How Does it Feel to Be a Problem?

constance iloh
21 min readApr 17, 2023

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This is the most relevant question that needs to be asked for someone who has experienced severe academic mobbing and bullying.

Although I wrote, “Academia as an Incubator of Oppression and Violence: A Closer Look at Academic Mobbing and Bullying Offline and Online,” it is never easy to wage resistance against academic mobbing and bullying. I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who have reached out to me for hope and guidance when the mob comes to their door. To be sure, no one should have to tolerate any form of attack, harassment, humiliation, trolling, stalking, death threats, doxxing, and even online identity impersonation as I have. Additionally, the burden should not fall on those victims to find creative ways to navigate academic mobbing and bullying. Very few individuals would have the resources, network, and platform needed to resolve these types of situations. Being that I am not one of them, one way I know I can help is to expose it.

Today, I am writing to share my experience as the first Black professor hired to the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine. It is my intention not only to expose behavior institutionalized within the UCI School of Education and their accomplices, but to also highlight global themes that extend beyond them.

Public humiliation is a common tactic to wear down a target and normalize abuse.

Public humiliation, mobbing, and bullying is nothing new to my experience at the University of California, Irvine. Arguably, it is the most consistent thing I was meant to experience there and also after I left (as you will see later in this post).

I deferred my actual faculty appointment at UCI, upon notice of receiving the UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship. On October 31st, 2015, I commuted from Los Angeles to move some of my books into my new office. On this day the then (interim) dean of the School of Education, Dr. Mark Warschauer, saw me and asked me to attend his digital learning lab meeting. The only meeting I had scheduled was not with him so I could not commit.

When I received a message from him during his meeting asking me to come, I felt pressured to attend a convening I never put on my calendar. I thought to myself I should just cave to the pressure before I left for my train back to Los Angeles.

As soon as I walked into this meeting, I was asked by then Dean Warschauer of my afro hair,

“Is that your real hair or your Halloween costume?”

He chuckled after saying it. Not a single person in the room said anything about this comment. I texted my colleague Dr. Tesha Sengupta-Irving to please come get me. She promptly came to get me from the Dean’s conference room where it was held. When I reached her office, all the strength it took for me to leave that room with my head held high left my body.

Even though he had seen me prior, it was a public space that Dean Warschauer chose to ridicule me in such a racist manner.

I am grateful to Dr. Stephen, who actually took the time to write an email to Dr. Jacquelynne Eccles documenting it so the reality of that day could not be erased.

When this was brought to Dr. Jacquelynne Eccles, the then associate dean, she was, “Not sure what to do now.”

Sometime in the aftermath of this, Dr. Eccles made mention to me that Dr. Warschauer losing his bid to become the permanent dean resolved the issue and he lost because of me (as if I had willed it into existence for him to make a comment that was unacceptable and harmful).

Not only did UC Irvine as an institution demonstrate it was only concerned with the comment turning into a publicity scandal, it never made known what was actually done to address it and how I would be protected. It is interesting to see actual racism met with shrugs and silence, especially in comparison to the hysteria that individuals manufactured towards me.

Sometime much later, I wrote an email to him forgiving him. Not only did I do this in good faith, deep down I hoped that his remark would not garner any further unjust retaliation or blame towards me. I know now this to be far from the case.

The most successful thing these people create is manufactured hysteria (in maligning targets) and silence (in order to downplay the abuse of targets).

Under a new and different dean, Dr. Richard Arum, I was summoned to meet with him where he told me there are rumors being passed around that I am scary to students.

I asked him why I should be attending to rumors in a professional environment and he said, “I would.” When asked for examples of me being scary, he provided none but mentioned that my success could be scary to students. It is still unclear what that means.

When I asked him what I was supposed to do with this rumor, he laughed and said, “I don’t know, buy them some cookies.”

I was called in for him to repeat a rumor that had no evidence and no solution.

Ironically, there were not even evaluations to situate this, as this conversation took place during my first quarter, in which I was teaching an elective course I created on branding. Knowing this was all deeply wrong, I asked for a meeting with School of Education leadership. I am grateful I had the good sense then to have someone outside the department ecosystem present. As their email illuminates, there were numerous attempts to keep me out of the same meeting I requested to address this madness.

