Tiffany Martínez, a Latina student at Suffolk University in Boston, wrote a powerful post on her personal blog on Oct. 27 that she posted to Facebook. It has since gone viral:
In her post, she describes an incident that happened Thursday morning in her sociology class in which a professor handed her back a paper she wrote and told her loudly in front of all her peers that, “This is not your language.”
She also notes in her post, titled “Academia, Love Me Back,” other comments her professor wrote on her paper. They include one where the professor circled the word “hence” and wrote next to it “this is not your word,” underlining “not” twice. Another one reads: “Please go back and indicate where you cut and paste.”
To Martínez, who was born and raised in the Bronx, the comments reflected a larger issue people of color often face.
My last name and appearance immediately instills a set of biases before I have the chance to open my mouth.” Tiffany Martínez in “Academia, Love Me Back”
“My last name and appearance immediately instills a set of biases before I have the chance to open my mouth,” wrote Martínez. “As a minority in my classrooms, I continuously hear my peers and professors use language that both covertly and overtly oppresses the communities I belong to. Therefore, I do not always feel safe when I attempt to advocate for my people in these spaces.”
After the incident, Martínez, a first-generation college student and U.S. citizen, was humiliated and frightened. She also doubted herself.
“I spent the rest of the class going back through every single line, every single citation to make sure that nothing had been plagiarized, even though I knew I hadn’t,” she told BuzzFeed News.
The experience also led Martínez, who is an aspiring professor, to question her ability to become an academic. She wrote in the post:
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.
After posting “Academia, Love Me Back” on Facebook, Martínez has received an outpouring of support. One commenter wrote:
“Good for you for standing up for yourself, instead of letting this ignorant professor silence you.”
A black commenter described a similar incident she experienced in fifth grade after getting a paper back.
“I got an ‘F’ with the word ‘PLAGIARIZED’ written at the top in bold red letters. She proceeded to yell at me and tell me to shut up (in front of my peers) when I protested,” the commenter wrote. “I’m 30 and I still think of that sometimes.”
When the The Huffington Post reached out to Suffolk University for comment, a communications official forwarded a letter written by university administrators to members of the Suffolk community.
“As an institution that was founded on the highest principles of inclusivity and respect, we take this and any such concern extremely seriously,” it reads. In the letter, they note that the issue is being investigated, adding:
“As a community we are not perfect, and we make mistakes as an institution and as individuals.”