A UW-Madison graduate student issued a public apology and stepped down from their leadership roles at a university worker’s union after falsely identifying themself as a person of color.
CV Vitolo-Haddad — who uses they/them pronouns — had been posturing as a person of color while working as a teaching assistant and acting as co-president of UW-Madison’s chapter of the Teaching Assistants’ Associating graduate student worker’s union.
Vitolo-Haddad, who worked at UW-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, actually identifies as Southern Italian/Sicilian. However when certain individuals made assumptions about their race, they failed to correct people who identified them as Black and relied on their parent's “conflicting stories” of their heritage, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
Last Sunday, Vitolo-Haddad released their first apology on the blogging website Medium, announcing their resignation as teaching assistant and co-president of the TAA.
“The harm I caused is a result of my lack of courage, a preference for being vague and contradictory, uncertain and insecure. I want to make amends for every ounce of heartbreak and betrayal,” reads Vitolo-Haddad’s first post.
Vitolo-Haddad issued a second apology on Sept. 8, titled “A Second Step,” which intended to provide a clearer statement of their identity and what they did wrong.
“What I know now is that perception is not reality. Race is not flat, it is a social construct rife with contradictions,” Vitolo-Haddad writes. “Fighting racism never required dissociating myself from whiteness. In fact, it derailed the cause by centering my experience.”
In a statement, the TAA apologized for unknowingly enabling Vitolo-Haddad’s actions by electing them into a position of power within the union. The TAA further asserted they are immediately working to repair any harm caused.
“We have unknowingly rewarded the toxic opportunism of performing Blackness,” the statement said.
The TAA’s efforts include dissolving actions that Vitolo-Haddad was directly in charge of organizing, namely a Sept. 10 action against UW’s “Racist Restart.” Further auditing and the adoption of internal accountability measures will also be put in place, the statement said.
“You should trust people to be who they say they are and that’s part of what it makes so upsetting to a lot of people,” graduate student worker’s union president Alejandra Canales told the Wisconsin State Journal. “Deliberately lying about that flattens the experiences of those who have marginalized identities.
An active member of many social justice groups on campus, Vitolo-Haddad said they benefited “socially” from their situation.
However, they never identified as Black on any forms and never applied for any scholarships or awards designated for people of color. Vitolo-Haddad claimed they never posed as Black in their published works, covering white nationalism and the rhetoric of far-right groups, according to Inside Higher Ed.
As a member of the Student Coalition for Progress, a group that criticized a proposed bill that sought to protect offensive speech, Vitolo-Haddad told Isthmus in 2017 the legislation threatened marginalized students.
Also in 2017, Vitolo-Haddad wrote a post about another graduate student that called him “the most common type of white supremacist” and accused the teaching assistant of publishing anti-Semitic statements on social media, which resulted in the TA’s removal from his teaching position.
Vitolo-Haddad’s resignation comes after George Washington Professor Jessica Krug — who also received her doctoral degree from UW-Madison — recently stepped down from her position after admitting to falsely identifying herself as a Black woman for years.
“Education is [built] on a foundation of trust and accountability,” Vitolo-Haddad said. “And until I repair that I should not be teaching.”
UW-Madison spokeswoman Meredith McGlone confirmed that Vitolo-Haddad no longer works as 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.