Late last week, I read a news story about a Latina woman accused of plagiarism with the word "hence" circled on her paper, whose blog post on the matter can be found here. I asked my wife if she had ever had a professor do that to her, accuse her of plagiarism or of cheating because she did too well, and she said she hadn't. She asked if I had. I nodded.
When I was a senior at a very well-regarded all-girls Catholic high school in Southern California, I completed a project for my AP English class on the excellent poem "To a Daughter Leaving Home," by Linda Pastan. Our assignment was to choose a poem in our anthology, "perform" it in front of the class, and hand in a written explication.
I had worked on this project for weeks, wanting to do this gorgeous piece justice, and also wanting to deliver a Tony Award-winning performance. When the class received their written reports back, mine had no letter grade at the top, but a message ("See me after class") and the word "foci" circled around three pages in. Puzzled, I approached my (admittedly, excellent) teacher, who told me that she had concerns that I had plagiarized my essay. In short, it was too brilliant of an essay to be mine. I insisted that I hadn't, and that I had worked very hard on the piece, drawing parallels to my own life--leaving for college soon, the daughter of a single mother who must be feeling a range of emotions, etc.--and that it meant more to me than any other assignment that year. She begrudgingly accepted my explanation, but warned me that I needed to submit the same high caliber work the rest of the semester in order to keep the "A" on the assignment, which constituted a large portion of my final grade. Embarrassed but grateful to avoid further trouble, I thanked her and scurried away, and I didn't talk about the incident for another fifteen years.
I can't (and won't) say that this was an instance of racism, as there are many other women of color with whom I graduated that are formidable, accomplished, wonderful women, who may or may not have been subjected to this indignity, but it was certainly a case of prejudice and humiliation. I never forgot it, and I'm proud to say that my teacher's warnings did inspire me to keep my "A," and earn a 5 on the AP examination. So, thanks for the motivation, Mrs. Potts. It has certainly helped me accomplish more than you thought I could.
About the Author
Sarah Ouano is a naturopathic doctor and writer. A fierce advocate for health equity and rights of the marginalized, she frequently writes about the intersection of naturopathic medicine and public health, throwing in personal anecdotes and tasty (and practical) recipes along the way.