is unclear whether Krug will be fired from her job, though a university spokesperson said she is still working at the university for the time being.
The department’s statement said that Krug’s admission was a shock to them and it recommended severing ties with Krug. It reads as follows:
“The members of the faculty of The George Washington University Department of History are shocked and appalled by Dr. Jessica Krug’s admission on September 3, 2020 that she has lied about her identity for her entire career. With what she has termed her “audaciously deceptive” appropriation of an Afro-Caribbean identity, she has betrayed the trust of countless current and former students, fellow scholars of Africana Studies, colleagues in our department and throughout the historical discipline, as well as community activists in New York City and beyond. The discipline of history is concerned with truth telling about the past. With her conduct, Dr. Krug has raised questions about the veracity of her own research and teaching. Accordingly, the department calls upon Dr. Krug to resign from her position as associate professor of History at GW. Failing that, the department recommends the rescinding of her tenure and the termination of her appointment.”
Rachel Dolezal made headlines in 2015 when it was discovered that she was not a black woman as she had claimed for several years in academic circles. Dolezal denied the allegations, but was fired from her adjunct job at Eastern Washington University and later resigned from the local NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is another former academic who misrepresented her ethnic background at her stops at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Harvard Law School. A Harvard Law School spokesperson referred to Warren as a Native American and Warren changed her ethnicity from white to Native American at the University of Pennsylvania.
Decades later, as a U.S. Senator running for the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination, her campaign released a DNA test that showed that she did have a lot of Native American blood in her DNA. The Native American community was outraged after the DNA test and blasted Warren, saying that a DNA test does not guarantee acceptance within their community and that her DNA test announcement marginalized their heritage.
Warren later apologized to Native Americans for the offensive DNA test announcement, telling a Native American audience in Iowa, “I have listened and I have learned.” And, as her campaign floundered, Warren tried to appease the Native American community by promising several proposals such as giving Native American tribes more autonomy.