I was later told by Dr. Arum that Dr. Eccles, the associate dean who had no idea what to do when Mark Warschauer made his racist hair comment, was the person who started this rumor. Ironically, she was also the same person assigned to be my postdoctoral fellowship mentor so that I could do the fellowship at UCI. When I later asked Dr. Eccles about this (who was in the process of trying to remove my same course from a future schedule), she said that me “having Dr. or PhD next to my name on my syllabus and introductory PowerPoint slides is an insult to students’ funds of knowledge and creates a climate of terror.” I asked her if she spread rumors about any of our other colleagues that put “PhD” next to their name on their syllabus and introductory slides. To this she replied, “Why do you feel the need to do it?”

Nothing was ever done to address this rumor and hold those responsible for perpetuating it accountable.

In the aftermath of this occurrence, I never received an answer as to why a rumor could be elevated, especially when actual remarks were made from not one but two different deans that were met with inaction. Moreover, it was never clear why these individuals touted as social scientists and evidence-based scholars were creating and circulating rumors, particularly about an early career colleague? What are adults, some of whom are more than twice my age, doing repeating rumors? How is it in any university leader’s job description to circulate rumors? Additionally, I never received answers about how the circulation of unfounded rumors ultimately impacts me when it is time for me to be reviewed.

*It is worth noting that the individuals that were particularly heinous to me during my time at the SOE (Drs. Greg Duncan, Beth van Es, and Stephanie Reich) are not captured explicitly in these examples. I note this because true to its form, academic mobbing and bullying often protects most lead perpetrators.

These spaces will publicly pretend they have not been mobbing and bullying you.

Dr. Aebersold kindly shared with me responses she received after she submitted concerns to university officials in the after-math of the first rumor-gate. So why in recent comments to these blogs has the University of California, Irvine elected to forget that its own top officials had been made aware of and even commented on documented experiences of me being harassed, mobbed and bullied in correspondence as far back as several years ago?

So when Dr. Douglas Haynes commented on this, was he doing so publicly or personally? How is it then when someone else boldly corroborates the very realities university officials have been made aware of for years and even commented on; that same reality is contested by other officials hoping to erase it?

They will do everything to control how others see you.

It has been pivotal for these people to situate me as the problem for the purpose of serving their agenda. A common theme across many rumors and forms of harassment was to label me or my presence as scary, terrifying, and threatening; when in reality those are the very adjectives that describe behaviors I was subjected to on a daily basis. Even when others stood up for me and demanded better (even in instances when I said nothing), I was spoken of by these spaces and bloggers as scary or an aggressor. (While it may feel as though these people have power to define you and ruin you, they don’t have anything but the hope that you believe they can).

During my first review as a faculty member, I received an erroneous statement in my review letter that raised immediate questions about the soundness of the process and also how rumor-gate number one was serving its purpose. The statement placed in the teaching section of my review letter is as follows:

“The student reviewers did raise some concerns that could be addressed in future teaching period, such as occasional discomfort that arose for students who asked questions and received what they felt to be dismissive or negative responses.

I was told that my only recourse was to write a rebuttal letter stating why the statement needs to be removed from my review file letter, even though they also said the statement would not be removed. So on top of me having to waste time attending to rumors, teaching multiple classes in one, I also had to do things like write a rebuttal letter because an unfounded statement about my teaching was placed in that review letter as well.

Here are just a few of many open-ended comments from my Fall 2018 qualitative methods course evaluation that not only refute this but also illumine the School of Education’s attempt to erase serious issues raised about its culture and climate:

“In an example of how student-centered Prof Iloh is, she took the time to restructure her course to teacher us epistemology …which should have been covered in our 222 course in Fall. This put undue burden on her but she knew how important it was in our development as scholars. I cannot thank her enough for teaching this to us.”

“The School of Education is LUCKY to have someone like Dr. Iloh. As the first black woman to ever be hired, her presence for doctoral students of color is very important. I think Dr. Iloh provides so much knowledge, not only in her work, but also as a woman from a minoritized community. As a black professor, she does an amazing job in teaching a course that many students within the cohort do not value (and the school). Moreover, Dr. Iloh did an amazing job in answering disrespectful questions and putting up with very disrespectful students who talked while she was teaching. Students in this class position themselves very differently than they did in other courses. It is obvious that Dr. Iloh has to put up with unnecessary comments and behavior that other White faculty do not deal with. Moreover, this highlights the extra work that people of color constantly have to do in academic settings….Additionally, Dr. Iloh had to change the format of the class in order to teach us philosophical assumptions that the epistemology course failed to teach us….This puts a lot of pressure on the faculty that do teach a class such as this one. Moreover, when the SOE fails to prioritize the needs of a qualitative course, you are sending students a bigger message. For one, those of us who do qualitative work are aware that the SOE does not prioritize this and that we have to work harder to receive qualitative training elsewhere, which will likely mean that our time within the program will likely take longer than 5 years. Secondly, it sends the message that research on minoritized community that is intended to humanize them is not as valuable because in order to do work that humanizes them is typically through qualitative work.”

