Monday, September 7, 2020
USC Marshall has suspended a popular professor for using a common Chinese word that sounds like a racial slur. From the LA Times:
"A business professor at USC is no longer teaching his communications course after Black students complained that a Chinese-language example he used during class sounded like a racial slur and harmed their mental health.
Marshall School of Business professor Greg Patton was giving a Zoom lesson in his “Communication for Management” class on Aug. 20. The course, a three-week intensive, is part of the core requirements for first-year master’s of business administration students. . . .
That day’s lesson focused on building confidence and improving presentation skills, according to a class syllabus. When Patton, who is white, began discussing the use of filler words like “um” and “er” in speech, he offered an international example.
“Like in China the common word is ‘that’ — ‘that, that, that, that,’” he said, according to video recordings of the class circulated on social media. “So in China it might be ‘nèi ge’ — ‘nèi ge, nèi ge, nèi ge.’ So there’s different words that you’ll hear in different countries, but they’re vocal disfluencies.”
Patton was referring to 那个，which in Mandarin is commonly pronounced nèi ge (NAY-guh) or nà ge (NAH-guh). He was using the former pronunciation.
To some students, the word sounded like the N-word in English. The next day a group of Black master’s candidates in the class of 2022 wrote a letter to Marshall Dean Geoffrey Garrett. . . .
The students said their mental health had been affected and they were unable to focus on their studies.
“To expect that we will sit through two more weeks of this class, knowing that the professor lacks the tact, racial awareness and empathy to lead and teach an audience as diverse as ours is unacceptable,” they wrote.
Chinese speakers say the Mandarin word is widely used as a place filler like the English “um.”
The school reacted quickly and decisively:
"In an email to all MBA students on Aug. 24, Garrett said that Patton “repeated several times a Chinese word that sounds very similar to a vile racial slur in English.”
“Understandably, this caused great pain and upset among students, and for that I am deeply sorry,” Garrett wrote. “It is simply unacceptable for faculty to use such examples or language in class because they can marginalize and harm you and hurt your feelings of psychological safety. As a school, we must and we will do better.”
He said he would work with vice deans and other administrators to address any problems of bias, microaggressions or inequities.
In a statement, the school said . . . . We acknowledge the historical, cultural and harmful impact of racist language ... USC is committed to building a culture of respect and dignity where all members of our community can feel safe, supported, and can thrive,” the statement said."
"This week a group of nearly 100 USC alumni, most of whom are Chinese by ethnicity or nationality, wrote to the school’s administration in support of their professor, saying his use of the Mandarin word for “that” was accurate and “an entirely appropriate and quite effective illustration of the use of pauses.”
The alumni said they were “deeply disappointed that the spurious charge has the additional feature of casting insult toward the Chinese language, the most spoken in the world, and characterized it and its usage as vile.”