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Tiffany Corin Martinez on Support, Hate, and Moving Forward Together

Khalil Kaba – 2015

Does the name ring a bell? How about 12,531 bells? That’s how many Facebook likes Suffolk Senior Tiffany Corin Martinez had on her blogpost share “Academia, Love Me Back” Thursday afternoon, just one week since she made the post.

Posted to her website vivatiffany, the entry also has 3,490 comments, 13,613 shares on Facebook and has been shared by the BBC, BuzzFeed, BET, Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Inside Higher Ed, and The Boston Globe. Thousands have commented in support of Martinez while also sharing their own stories having gone through similar experiences around the world.

In the post, Martinez recounts her experience with a Suffolk professor who publicly accused her of plagiarism in front of her class. The professor marked her paper with comments like “not your word” (directed at her use of “hence”), “this is not your language,” and “show me where you cut and paste.” Feeling attacked because of her racial makeup and heritage, Martinez created the post after being at a loss for words.

Despite the support the post has rallied, Martinez has also faced harsh criticism from people commenting on how she “took this too far” and “blew this way out of proportion without speaking with the professor first.” Many also criticize her regard of this event as blatant racism without considering the plainly technical question of plagiarism rooted in this story.

So what exactly happened? And what does this mean for a school already under fire with problems regarding leadership, communication, and relations between faculty, administration and the student body?

We spoke with Martinez Thursday morning about the class, this past week and what’s next…

The Suffolk Voice: What was your initial reaction when the events of that class happened?

Tiffany Martinez: Initially thinking to myself how ridiculous this was, and you know how you think back when something wild happens and you’re like damn, I have so many comebacks but you don’t really use it? So in the moment I didn’t do anything. I just sat down with the paper and I looked through each line to make sure I didn’t plagiarize and that everything was cited correctly and only after realizing that my paper was – I don’t mean to say perfect – essentially completely mine. Like all the language was mine. That’s when the anger and sadness started because I was so proud of my paper and this was part of this research that I had been doing over the summer. So I essentially spent months working on something like this and for someone to tell me that it’s not mine, it was really painful.

“I looked through each line to make sure…All the language was mine.”

[Martinez also sat with one of her mentors following the class to vent and also go through the paper with no discovery of plagiarism or citation error.]

SV: So why did you decide to write about this in a blog post? Was that the initial idea?

TM: Writing is really therapeutic for me, and it was actually my friend who had inspired me, she said “you just need to write about it.” I didn’t even write about it to post it to my blog, I wrote about it for me, and when I was done I sent it to my mentor. I was like “I think this is a pretty interesting thing that I just did. Do you want to read it?” And my mentor said “You gotta post that, you gotta post it.” I did and I shared it and now it’s become this!

“I didn’t even write about it to post it to my blog, I wrote about it for me.”

SV: So how long was it until the reaction came about?

TM: The first day before I fell asleep it hit 70 shares I want to say, and when I woke up the next morning, I realized overnight was when it started to hit the thousands. I really wish I knew the one person who shared it and made this blow up but I’m not sure I could go through my shares. Once Buzzfeed picked it up that’s kind of what pushed to this point.

SV: Because you were on the trending level on Buzzfeed – 

TM: Ay Caramba, so it’s so funny I was in the top three and number one was “These Women Tried To Orgasm In Three Minutes,” and I was like obviously I’m not going to beat that one, obviously that one is going to be trending forever [laughs], so not number one but it made sense.

SV: What has been the most memorable experience this past week?

TM: [Mariana Goycoechea] wrote an article called “Querida Tiffany Martínez: To You From the Love of Thousands”. My god, that was absolutely the most memorable. Reading that, it moved me in a way that I had never been moved before. I really felt, and I think she even wrote it in there that there are thousands of women behind [me] and thousands by my side. That was like solidarity in it’s finest of her just supporting me, because that was also the same time when people were sending me hate mail, and posting hateful comments. Some people even found my phone number and were trying to call me. I have hundreds of messages and a third of them are hate mail. It was just a lot so reading that was really the empowering moment for me to remind myself that I need to keep going. She is a beautiful writer.

“[Goycoechea] even wrote it in there that there are thousands of women behind [me] and thousands by my side. That was like solidarity in it’s finest.”

SV: Also I noticed you have straightened your hair, does that have any correlation to what has happened?

TM: I’m taking my senior pictures and you know how you to have to wear the graduation caps? I didn’t think the cap would fit on my curly hair [laughs]. That’s why I straightened it. In my head I was thinking maybe people won’t notice me now and I was kind of excited about that, but no, it was just for a senior portrait. I wish I had a cooler story.

SV: Moving forward, do you have any plans now? Has this changed anything for your future?

