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On Oct. 28, an anonymous post published to the website Medium claimed Furman Assistant Professor of African American History Dr. Kelly Kean Sharp has been faking a Chicana identity to help propel her career. The post, written by a previous acquaintance of Sharp, mentioned that she had only ever identified as a non-Hispanic white woman during her PhD studies at UC Davis. The author also wrote that several of Sharp’s previous UC Davis peers “approached me to help publicize her fabrication and strategic use of a Chicana identity.”
According to the anonymous author, after being questioned, Sharp informed several of her previous colleagues that she had a paternal grandmother from Mexico. But after further research, the colleagues found no records of this paternal grandmother. Instead, they found genealogical records that indicated Sharp has no grandparents born outside of the U.S, despite her claims on Twitter of having an "abuela” that came to the U.S. during World War II.
Sharp started working at Furman on Aug. 1, but resigned on Oct. 28 following the allegations. After her resignation, the History Department began making arrangements to cover Dr. Sharp’s classes for the remainder of the semester. Dr. Lane Harris, Chair of the History Department, declined to comment on the matters surrounding Dr. Sharp’s resignation. Additionally, Dr. Sharp did not respond to The Paladin’s request for comment regarding her resignation.
Temporarily left without a professor, students in Dr. Sharp's class this semester offered their perspective on the situation. Senior Wyeth Reese-Davies remembered Dr. Sharp once mentioned that as a white professor studying black history, “she felt like she had to be careful so as to not be seen as using African Americans’ race, experiences, and culture to advance her own career.” Reese-Davies added that since Dr. Sharp “knows about being aware and sensitive to race and culture,” he finds it “crazy” that she would lie about her own identity. Still, the facts seem to indicate to Reese-Davies that Dr. Sharp did not have any “scruples about claiming that her grandmother was Mexican.”
Junior Kenny Bryan was also taking Dr. Sharp’s class this semester and shared that “we spent many classes talking about white privilege and exploitation of minorities.” Although Bryan does not remember Dr. Sharp mentioning her own ethnicity more than once or twice, he finds her actions extremely hypocritical given “she was trying to teach us about the evils of something she was actively participating in.” The situation makes Bryan wonder how Dr. Sharp could have been living a lie for so long.
According to VP of University Communications Tom Evelyn, Furman learned about the allegations against Sharp on Tuesday, Oct. 27, and began investigating immediately. Evelyn also shared that the University was “disappointed” to have learned of the allegations, as Furman “expects members of our community to be honest in the way they represent themselves to others." Furman does not ask about the race or ethnicity of job applicants as part of the application or interview process, so "Dr. Sharp was chosen because of her demonstrated qualifications for the specific position for which she was hired,” according to Evelyn.
On the other hand, Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Michael Jennings noted that for several years now, the university has revamped its procedures for recruiting and hiring, efforts that “have helped us build a more diverse and inclusive faculty.” Furman’s hiring process begins with individual academic departments cultivating diverse pools of applicants for their open faculty positions. Subsequently, each job candidate who visits campus is interviewed by the Chief Diversity Officer and a member of the University’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
Jennings also said that it is difficult to tell what impact, if any, Dr. Sharp’s situation will have on Furman’s efforts to recruit diverse faculty, staff and students. What is more important to Jennings is the University continuing its efforts “to build a campus community that welcomes a diverse group of students, faculty, and staff.”
Junior Drew Washington, who writes about diversity and inclusion for The Paladin, added that, “It was very disheartening when I found out one of Furman’s professors who was born a white woman was posing as a Chicana.” Washington noted that as a Black student at Furman, it is already hard because as the minority, “the community you are in does not understand what you go through.” Washington emphasized that an individual posing as a minority race simply for their own gain “shows that they do not respect what minorities go through.” Therefore, actions like Dr. Sharp’s “reflect the ideals of individuals who want to reap certain benefits of a race without ever having to live through the hardship” according to Washington.
Dr. Sharp was set to teach a Black Lives Matter class in the Spring of 2021. According to an flyer distributed around campus, the 2-credit history course aimed to “steep students in the short yet ongoing history of the Black Lives Matter movement” and explore cultural products such as music and movies that emerged from the movement.
Following her resignation, Dr. Sharp’s biography page, pictured below, was immediately removed from Furman’s website. A search for Dr. Sharp’s name on Furman’s website will also produce no results.
Her Twitter account, through which she frequently discussed her Chicana identity and pride, has also been deleted. Various #Chicana hashtags, like the ones pictured below, could be found on Sharp’s account.
Students who were taking Sharp’s class this semester will be meeting with the History Department Chair later this week to discuss the future of the course. Furman has still not sent a community-wide email as they often do for bias incidents.