“Wow! Dr. Iloh is a powerhouse professor. She clearly is an expert in the area of qualitative methods and her mastery of the content was evident. Dr. Iloh is not just well versed in the content of this course though, she is also a skillful professor deeply concerned with student learning. She provided feedback on assignments that was both helpful and thorough, she was accessible to students outside of class and encouraged us all to visit her during office hours, and she was deeply in tune with student’s needs, even adjusting one day’s lecture on the spot when it was clear something was not covered in our Epistemologies course last quarter. The class was designed in an engaging way, with lively discussion and hands on application activities that made the methodologies come to life. I felt like I learned a great deal during this course and had my passion for qualitative research ignited, thanks to Dr. Iloh.”

“Dr. Iloh is an incredible, engaging, and effective instructor. I was disheartened at some of the harmful comments that were made by some of the students in this class. This is something that was consistently an issue throughout the quarter. In this class, we had students denying white privilege, insinuating that faculty of color lie about discrimination that they face, students claiming that many homeless people chose to be homeless, students making prejudice comments about black students, students making inappropriate comments about people’s weight, and many other harmful comments. Dr. Iloh did a good job of challenging students thinking respectfully and maintaining professionalism. However, I do not think that our faculty of color should have to endure this kind of treatment, which is largely a result of the SOE school climate. These norms are harmful to our faculty of color and all students who feel passionately about equity and inclusivity. The SOE should take a more active role in improving our racial school climate and creating more inclusive and respectful environments. Students in this class also highlighted the way other students and faculty at UCI SOE disparage qualitative work. This is unfortunate because qualitative research plays a crucial role in promoting educational equity. Some of these negative sentiments were evident in the way some students interacted with Dr. Iloh. I hope that our school can work towards improving the treatment of faculty of color and qualitative researchers.”

“It concerns me that I feel the school places low value on qualitative methods vis-a-vis quantitative. This especially concerns me as I feel that qualitative methods are the most appropriate way to do research with communities and people who have often been portrayed with a deficit view in research. This should be a three-quarter long course in order for us to get to the depth that we need to be well-equipped in qualitative methods. That Professor Iloh was not provided a TA for this course is ridiculous. I also noticed that Professor Iloh had to field questions and comments that felt more like challenges, something I have not seen students do with white professors (particularly males). It was disturbing because it sends messaging that makes faculty and my cohort mates who come from minoritized communities feel less valued despite their fantastic and important work.”

Who benefits from ignoring: how poorly I was treated, epistemic violence, misogynoir, and the additional work I was doing in the classroom context?

Here is an excerpt from my three-page rebuttal letter to the statement:

First, the word dismissive does not appear anywhere in this evaluation and the word negative is actually used to describe how I was disrespectfully treated by students in class by a reviewer.

This begs the question why and how dismissive and negative were the optimal words of choice. These words also seem to contradict not only this evaluation but the one before it. In this qualitative methods course under review, multiple student reviewers described me as student-centered and even also detailed in multiple open-ended sections how I rearranged a class session that day to teach and answer questions students had about epistemology, axiology, ontology, as well as philosophy and paradigms (topics not covered in a previous course actually on epistemologies). The most critical comment utilized “defensive” twice which actually aligns with how someone would perceive a professor teaching a course and methodological tradition disparaged in the class/department; with readings and content itself that encourages examination of one’s scholarly positioning and identity in addition to addressing race/gender/class, but also a space where harmful comments (particularly those that are prejudiced, racist, sexist, classist, and even fatphobic (see a student comment at end of appendix for example) and behavior can be consistently displayed and enabled in broader school culture. It is questionable and concerning how one can be “dismissive” to student questions (a word not even used in the evaluation) while being receptive, attentive, and responsive in all these ways in this review and the other. Usage of the words dismissive and negative are a continuation of the same faulty foundation and problematic statement.

The statement also normalizes the ways my extensive labor, particularly as both a young Black woman, qualitative scholar, and educator committed to providing a world-class education can consistently be exploited (teaching a course already socialized as “not important” each day with zeal, energy, and enthusiasm to teaching content not taught by other professors such as epistemology philosophy/paradigms …or being requested by students/lab to teach a special workshop about qualitative memos and notes which was attended by a packed room of undergraduates, graduate students, and education faculty)…while simultaneously having my work not reported truthfully in statements in a merit review letter. This also highlights separate and inequitable evaluation standards.

