It all started with a quiz question regarding slavery that prompted University of Tennessee student Kayla Renee Parker to challenge her professor, sparking a series of heated run-ins that snowballed into a public dispute.
In a blog post titled, “Beware of Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing: The Tale of a Progressive Professor Who Forgot to Hide Her Racism and Got Her Ass Fired,” Parker described the disagreement with her professor, detailing every moment from the start of the previous semester to today. The graduating senior never mentioned the name of the now-ousted lecturer but described her as someone who wore “a safety pin so every knows she is an ally for minorities” and “regularly discussed her love for the Obamas.”
“I wanted to have one final thing to say to her and it was that I forgive you for taking my focus last semester,” Parker wrote. “Writing this was incredibly therapeutic.”
The dispute began in February after a quiz given in Parker’s family sociology class asked a question regarding family relationships during slavery. The question read as follows:
“Historical research on African-American families during slavery shows that:
A.) Family ties weren’t important in the African cultures where the slaves ancestors originated; consequently, family bonds were never strong among slaves.
B.) Two-parent families were extremely rare during the slavery period.
C.) Black family bonds were destroyed by the abuses of slave owners, who regularly sold off family members to other slave owners.
D.) Most slave families were headed by two parents.”
Parker chose “C” as her answer. To her surprise, however, the professor marked her answer as incorrect, saying that “D” was the correct choice.
The UT student said that’s when she emailed her professor to question the correction and asked for additional research to back up the lecturer’s claim that “D” was the right answer.
Parker said the two argued via email and even in the hallway, leading to a sort of challenge for the university student to present her take on African-American families during slavery in front of the whole class.
“I felt as though I had to give this presentation because I have had enough of white people defining my history, especially inaccurately,” Parker wrote. “Our country continues to have a race problem and I firmly believe that it’s because we can’t even accept that America has never been great for anyone unless you’re white.”
“How can we expect the treatment of Black people to improve and equality to be made possible if America can’t even face the reality of how people of color have been treated in the past?” she added. “It’s impossible to move forward if we can’t look back.”
From there, things continued to escalate.
Unsure of how her professor would respond to her presentation, which she streamed on Facebook live, Parker said she spoke to the department head at the university about the possibility of retaliation from challenging her teacher so publicly. She figured the in-class presentation would be the end of their squabble, until a friend alerted her to threats the professor posted on Facebook.
“Apparently, she forgot about privacy settings on Facebook,” Parker wrote. “Her comments include, but not limited to: ‘She’s on LinkedIn trying to establish professional contacts, this should be fun!’, ‘After the semester is over and she is no longer my student, I will post her name, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn … after she graduates, all bets are off’, ‘I don’t forget malevolent attempts to harm me. #karmawillfindyou’, and ‘Ignore the facts, promote a misinformed viewpoint, trash me and I will fight you.’
Parker said the university quickly came to her defense after learning of the incident, offering her alternatives to complete the course and other resources to ensure her safety.
She said that the professor, who had been working at UT off and on since 1986, then sent an email to the class accusing Parker and her friends of posting “inflammatory, derogatory, libelous comments on her Facebook page,” reporting her to the higher ups and getting her placed on administrative leave.
UT officials said the unnamed teacher was relieved of her teaching duties in April but was alerted last summer that her year-to-year contract would not be renewed in the fall due to the “phasing out a few of the courses she teaches from” the school’s sociology department curriculum.
University spokeswoman Karen Ann Simsen told Inside Higher Ed that the school “exercised the option outlined in our Faculty Handbook of ending [the professor’s] contract early” but would pay her remaining salary through July 31.
Parker expressed relief at news of the professor’s termination, writing that she learned a lot about herself during the entire ordeal and would encourage other students to ask questions like she did.
In a final word to her professor, she wrote, “If you taught me one thing, it is to always speak truth to power regardless of the outcome.”