Posted on November 2, 2020

Unmasking Another White Professor Allegedly Posing as a Person of Color

Colleen Flaherty, Inside Higher Ed, October 29, 2020

Another week, another unmasking of a white professor allegedly posing as a person of color: this time it’s Kelly Kean Sharp, a scholar of African American history who resigned abruptly Tuesday from her assistant professorship at Furman University.

Like other apparent racial fraudsters before her, Sharp was outed by an anonymous post on Medium. The writer of the post identifies him or herself as having “distantly” known Sharp when she was graduate student at the University of California, Davis. Sharp had never publicly identified as Latinx back then, the writer said, so they were recently puzzled to learn that Sharp had since started referring to herself as Chicana, including on her now-private Twitter profile. According to screenshots included in the post, Sharp has tweeted about her abuela, or grandmother, from Mexico, and posted elsewhere about her “abuela who came to the U.S. during WWII who worked hard so I could become a teacher.”

The writer said they started talking to others who knew Sharp, and these colleagues were similarly “confused.” Some then allegedly asked Sharp about the “newfound identity,” and Sharp allegedly said her grandmother was originally from Mexico. Yet when the scholars looked into that explanation, “we found that Kelly had no grandparents who were born outside of the U.S. or had Hispanic names.”

In a cautionary twist against trying to dupe historians in particular, the scholars allegedly searched genealogical records and found that the grandmother Sharp said was from Mexico was actually born in Los Angeles “to white parents and was residing in the U.S. during all the census records of her upbringing.” A servant was even employed and living at the home, according to census records, the post says. “This grandmother eventually married a wealthy, white lawyer from Iowa.”

The Medium piece also fact-checks Sharp’s now-deleted Furman faculty biography, which said her research on the antebellum South was inspired in part by her hometown, Encinitas, Calif., and its “majority-minority population.” Encinitas has long been overwhelmingly white, “known to anyone from California for being a wealthy beach community,” the post says.

Furman’s history department, where Sharp began working in July, referred requests for comment to the university. Tom Evelyn, a Furman spokesperson, said the university was investigating the allegations against Sharp early Tuesday. He later said that Sharp had resigned, effective immediately. {snip}


As to whether Sharp presented herself as Chicana in the hiring process, Evelyn said Furman doesn’t ask about candidates’ ethnicity during on applications or during interviews. {snip}

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.”


Laura Barlament, a spokesperson for Luther, said that it doesn’t share details of personnel records about the hiring process of our employees, but that Sharp left Luther “in good standing.” {snip}

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.

{snip} Going forward, the post says, “we also want to protect Latinx spaces from her deception and manipulative deployment of their identity. {snip}”


This year alone has seen the unmasking of a handful of white academics who have posed as nonwhite: BethAnn McLaughlinJessica Krug, C. V. Vitolo-Haddad and Craig Chapman.


Christine Folch, assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Duke University, previously wrote about the Krug case, saying Krug’s “performance” as Afro-Latinx — including her accent, attire and self-proclaimed “hood” backstory — was suspect all along, especially in light of her lack of ties to the Latinx community.

As to why white women or nonbinary people (in the case of Vitolo-Haddad) keep assuming brownness or Blackness, Folch said Tuesday that “the first thought I have is the question, what does this do for them? What benefit do they get from a selective appropriation of a kind of ethnic otherness?”

The answer, Folch said, is lies in the “counterfactual” of why white men don’t do this. “And at the root I think what we see is a competition for scarce resources on the part of those who are not the hegemonic ideal in academia, which remains white male.”