TM: I have had a lot of professors from around the country message me and tell me about their PHD programs, so I feel this could be a gateway for a lot of professors to know my name. Like NYU, they only accept seven to ten students out of 300-400 applicants, and they’re my dream school, so now I’m thinking if I apply they’re going to see my name and they’re going to know my name. And if someone isn’t going to accept me because they don’t agree with my story then I don’t want them to accept me. So right now that’s the biggest thing for me. Applying to these programs and hopefully getting somewhere that will consistently validate me and my intelligence.

SV: What would you say to people who have been in similar situations but haven’t been given a voice like you have?

TM: Please please please speak up, if they feel comfortable to. You can always go to the dean and report something, and you could always report something and not have anything happen until you’re finished with the class, because a lot of people don’t report things because they’re scared about how their grades will change. But let’s say you do report something in the middle of the semester and then you get a ‘C’ but you feel like you deserved an ‘A’? You can file for a grade grievance and they can go back to all the reports against that professor.

Even anonymously that would really be helpful, because in my situation I have so many people coming to me and telling me similar experiences with this specific professor of what they have done to them. So I’m getting a lot of hate and it sucks because I’m trying to tell these students that if you can speak up and join me and tell the institution that this is not just an isolated incident maybe something concrete will happen.

We’re here, we’re paying for this, we don’t want to mess up our chances on getting an ‘A’.

I have a lot of sympathy for people who don’t say anything because there’s so many different factors that could affect you; we’re here, we’re paying for this, we don’t want to mess up our chances on getting an ‘A’ and getting their scholarships but it’s really, really important that when you see injustice that you speak up because you’ll see it’s not just you. If I hadn’t posted [to my blog] I never would never have known the kind of global impact this had and how many people experience the same things that I have. I really did think this was just me and I thought this was this one experience, I didn’t know how common it was. So when you speak up you’re not just protecting yourself but you’re protecting everyone around you.

SV: So have you been back to that class?

TM: This morning.

SV: Did anything happen?

TM: Honestly I have a lot of anxiety in that class because [an article I read] has quotes from people in that class that were in support of the professor, and they posted some of the negative comments from my blog. So seeing that last night and going to class today, it is anxiety inducing with people who are disagreeing with what I say. So it’s not even just that I’m in a class where I’m at odds with the professor but I’m in a class with students and peers who I’m at odds with as well. But honestly it’s not affecting me too much because I know that – in that article that Mariana wrote – I’m not alone.

I walk into that class and I know I have a group of people behind me and I have them to support me. They might not be sitting there in the class with me, but I know that they’re there.

Acting President of Suffolk University Marisa Kelly released a statement Friday afternoon regarding actions taken by the University following events such as these. “We have policies and procedures in place to respond to and investigate matters such as this one and we are following those procedures. We need to respect the privacy of both the student and the faculty member in order to ensure that these concerns are addressed in a swift and fair manner and with the utmost care and concern for the people involved,” she wrote.

So what exactly are these procedures? Much has been kept under wraps due to confidentiality and policy, however, in a blog post by Kelly on Tuesday she noted several attempts by the University to increase diversity, support inclusion, and alleviate feelings of discrimination. This includes the hiring of Dr. Heather Dwyer as Assistant Director of the Center for Teaching and Scholarly Excellence where she will bring her “experience in issues of diversity and equity in higher education,” having presented nationally on the topics. The University also gained Dr. Joyya Smith who will oversee the process of reapplying for TRIO grant funding, which includes the McNair Scholars program that focuses on first generation, low-income, and underrepresented students interested in graduate programs.

Two weeks ago Suffolk sent out a diversity survey to students, faculty and staff focusing on areas that need improvement in the hopes of structuring a Diversity Strategy for 2017-2020. While that data is accumulated the university has launched a three-part diversity workshop series called “Leveraging Diversity and Navigating Identity.” The program will touch upon mitigating stereotypes, teaching more inclusively, and the experiences of race in academia. The hiring of Dr. Lizette Rivera as Director of Diversity Services will assist in these measures.

“All of these initiatives will, I believe, help us to continue to become a more inclusive community,” said Kelly, “but last week’s incident has made clear that these steps are not enough. There is more we can do. The most immediate action we are working to organize is a microaggression training session for each academic department in the University. The training sessions will be required for all faculty at the institution over the course of this academic year. Staff members will also be trained in the near future.”

Following last year’s protests about the ultimate firing of President Margaret McKenna (a movement credited widely to Martinez) and the resulting questions of administrative power and community involvement in leadership, Kelly continued to remind the student body of the university’s values.

“Suffolk University is deeply committed to fostering an inclusive environment,” she said. “Every student and every member of our community should feel respected. We need to pay attention to both the intention behind our words and actions and the way in which those words and actions are experienced. As a community we are not perfect, and we make mistakes as an institution and as individuals.”


Featured Photo Credit to Khalil Kaba -2015.

 

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