Why Kenny Jones’ HBCU Lies Cost More Than Just His Reputation

In the span of a few weeks, Jackson State University alumnus (maybe) Kenny Jones has gone from life as a sought-after speaker on Black Greek culture and LGBT advocacy, to fired from his job at the University of Pennsylvania and a black social media pariah. The alleged cause – for most of his academic and social career, he’s been lying about his letters, degrees and experiences at several HBCUs. 

Revelations following a recent appearance he made before Penn State University’s Pan-Hellenic council have unearthed uncomfortable truths for Jones and others. The PhD he earned from Morgan State, the dissertation defense of which UPenn researcher Marybeth Gasman called ‘breathtaking?’ He never earned it. 

Courtesy: Facebook
Courtesy: Facebook

The membership in Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. which he touted in his presentations and public profiles? He does have, just a little later than he originally claimed. From PSU student blog ‘Onward State,‘ which ran the original story about Jones’ appearance at PSU, and retracted the story after confirmations and admissions of Jones’ alleged lies. 

Onward State also received an email from the administrator of member records for the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. The email claims that there is no record of Jones ever being a candidate for membership of the Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. A fraternity record keeper in our comment section also verified this claim.

When presented with these inconsistencies, Jones admitted that he never received his PhD. He still claimed to be a member of the fraternity – “just not through that chapter” – and claimed he joined the fraternity after receiving his bachelor’s degree from Jackson State. This contradicts Jones’ speech yesterday, which centered around his fraternity experience as an undergraduate at Jackson State.

When people lie on resumes or in professional listings, it typically is an effort to stand out in an applicant pool. This was something different, a more regrettable, more despicable form of cultural appropriation that is more heinous than the kind introduced to the world last summer by Rachel Dolezal. 

Dolezal got caught in a web of cultural lies spun in tribute to black culture. She had little to gain from lying about her ethnicity beyond the escape it provided from personal problems which she tied to being white, and the affinity she developed for the struggle of American blackness. In many ways, if more white folks thought as she does, the nation would be much better off in the way of race relations. 

But Jones made a mockery of those elements of blackness which many of us hold most dear. Black folks who earn terminal degrees comprise a very proud, very respected cultural subgroup in our communities. And those who earn them from HBCUs are part of an elite group of professionals who commit their lives and careers to bear a badge of racial pride.

Those who are made in fraternities and sororities at HBCUs hold a unique distinction within those organizations, and whether that distinction is tied to hazing or not, there is a unique sense pride associated with initiation into organizations seated at black colleges, which were designed for the betterment of black students and black communities. 

Jones’ took all of that history, all of that pride, and slathered it on to a few resumes and emails to better himself. And when that lather worked, it seemed all too easy to mass produce it as slime to glaze his speeches and papers discussing his time as a maligned undergraduate experiencing both indignities and triumph at Jackson State; fake experiences which positioned him to be a unique expert on a taboo topic that, in truth, really is devoid of needed conversation throughout Black America.

He concocted stories about JSU’s Alpha Beta chapter and then snitched on its lineage through his fabricated lectures. He fictionalized his achievement as a Morgan Man, and used it to break into work and tutelage at one of the nation’s most highly-selective Ivy League institutions. In a way, his lies could almost be twisted as a subconscious case for HBCU culture – a testament to the culture existing on our campuses being so socially rich, so interpersonally fulfilling, so professionally competitive that people are wiling to lie about having them just to make it in America today. 

But because he is an HBCU graduate (maybe), and because this still is America, plenty of black folks will use his tragic example as a way to denigrate HBCUs and the experiences they help to foster. They will say “these are the kinds of students HBCUs let in, the kind who would falsify years of their own existence and achievements.”

Lying on your degree, typically, isn’t a matter of complete moral bankruptcy or needing Jesus; it is a way to make more money and have more important titles that usually gets out of hand after you’ve gotten both. Lying on your letters, typically, isn’t a sign of disrespect of an organization; it usually is an extraordinary infatuation with the lifestyle which creates the illusion that you’ll never get caught. 

But lying on HBCU culture, that place which creates the opportunity for degrees, letters and so much more for so many people, does more damage to our campuses than it would ever do to Jones or any other perpetrator with manufactured credentials. It sends the signal that our experiences can easily be counterfeited and sold to people, black and white, beyond our gates for profit and accolades. It would take a lot more nuance for some people to see past the lies and falsehoods to see that Jones, much like Dolezal, wanted to sell a unique brand of HBCU authenticity which he did not earn, and that he never considered the alternative ending; becoming little more than an HBCU-bred liar. 

But we’ll all probably digress, and chalk it up to the universal sentiment reserved for moments like this. 


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13 comments
  1. This is sad. As a graduate from a HBCU, this casts a very dim light on the graduates and universities. There are many who believe that HBCUs are no longer relevant. Mr. Jones should no better. With technology readily available, verification is more accessible. There is no need to lie because it all will be revealed.

