MILWAUKEE – A doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison issued a public apology this week after accusations emerged online that they were presenting as Black person despite being mostly of Italian ancestry.
CV Vitolo-Haddad — who uses they/them pronouns — wrote in a Medium post Sunday that they resigned from a teaching position and stepped down as co-president of UW-Madison's chapter of the Teaching Assistants’ Association graduate workers' union. Vitolo-Haddad was also at one point director of the school's speech and debate team.
"I am Southern Italian/Sicilian. In trying to make sense of my experiences with race, I grossly misstepped and placed myself in positions to be trusted on false premises," Vitolo-Haddad wrote. "I went along with however people saw me. I over-identified with unreliable and unproven family history and latched onto anything I remembered growing up."
Vitolo-Haddad declined a Journal Sentinel interview request.
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The situation came to light in a Medium post by an anonymous "affiliate of the university" who accused Vitolo-Haddad of "race-shifting and copious lying."
The post came one day after Jessica Krug — a white associate professor of history at George Washington University who also earned her doctorate at UW-Madison — made national headlines after writing a blog post saying she had been pretending to be Black for years.
"For years, I have doubted my intuition, questioned whether anyone would believe me, and rationalized that CV might, despite all of the inconsistencies in their story, somehow be telling the truth," the author of the post exposing Vitolo-Haddad wrote.
"Race, after all, is slippery and racialization is not just about what is immediately visible, a fact I now believe CV has taken advantage of as they slide themselves further into spaces of Black identity and political organizing that do not belong to them."
UW-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone confirmed that Vitolo-Haddad, a student in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is not currently a teaching assistant at the university.
"UW-Madison expects that people represent themselves authentically and accurately in all aspects of their academic work," McGlone said.
The graduate workers' union issued a statement condemning the cultural appropriation "in no uncertain terms."
"The TAA enabled this harm by electing them to a position of power in our union: we have unknowingly rewarded the toxic opportunism of performing Blackness," the statement reads. "We intend to immediately begin the work of repairing this harm."
The union will host a town hall on race Monday to allow members to discuss the revelation and to determine how the group can move forward.
Follow Devi Shastri on Twitter at @DeviShastri.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin grad student apologizes for claiming to be Black, is Italian