What Jessica Krug’s Students Think About Her Now

Photo: George Washington University

Yesterday Jessica Krug, a professor specializing in African and Latin American Studies at George Washington University, published a Medium article revealing that she is not actually a Black woman, as she has claimed throughout her career. “To an escalating degree over my adult life, I have eschewed my lived experience as a white Jewish child in suburban Kansas City under various assumed identities within a Blackness that I had no right to claim: first North African Blackness, then US rooted Blackness, then Caribbean rooted Bronx Blackness,” she wrote, in the essay that has quickly earned her comparisons to Rachel Dolezal. Her charade was largely convincing; in the past few years, Krug has written for Essence magazine, become a professor in the GWU history department, and published a book with Duke University Press about people fleeing the Angolan slave trade. In the self-flagellating essay, titled “The Truth, and the Anti-Black Violence of My Lies,” she calls herself a culture leech, a coward, and someone who built [her] life on deceit, writing “you should absolutely cancel me, and I absolutely cancel myself.”

What doesn’t come through in the essay is the fact that Krug only outed herself because she was about to be exposed. According to a source close to the story, the truth only came out after a group of Black and Latinx scholars heard about Krug’s history of deception and started asking questions. A fellow academic who knew Krug back at the University of Wisconsin–Madison recalls how she used to identify as half Algerian, saying that her father was a white man of German ancestry who had raped her mother. The academic says it was after she left Madison and moved to New York that she began the transformation into the identity she claimed up until this week: an Afro Latina activist from the Bronx who also went by the name “Jess La Bombalera.” The university told BuzzFeed today that they have opened an investigation into Krug.

“She identified and clung to and mimicked and performed what I would say are the worst stereotypes about black women, which is the trope of the aggressive black woman. That was her demeanor: very aggressive, very confrontational. Looking back, that was part of the violence that Black women who had encounters with her experienced,” says the academic, adding that through her academic career, Krug received grants and funding on the basis of this false identity. “She would go as far as to call our authenticity as black women into question if we weren’t from the ‘hood,’ calling into question our commitment to the ‘struggle.’”

In addition to the position and resources Krug stole from academics of color, she also stole from the many students who viewed her as a trusted authority to help them make sense of the world and their own identities within it. The Cut spoke to four of Krug’s former students about reckoning with her deception in the wake of her Medium essay, and how they are coming to terms with her betrayal.

“The things that she taught me could have been done without this whole minstrel show of a persona.” —Rebecca Amadi, class of 2019

I was going to ask her for a letter of recommendation because I’m applying for grad school this fall. That’s how highly I thought of her. She was one of my favorite professors. She was very encouraging and gave me resources to think about my future. She was the epitome of: “You can be an activist. You can be a scholar. You can write books. You can make this work and be impactful.” For her to have built her entire persona on a lie is just so deeply hurtful, but also it’s coming to the point where it’s just like, Oh yes, of course a white woman will go and try to trick all these Black and brown students.

Before I read the letter, I had multiple friends message me saying, “Have you heard?” I was just in a state of shock. For her to also play the victim in that self-flagellating way and say, “Okay, cancel me, I’m a culture leech” — that kind of thing is exactly the problem with white allyship to begin with, so it shows that she hasn’t learned anything from all of this. And then I heard that the only reason why she came out was to get ahead of the story, because other real Afro-Latino scholars were going to expose her. It puts the whole “cancel me” into perspective, like, Oh, no, you don’t want to be canceled. You just want to shape the story, so you can control the narrative, even as you’re falling from grace.

She would have been fine if she was just a white woman. I have taken several African Studies courses at GW taught by white professors who were just as passionate and just as knowledgeable. The things that she taught me could have been done without this whole minstrel show of a persona. It doesn’t really change how I view those topics, because one professor isn’t going to make or break my love of something. But in the way I looked up to her, the way I wanted to impress her, [combined] with the power dynamics [and the fact that] the relationship was built on a lie is more important than the subject matter of what she taught.

