Friends and former colleagues of Rachel Dolezal find the allegations regarding her race to be "confusing" and a "real pity"

By Michael Miller
June 12, 2015 07:55 PM
Nicholas K. Geranios/AP

For Rachel Dolezal’s friends and students, allegations that the prominent NAACP leader has been lying about being African-American are hard to understand.

“I’m just confused by the whole thing,” Elizabeth Phillips, one of Dolezal’s African American studies students at Eastern Washington University, tells PEOPLE.

“I thought she was mixed,” Phillips explains. “She said her dad was black and her mom was white that’s kind of a big thing to lie about.”

Phillips also remembers Dolezal telling the class that “Her stepdad, who was white, used to be very abusive. He used to beat her siblings that were dark. She said her stepdad was the one that was hateful, but her real dad is black.”

However, Ruthanne Dolezal, Rachel’s mother, told the Spokane Spokesman-Review on Friday that her 37-year-old daughter is not mixed race, and only started to “disguise herself” after her family adopted four African-American children.

Looking back on her experience with her former teacher, Phillips – who herself is half African-American – says that there were “just tiny little things I kind of questioned” pertaining to Dolezal’s race.

For example, Phillips remembers “she’d bring something [to class] that wasn’t a part of a black culture … or just the way she’d talk about certain things, it just wasn’t something a black person would eat or say.”

While Phillips admits she finds some of Dolezal’s actions to be “kind of offensive,” she says, “I don’t hate her. I think she’s a great person. She just needs to be comfortable in her own skin.”

Phillips adds that after seeing Dolezal doing “so much for the community it’s sad to see people tearing her down.”

Kyle Farmby, a friend and colleague of Dolezal, agrees that attacks on the NAACP leader are a “real pity.”

Farby, who had Dolezal write a chapter in his book The War on Poverty: A Retrospective tells PEOPLE, “My gut reaction is that this is kind of silly.”

He adds, “Truth told, my perspective is if someone takes a stand for people who are at the margins, I really don’t care who they are or what they look like.”

As for whether Dolezal ever told the author that she was African-American, he says the subject of her race “never came up.”

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