‘Hence’ Plagiarism: Professor’s Criticism of Latina Honor Student’s Vocabulary Provokes National Conversation on Race

When Latina Student Wrote ‘Hence,’ Her Professor Assumed Plagiarism

I am so emotional about this paper because in the phrase ‘this is not your word,’ I look down at a blue-inked reflection of how I see myself when I am most suspicious of my own success.

by Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Eduction

screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-2-55-32-pmAn exchange between one professor and one student at Suffolk University has set off a nationwide online discussion over the assumptions faculty members may bring to interactions with minority students.

The student, Tiffany Martínez, shared her story in a blog post — “Academia, Love Me Back” (below)– that went viral on Friday. In the post, she described how a professor (whom she did not name) was handing back papers (in this case a literature review) and told her that “this is not your language.” At the top of the paper, the professor asked her to indicate where she had used “cut and paste.” And in an example of language that the instructor assumed could not have come from Martínez, the instructor circled the word “hence” and wrote, “This is not your word,” with “not” underlined twice.

Martínez wrote that she had not used anyone else’s words, but that she felt humiliated and filled with self-doubt by the professor’s reaction, which Martínez attributed to stereotypes about the words a Latina student would use.

The professor’s “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,” Martínez wrote.

Added Martínez: “I am tired and I am exhausted. On one hand, this experience solidifies my desire to keep going and earn a Ph.D. but on the other it is a confirmation of how I always knew others saw me. I am so emotional about this paper because in the phrase ‘this is not your word,’ I look down at a blue-inked reflection of how I see myself when I am most suspicious of my own success. 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.”

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Tiffany’s Original Post: “Academia, Love Me Back”

by Tiffany Martínez

My name is Tiffany Martínez. As a McNair Fellow and student scholar, I’ve presented at national conferences in San Francisco, San Diego, and Miami. I have crafted a critical reflection piece that was published in a peer-reviewed journal managed by the Pell Institute for the Study of Higher Education and Council for Opportunity in Education. I have consistently juggled at least two jobs and maintained the status of a full-time student and Dean’s list recipient since my first year at Suffolk University. I have used this past summer to supervise a teen girls empower program and craft a thirty page intensive research project funded by the federal government. As a first generation college student, first generation U.S. citizen, and aspiring professor I have confronted a number of obstacles in order to earn every accomplishment and award I have accumulated. In the face of struggle, I have persevered and continuously produced content that is of high caliber. 

I name these accomplishments because I understand the vitality of credentials in a society where people like me are not set up to succeed. My last name and appearance immediately instills a set of biases before I have the chance to open my mouth. These stereotypes and generalizations forced on marginalized communities are at times debilitating and painful. 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. In the journey to become a successful student, I swallow the “momentary” pain from these interactions and set my emotions aside so I can function productively as a student. 

Today is different. At eight o’clock this morning, I felt both disrespected and invalidated…

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