An assistant professor at Furman University has resigned after university officials investigated an allegation that she lied about having Mexican heritage.
An anonymous essay posted on the blog website Medium claimed Kelly Kean Sharp had been posing as Chicana, a term used to describe an American woman of Mexican descent.
Sharp resigned Wednesday, the university confirmed.
Sharp did not respond by Thursday morning to phone calls and emails sent on Wednesday to addresses she’s been associated with according to public records.
Tom Evelyn, a spokesperson for Furman University, said Sharp had been employed with the university since Aug. 1. Her biography on Furman’s website says she came to the university after teaching African studies and history at Luther College in Iowa for two years.
In emailed statements, Evelyn said Furman University started investigating the allegations when officials learned about them Tuesday and that Sharp resigned Wednesday.
“All I can say is that we are disappointed to have learned of these allegations,” Evelyn said. “We expect members of our community to be honest in the way they represent themselves to others.”
The anonymous essay, posted under the username “Producingwhiteness” Tuesday night, included screenshots of Sharp’s Twitter bio showing “#Chicana Asst professor” and tweets that said Sharp’s grandmother, referenced in the screenshots as her “abuela,” immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico during World War II.
The anonymous blogger claimed to have researched Sharp’s genealogical records and said that all of Sharp’s grandparents were born in the U.S. and none had Hispanic names.
By Wednesday, Sharp’s Twitter account had been deleted.
The anonymous blogger identified themselves as an acquaintance of Sharp’s when she attended the University of California Davis. The post said others who knew Sharp while at UC Davis wanted the user to publicize “her fabrication and strategic use of a Chicana identity.”
Sharp’s biography on Furman’s website says she received her bachelors degree from Willamette University before attending UC Davis for her masters and then doctorate. It also says she grew up in Encinitas, California, and “chose to research foodways of the antebellum US South because the region was a majority-minority population, much like her own hometown.”
The anonymous blog post pointed to U.S. Census records which show Encinitas as having a population that is about 87% white in 2000 and about 85% non-Hispanic and white in 2010.
The post also references a profile on Sharp from 2018 in Luther College’s student newspaper where she talks about being a faculty advisor to a student group called Latines Unides and says she is a “Latinx faculty advocate.”
The college’s website says Latines Unides is a cultural group and “support center for students of Hispanic/Latino” descent.
Another article in the student newspaper from March of this year shows Sharp moderating a panel on “how Latinx faculty members’ and students’ identities affect their experiences on campus.”
Katie Schweinefus, a spokesperson for Luther College, said there is no requirement for a faculty member to serve as an adviser to the group. Schweinefus said Sharp voluntarily left the school earlier this year in good standing and that the college is unable to comment on whether Sharp claimed to be of Mexican descent.
Inside Higher Ed, a national online news organization covering higher education, reported the resignation Thursday.