College! It's the place where you can let your intellect soar, writing passionately argued essays without dumbing down your language or worrying whether your readers—highly educated professors, after all—will understand your word choice.
Unless you're Latina, apparently. In a blog post that quickly went viral, Tiffany Martinez, a Bronx native, aspiring professor, and senior at Boston's Suffolk University described her humiliation in front of an entire seminar at the hands of a professor who chided her for using the word "hence" in an essay, even demanding to know what source she'd plagiarized it from. Oof and a half.
The post, titled "Academia, Love Me Back," details Martinez's eye-popping résumé of academic credentials, awards, and distinctions before describing the incident, which revealed a sadly normalized bias against students of color:
This morning, my professor handed me back a paper (a literature review) in front of my entire class and exclaimed “this is not your language.” On the top of the page they wrote in blue ink: “Please go back and indicate where you cut and paste.” The period was included. 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.
The post is well worth reading in full, and drew wide support, especially from those in academia who have seen or suffered similar treatment.
And besides the startlingly unprofessional approach to a wholly fabricated ethics issue, it's not as if plagiarism is hard to check for. Educators are armed with a formidable array of software and websites against which they can check students' work for stolen sentences. So not only was the accusation offensive—it was just plain lazy. If the use of"hence" is truly a red flag at the college level of discourse, then this country is in worse trouble than we realized.
Let's just hope this professor doesn't have tenure already.