Many student comments went even beyond the course itself in remarks and aimed to hold the school accountable as a site and enabler of what was described in evaluation. “Dr. Iloh did a good job of challenging students thinking respectfully and maintaining professionalism. However, I do not think that our faculty of color should have to endure this kind of treatment, which is largely a result of the SOE school climate. These norms are harmful to our faculty of color and all students who feel passionately about equity and inclusivity.… I hope that our school can work towards improving the treatment of faculty of color and qualitative researchers.”

This reality addressed in many comments directed to the School of Education was also not accounted for anywhere in this merit review letter. In a correspondence with a leadership official months before even submitting materials, I stated the importance of the School of Education no longer having any oversight over the advancement and details of my career for reasons such as this. Ironically, the statement I have had to take time to address is not only inaccurate as addressed above, it invites more unwarranted justification and lack of accountability for constant student/faculty/leadership mistreatment, bullying, maligning, sabotage, retaliation, and unjust scrutiny and surveillance at my expense. I hope someone will finally help after reading this.

Each time others or myself raised concerns about culture, climate, and behaviors towards me in the School of Education and its repeated negligence of it; the retaliation, attempts to discredit me, and hostility only intensified.

They will look for anything that will stick.

Academic mobbing and bullying will stop at nothing to find something to harm a target. I was, amongst so many other things, summoned to meet with the academic integrity office, after an “anonymous source” demanded the office investigate all the spending in any of my research grants and all my articles for plagiarism.

When meeting with them, it became clear this “anonymous” party and their complaints was a hit job. During the meeting, the woman told me, “Even if you know who is responsible for these complaints, you can’t retaliate against them.” I wondered why such an odd statement would be made if the “whistleblower” was supposed to be “anonymous.” What saddens me particularly about academic mobbing and bullying is that caution against retaliation is actually only used to protect the mobbers and bullies themselves.

Unironically, I also had started getting emails from journals of which they received correspondence demanding the articles be retracted. In the case of the Harvard Educational Review, they would FedEx me correspondence and not email.

Who would be telling journals to retract my articles, rather than just investigate them? Who would be invested in that outcome? Why would a university who now had multiple incidents to reference of me being targeted by faculty within the School of Education somehow only be interested in “the source” not being retaliated against?

I realized that I was dealing with an evil that had no expiration. I also realized in all these grievances enacted against me, the only person UCI investigated was me. At this point, my UCI experience was akin to a bunch of people jumping me and as soon as I looked up, more people were being recruited to jump me. It was my teaching, service, scholarship, and overall existence that was constantly attacked and I did not (nor should anyone) have the bandwidth to deal with this all at once.

Academic bullies and mobbers desire that their continuum of mobbing and bullying only register at most as coincidences and that targets feel powerless to address schemes to bring them harassment and harm. The asking for my records later on was not coincidental. I recognize that the sustained campaigns against me also had everything to do with who I was and who was against me.

These spaces need you to be their deviant clickbait.

The criticism from a particular outlet was to garner attention, create an ad hominem attack, and produce lasting condemnation. Despite these efforts to discredit me, my scholarship has continued to reflect favorable impact. My most widely accessed and popular paper to date, “Do it for the Culture: The Case for Memes in Qualitative Research,” was published after the outlet in question not only wrote one but two posts about me. Who benefits from me being consistently written about in that manner, despite now being separated from UCI for years and garnering more success? What space would be advantaged by people believing that all I will ever be is what they say I am?

They will also repackage the issue so they can still find some way to use you as their clickbait. Now that the failed scholar trope won’t hold, there will be a newly manufactured reason for this hit job. Even though we are talking about articles from as far back as 2017, now my standing up for myself as to not be violated again is an affront to public records (new clickbait direction).

It is also peculiar why there is not even a semblance or the performance of balanced reporting from these spaces. Just as a different example, there were no corrections to any section that pertains to the Iloh Model of College-going Decisions and Trajectories in my Harvard Educational Review paper. The only corrections made were to the literature review and no single area of my actual model, which is itself the majority of the article. Who does it benefit for me to be viewed in one broad stroke as a plagiarist and name drop that conceptual framework in doing so?

Whose significance and legacy depends on this inept storytelling?

Why are so many people in positions of power punching down on one person?

I am curious to know which outlets illumine the types of racism, bullying, and mobbing this very article today reflects.

They will absolutely retaliate and in ways you have no means to fight back.