“She was always trying to be this beacon and act like she could save people from whatever was going on.” —Luke Sciutto, class of 2018

She really assumed this identity and lied with such poise and ease, and there was so much conviction in her words around the damage that had been done in her neighborhood that she lived in. In my class at that time, she had an Afro-Caribbean identity and said that she was from the Bronx and Puerto Rico.

She ridiculed any students that were still in the learning process that didn’t understand things. She would say things like, “You might see a horrible grade now, but just know that it takes effort and time to really develop work,” and “You’ve got to dig deeper,” but she wasn’t even digging deeper within herself. She was very critical of all of our work and a very harsh grader. It left us all feeling like, what are we doing wrong? It always felt a little bit overdone. When this came out, obviously I was surprised, but at the same time, there was something always off.

The other thing that really pains me is that I remember her sending out an email — something about some students whose status was uncertain, maybe international students. And she was like, you can confide in me, this is a safe space. She was always trying to be this beacon and act like she could save people from whatever was going on. It’s a very weird thing now looking back and just realizing that the whole class was kind of a mirage.

There was this theme in her teaching of being super-representative of her communities and saying that folks had destroyed it and gentrified it. Now looking back, she was talking about herself.

“Now it’s just like, what else was a lie?” —Tatum Brooks, class of 2016

I was a student of Jessica’s at GW during the spring of 2016. I took her African American history course, because as a young Black woman, I wanted to use my elective credits to learn about subject matter that was meaningful to me. With having limited outlets for African American students to learn about their history and culture, I was excited to take the course.

There have been a number of incidents that have happened over the years with the university. So this is not completely shocking and kind of goes with the tone of what’s been going on in the past few years, which exposes the need for a focus on diversity, inclusion, and equity at the university. I think the university needs to make a statement, and then I would like to see [that followed up by] action.

With the Africana department being so small, it’s upsetting to me because I feel like there are so many qualified African American professors that the university could have also hired. It’s also such an expensive university. So now it’s like, What else do I need to look into? We thought that we were being taught African history by a Black woman. And now it’s just like, What else was a lie?

“Why at my school do I learn about cultures of brown people or Black people from white people?” — Emma Beach, class of 2022

I’m Nicaraguan, Cuban, and Filipino so I consider myself brown. When her article came out I told my mom, “Wow, it’s nice to know white people secretly jealous of how brown I am.” But I was really disturbed by the article. What do I do? How do I get in contact with Jessica and ask if she’s okay? I thought I was reading a suicide note.

For my major in international affairs, you have to take a World History beginners course, and the only one that was open for me was Jessica Krug. She mainly focused on Caribbean studies, which I definitely wasn’t expecting. She decided to focus world history from the perspective of the Caribbean instead of the perspective of who was colonizing all these people, which was a different take than I was expecting or that I’ve ever been taught.

When she introduced herself, she was very adamant that she was from the Bronx — she had a very heavy accent throughout the whole class. She would come in with huge hoops and a nose ring and a crop top and tight, tight cheetah pants. She has a big tattoo on her arm of the socialist symbol [the hammer and sickle]. There was a big running talk about how her attire was a bit unprofessional, a bit young for what we were expecting a professor to wear. She said she did dance classes, and she was all about hip-hop and adding that in.

There was a good number of classes she didn’t show up to, that she canceled like 30 minutes before the class. It seems like she was a bit scattered or a bit out of place in what she was doing in her life. She wasn’t committed to showing up to this lecture.

I don’t feel like, Oh, she lied to me, that terrible woman. I genuinely feel like she was running from trauma. Maybe that trauma is her sense of security in this fake life.

But why at my school do I learn about cultures of brown people or Black people from white people? Why are they in a better position to give that education? I had a Black resistance writing class and I walked into the class, and about 16 kids are Black, and there’s me and there’s maybe like two other kids who weren’t Black, and then in walks in the professor and he’s a white guy. And I’m like, Why does this feel wrong? It’s kind of unfair. It shows how we can’t even get to that level of teaching other people about our own culture, because there’s already people in that place themselves who aren’t even from our culture.

These interviews have been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Former Students Talk About Their Fake Black Professor