    1. According to this article, if Mr. Jones successfully defended his dissertation research proposal, the question must be asked: 1) why wasn’t he awarded his doctorate degree if he ‘successfully defended? At most institutions, after a doctoral candidate successfully defends they probably have to make a few minor technical revisions and submit it to the School of Graduate Studies for additional review., 2) If the School of Graduate Studies notice certain inaccuracies within a written document(i.e., plagiarism, too many incorrect citations, etc.) that will stop anyone’s document from moving forward. If such is the case, I would venture in saying their respective Committee Members did not provide the appropriate due diligence., and 3) What occurred within his own Department to the Graduate School that needs to be explained by all involved parties.

      Regarding Mr. Jones fabricating his group membership is definitely unacceptable by any measure and I wouldn’t be surprised if that organization didn’t pursue legal actions for damaging their organizational brand. Thereby Mr. ‘Cheese’, no need to threaten him with physical violence because you’ll be standing in front of the Courts unnecessarily which will cost you time and your hard earned money. In reference to his former employer, UPENN, I know this storied institution will probably pursue legal action against Mr. Jones for numerous reasons.

      In close, it’s quite obvious Mr. Jones have a lot of internal psychological issues that need to be solved by him along with some professional counseling. I couldn’t even imagine the scores of students at Morgan State University along with the Morgan State University and UPENN professional staff respectively. As the author of this article stated, Mr. Jones definitely harmed the overall imagery of HBCUs.

      1. Several of us who have been discussing this incident have thought the same thing; how do you defend without walking or being hooded? You have presented some very likely scenarios, and I appreciate that.

  2. I would say that he and Rachel did the exact same thing…no exceptions that would give one a more positive light than the other. Also, what did Marybeth Gasman have to gain by keeping quiet on the matter, she did "have the pleasure of serving on his committee", she also works at the same of insitution of which he was employed. How did she benefit from his lies? she seemed to still support him in his lie of degree completion even after she knew he didn’t graduate. She writes about HBCUs with HBCU graduates, but never attended an HBCU. She identifies herself as an HBCU expert. Perhaps they are both delusional?

    1. This is actually a poor reflection on UPenn, not HBCUs…also, it won’t impact HBCUs, they still won’t and don’t hire us in significant numbers, that isnt going to change, and they still don’t respect our education. Let’s not pretend that things will change.

  3. Great write-up. My mind was blown when I read about this story last week. Dude straight up lied about when he got his letters and his HBCU experience. I have no respect for him at all. IF he does have some form of mental illness, I hope he gets the help me needs. If not, he really is a horrible person and he deserves all the hell he has been catching.

  4. This article is pretty ridiculous and far-fetched. Yes, lying is wrong. No, lying does not put the entire HBCU institution at risk. There are obviously unanswered questions here. He did defend and walk– there are photos and clear proof of this. So something else happened; something to which none of us are privy probably because its none of our damn business. Is it ever ok for to lie? What if we found out he just had outstanding fines? Is he a liar then? What if he never made final edits to his bibliography? Is he a liar then? This is way too nuanced for us to pass such grave judgment and crucify an otherwise well-loved and respected young man. If he really did lie simply to be accepted, add a more exciting angle to a public address, or to sound more impressive, it is unfortunate. However, I know I’ve lied about things in my life. I’m sure you have to. Its ugly to suggest that we are somehow better, he is somewhat degenerate and this is all so shocking and appalling. Comparing him to Dolezal is a cheap and easy jab. This article is haughty, overshot and condescending at best. Do better.

    1. So a couple of things. First, I don’t think I said that HBCUs are at risk because he lied. I said that for some folks, it adds to the negative stereotype which exists for HBCU culture about the kinds of students our schools admit and graduate. Second, if he didn’t receive his PhD, but listed and told everyone he did, what difference does it make about how he failed to complete the degree requirements? It is too nuanced to explain why there are multiple incidents of public and professional lying, but not too nuanced to have an opinion about what it means.

      Finally, the comparison to Dolezal appears to have struck a chord with you. But not the act of lying on your credentials and culture? Really?

      1. So you think that people now think HBCUs accept liars because of Kenny? And that ignorant people who disparage HBCUs now have some exciting new proof of their original claim, again all because of Kenny? Uh, ok.
        The nuanced point I was making was pointing to the fact that no one has the full story and yet are completely ok with jumping to resolute conclusions about him, like you. If you don’t see what is wrong with that then you’re part of a bigger problem of our society.
        Finally, if by struck a chord you mean I mentioned that comparing Kenny to Rachel was a lame and cheap shot you threw in with no merit then, again, uh, ok.

        1. This dude Kenny Jones is a liar. Period. You must be kin to him or something because your defense of him seems emotionally driven and illogical He was making money off his lies. If you do not have a PhD, DO NOT TELL FOLK YOU HAVE ONE. If he needed to pay fees or make edits to his reference pages, he should have done both of those things before telling folk he had a terminal degree. A lie is a lie regardless of why you tell it. Are you really defending a dude who knowingly made money based on falsified credentials?

    2. He will find a way to say that he is a victim again. If nothing else, at least nobody has heard from him in a week. It seemed that nobody could keep him from talking up to a week or so ago.

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