Former history professor Jessica Krug stepped down from her faculty post Wednesday, six days after she admitted to lying about her racial identity in a viral Medium article. Krug is a White woman from Kansas City, Missouri who deceptively identified as varying Black identities. While Krug was pretending to be Black, she taught classes like African History and Caribbean on the Move: The Politics of Immigration and Popular Dance in the Caribbean and Its Diasporas.
Many have questioned why the history department would have hired Krug in the first place. But her hiring is not surprising to those who have consistently been taking history courses at the University. In my experience, the lack of racial diversity in the history department shows that its faculty have little interest in tending to non-White histories with the care they deserve. Other than Krug, an overwhelming number of White/White-passing professors continue to teach courses that deal with African, Middle Eastern and Asian history. Not to mention, the department leadership is composed of three White men.
Krug is just the latest, albeit extreme, example of existing failures in the history department. The history department should use this incident to radically reform the overwhelming Whiteness of its faculty and curriculum in all their classes, especially ones dealing with minority cultures.
In an op-ed published earlier this year, I wrote about three classes I took that dealt with Black and Latinx history in the United States, the history of segregation at GW and South Asian history. Each class was taught by White men, and the professor that taught South Asian history, though well-meaning and decent, was educated at Cambridge and the London School of Economics. Our assignments often had more to do with analyzing the colonizers’ belittling essays on the subcontinent. Needless to say, each of these classes reeked of colonial bias.
There is a deep-rooted problem in the department that results in White professors teaching non-White history. The department must look inside itself and identify issues in hiring and retaining professors of color. Rather than focusing only on educational background, they must scope out each prospective professors’ personal ethnic and cultural background. These tactics would not only help to avoid another Krug-like debacle, but they would ensure history students are not subject to a White-washed curriculum.
The next steps forward should have little to do with feeling “shocked and appalled,” as the department said in a statement on the incident. Instead, leadership should take responsibility for hiring Krug in the first place. Mistakes on this scale do not take place unless the department is already susceptible to them.
In the coming years, the University should consider cluster hiring, an effective method of diversifying faculty in various schools around the country. By hiring a group of professors of color around the same time, the study showed the professors have a community from which they can draw support.
Diversity and Inclusion Education Director Jordan West said earlier this year that professors must also “unlearn” the colonial biases that have affected their field of study. As the history department should work to improve diversity and ensure professors are true to their word, existing faculty must be sure to elevate voices of students of color in their classrooms. In many situations, students of color feel outnumbered not only by their majority White classmates, but also by their White professors. This imbalance creates an unhealthy power dynamic that only exacerbates existing biases in the curriculum.
Krug’s confession to lying about her racial identity for her entire professional career underlines the urgency for GW to completely reform the history department. The recent incident is disgraceful and deeply offensive, but it only underlines ongoing racial fault lines in the history department. The history department has a long record of allowing White professors, often male, to teach histories of minority cultures like South Asian, African American and Latin American history, as well as African studies – just as Krug did.
Shreeya Aranake, a junior majoring in history, is a columnist.
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