"I heard a voice from heaven saying, 'Son, let this woman be a bride to you in the restoration of my people. Let her be a mother for these people, regenerating souls through the salvation of spirit and water.'" (Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Tiffany Martinez: Academia Needs Work

It's really embarrassing to be a cis white feminist this week. Racist t-shirts from the cast of the Suffragette movie, racist Formation parody and double-down excuses from Amy Schumer, and now a brilliant Latina first generation college student already accepted to graduate school subjected to false public accusations of plagiarism from the female, almost certainly white, professor of her senior seminar.

They assumed that the work I turned in was not my own. My professor did not ask me if it was my language, instead they immediately blamed me in front of peers. On the second page the professor circled the word “hence” and wrote in between the typed lines “This is not your word.” The word “not” was underlined. Twice. My professor assumed someone like me would never use language like that. As I stood in the front of the class while a professor challenged my intelligence I could just imagine them reading my paper in their home thinking could someone like her write something like this?

In this interaction, my undergraduate career was both challenged and critiqued. It is worth repeating how my professor assumed I could not use the word “hence,” a simple transitory word that connected two relating statements. The professor assumed I could not produce quality research. The professor read a few pages that reflected my comprehension of complex sociological theories and terms and invalidated it all. Their blue pen was the catalyst that opened an ocean of self-doubt that I worked so hard to destroy. In front of my peers, I was criticized by a person who had the academic position I aimed to acquire. I am hurting because my professor assumed that the only way I could produce content as good as this was to “cut and paste.” I am hurting because for a brief moment I believed them.


The grade on my paper was not a letter, but two words: “needs work.” And it’s true. I am going to graduate in May and enter a grad program that will probably not have many people who look like me. The entire field of academia is broken and erases the narratives of people like me. We all have work to do to fix the lack of diversity and understanding among marginalized communities. We all have work to do.

Academia needs work.


After her blog post went viral Ms. Martinez was featured in a followup interview at the Chronicle of Higher Education. I am glad they are giving her a voice and mad that they minimize the racist pedagogical malpractice as a "microaggression." And I hope that the university requires the abusive professor to make amends by apologizing to her victim in front of the class--always ethically required for a public insult unless, as the Ninth Step says, it would harm the person sinned against or vulnerable others. That is something the old confessional manuals got spot on as a matter of justice and SorryWatch blog recently pointed out in analyzing Illinois Senator Mark Kirk's wimpy fauxpology for his sexist-ableist-racist trifecta of hateful insult to challenger Tammy Duckworth. In fact, the really impressive thing would be to woman up and apologize in a comment or, if Ms. Martinez would like, a guest post at the blog. It's often tough but also something I can testify from home, classroom, and social media experience--when those environments are safe--is a fire of roses for the sinner as well, bringing sweet freeing mercy along with the purifying pain.

Q. Do you think the professor has seen the blog post?

A. We actually did have a conversation today. My issue isn’t even this certain encounter. My issue is that after I posted that, I’ve noticed that thousands — and I’m not even being dramatic — thousands of students, of faculty members, of academics, have contacted me telling me similar experiences. This isn’t even an isolated incident. This happens all the time, and I didn’t even know that. I thought this was just something that was happening to me, but it’s so widespread. Even if it’s not someone’s intention to be racist or discriminatory, it’s still having an impact on students.

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