A 14-year-old girl disproves a college professor's published theory on racism ... by Googling it.

14-year-old Rebecca Fried wasn't planning to destroy the career of a college professor.

She was just avoiding her homework. As kids do.

One night, Rebecca's father shared an interesting article with his kids, as he often would, in hopes of starting a conversation. This time, it was an academic paper by professor Richard Jensen about the history of Irish discrimination in America — specifically, about how that discrimination had (apparently) never actually happened.


Published in 2002 in the Journal of Social History, Jensen's " No Irish Need Apply: A Myth of Victimization" claimed that, contrary to popular belief, there had never been any recorded instances of newspaper ads or shop signs that said "No Irish need apply" (or "NINA" for short).

Photo by Pattie (not Paddy) via Flickr.

Something about the story struck a chord with Rebecca, and she turned to Google to satisfy her curiosity. Within hours, she'd discovered irrefutable photo proof that Jensen's article was wrong.

At first, Rebecca she thought she was just missing something.

How could a simple Google search disprove an entire academic paper?

There's no way it could have been that easy, right? Sure, there are some shady sources on the Internet. But she'd found the evidence in newspaper archives and libraries.

Image via Wikimedia Commons. Yes, it was that easy to find.

With her father's help, Rebecca reached out to Kerby Miller, a recently retired professor and Irish history scholar.

Miller believed that Jensen's claims were right in line with the anti-Irish propaganda that had spread in the aftermath of the Irish Civil War. In fact, Miller says that when he contacted Jensen after the paper was published, Jensen accused him of being an IRA terrorist due to the fact that Miller had married a Catholic woman.

And if you thought a Ph.D. like Jensen would be able to employ a better comeback than "Well, you must be a terrorist," you'd be wrong.

Photo by Cathal McNaughton/Getty Images

With Miller's help, Rebecca published her own academic rebuttal to Jensen's article.

Her article, titled "No Irish Need Deny: Evidence for the Historicity of NINA Restrictions in Advertisements and Signs," was published in the Oxford Journal of Social History on (fortuitously enough) July 4, 2015. Rebecca thanks Miller in her foreword for his guidance and notes, but as he told the Daily Beast, "She didn't need any help from me on what she did. I'd be surprised if she changed a single word."

And of course, Jensen had to defend himself.

When the news of Rebecca's publication hit IrishCentral.com, Jensen took to the comments section (the best place for serious academic discourse) to defend himself and get a few patronizing jabs in at his adolescent adversary.

The two went back and forth in the comments for a bit, with Rebecca showing her trademark maturity in her responses to him while also pointing out the central flaws in his thesis. Jensen, meanwhile, continued to insist that "No Irish need apply" was the result of mass delusion. But Rebecca rightly pointed out that the burden of proof should lay with him rather than on the collective cultural memory of an entire nation.

Not only did Jensen get the last word in in the comments section (because of course he did), but he's since published a formal rebuttal to her rebuttal as well (because of course he did).

GIF from "In Bruges."

Rebecca's paper shows what we can learn from history and how it's applicable even today.

Did you know that Frederick Douglass wrote in 1846, "No people on the face of the earth have been more relentlessly persecuted and oppressed on account of race and religion, than the Irish people?" (He then went on to say that the Irish are also a bunch of violent drunkards responsible for their own plight. WHOOPS.)

Or did you know that the Irish weren't even considered "white" until the last hundred years? So while you probably won't witness much Irish racism in 2015, the reverberations from that suffering surely still exist.

An actual illustration from a 19th-century scholarly text. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This fascinating history of discrimination — and of people like Jensen trying to deny it — isn't just relevant to the Irish. It's the classic idea of “those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat it." And it applies in more ways than one.

We all know about the discrimination that many groups of people have endured throughout history. The Holocaust and slavery in America are the obvious examples that come to mind; there's also the Tutsi and the Armenians and indigenous Americans and the #BlackLivesMatter movement happening right now and — I could go on, but I'm gonna stop there before I get too depressed. The point is: It would be wrong to deny the existence of any of these atrocities. Doing so would make us no better than Jensen.

By re-writing (or flat out denying) the shameful facts of discrimination, past or present, we make it easier for the same suffering to happen again and again.

Here's the real "Matrix"-level lesson-within-a-lesson: Being on the right side of history means not denying oppression in the now, as it continues to happen all around us. If instead we study the details of those past struggles, it might help illuminate some important truths about class, race, and power dynamics in the modern world.

In the meantime, we hope that Rebecca can survive the most oppressive part of human history: freshman year of high school.

Good luck, Rebecca. You're gonna need it.

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!