While retaliation is obvious throughout my UCI experience, it is also evident in my deciding to leave. In taking inventory of the horror that was being a postdoctoctoral fellow and assistant professor there, I knew it was impossible for me to remain there under those conditions. On March 23RD, 2021, I submitted a letter of resignation sent to Diane O’Dowd, the then Vice Provost of Academic Personnel. As you can see from this letter, I did not just resign. I also detailed specifically why I did.

There was no email about UCI’s collection of my records to send to the outlet in question until March 30th, 2021; after I submitted this letter of resignation. Specifically, it was only until I resigned from the University of California, Irvine and cited those reasons, that they rushed to give my records.

Please make no mistake about it that these spaces prey on you not having the legal and financial resources to address any of what they put in motion. Who can secure the resources to help them make sense of and fight what was cultivated by academic mobbing and bullying in the same space?

I had always maintained that I should have the right to make sure I am no longer violated by this institution, especially after the fact that I had to correct the UCI Public Records Office when they attempted in my case to release someone’s emails that did not even fall under the date parameters (see below):

It is concerning that I as someone who did not even work in that office had to point this out for them. Why would a person not want to ensure they have secured help and are being appropriately handled in a space that was literally mishandling them and had done so historically as well?

The records of mine that were sought to further harass and attack me, I have also attached here: https://www.constanceiloh.com/mobbingandbullying

The pervasive attacks are set in motion to drain you, derail you, degrade your health, and put you in a place of fear and hopelessness

You will see from my myriad of examples, them coming after my appearance, teaching, and scholarship were just some of the attacks, and far from the last. For example, I had to spend approximately one year of the multiple years since I resigned from UC Irvine trying to remove a Google Scholar page created to impersonate me by individual(s) at UC Irvine (after I left the university). This is concrete indication of an attack coming from a member within the University of California because only someone with a verified UCI email could create and verify that fake page. I was given every excuse by UCI and its Office of Information Technology, including that one of my advisees likely created it (even though I had no advisees throughout my whole last year of employment and certainly none after).

Not only did I have to send countless communication to Google, I had to engage a university I wanted nothing to do with.

Here are some questions:

Who would be invested in using a UCI email to create and verify a counterfeit Google Scholar page to impersonate me online? Why was such an effort made to link myself and my scholarly identity to an institution to which I do not work?

Whose court case, cause, and clickbait needs would be served in keeping me linked and attached to the University of California, Irvine?

Who would get to continue their campaign of harassment by disabling me from being correctly represented and affiliated as a scholar online, particularly by creating an impersonating account I have no way of myself deleting?

Unsurprisingly, not a single official at UCI did anything about this, even though California law does not protect online identity impersonation used to “cause harm to that other person or to improperly gain a benefit (California Penal Code Section 529 PC).”

No one was supposed to know that someone within UC Irvine was engaged in this behavior in support of the outlets in question.

True to how academic mobbing and bullying works, I had to spend time researching and acting on what recourse I could take against the “person and/or persons” impersonating me online. In addition to this, I also had to spend time contacting the authorities when multiple threats were made on my life and also to seek removal of multiple newly created accounts that doxed my address. In all this, I know that perpetrators needed me to feel as though the reach and magnitude of their harm would never be broken.

I hope that from the sharing of my experience, others are better able to identify and/or share their experiences of the same nature. For all the spaces that wanted and needed me to be silent, I am grateful that through my story for the first time you will actually have to be asked, where has your integrity been all this time? What public mission was reflected in the years the University of California allowed me to be severely discriminated against, harassed, mobbed, and bullied by its own leaders, faculty, and their accomplices? Ironically, in setting out to terrorize me, the outlets in question are now forever tied to an institution, school, and individuals that cannot be disconnected from these abuses and incivilities. I am relieved that people will have to contend with the reality that my case is not coincidental and that academia itself houses some of the most violent cultures and individuals hiding in plain sight.

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“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

Constance Iloh is an anthropologist, photographer, visual artist, and qualitative methodologist. She wrote the seminal , “Do it for the Culture: The Case for Memes in Qualitative Research.” Constance’s photography has been featured by Photo Vogue and NBC Los Angeles. Iloh was an exhibiting artist in the 2023, “Our Truths be Told” exhibition at Sovern. Constance was an invited luminary for SAGE methods, discussing, “Visual Arts, Photography, and Qualitative Research.” Constance Iloh is on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook, Blog, and YouTube.

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constance iloh

Constance Iloh is an anthropologist, qualitative methodologist, photographer, & visual artist. See more @ www.constanceiloh.com & www.constanceiloh.photography