USC professor booted for using Chinese word students complained sounded like racial slur

by WorldTribune Staff, September 7, 2020

A communications professor at the University of Southern California (USC) was placed on leave after black students complained that their “mental health” had been “affected” by the professor’s pronunciation of a Chinese word that sounded too much like the N-word.

University of Southern California. / Creative Commons / CC-BY SA 3.0

Greg Patton, a professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business, was lecturing on the use of “filler words” in speech during a recent online class when he used the word in question, saying, “If you have a lot of ‘ums and errs,’ this is culturally specific, so based on your native language. Like in China, the common word is ‘that, that, that.’ So in China it might be ‘nèi ge, nèi ge, nèi ge.’ ”

In an email to USC administrators, the students wrote: “Our mental health has been affected. It is an uneasy feeling allowing him to have the power over our grades. We would rather not take his course than to endure the emotional exhaustion of carrying on with an instructor that disregards cultural diversity and sensitivities and by extension creates an unwelcome environment for us Black students.”

In an email obtained by National Review, Dean Geoff Garrett apologized for Patton’s alleged use of a “Chinese word that sounds very similar to a vile racial slur in English,” adding “understandably, this caused great pain and upset among students. I am deeply saddened by this disturbing episode that has caused such anguish and trauma.”

In an email to members of the USC Marshall Graduate Student Association Executive Board, Patton explained that he had been given the example by several international students years ago.

“The inclusion is part of a deep and sustained effort at inclusion as I have reached out to find and include many international, global, diverse, female, broad and inclusive leadership examples and illustrations to enhance communication and interpersonal skill in our global workplace,” Patton said.

“I have since learned there are regional differences, yet I have always heard and pronounced the word as ‘naaga’ rhyming with ‘dega,’ ” the professor wrote.

Many who viewed the video of Patton’s use of the word during the virtual class were astounded by what transpired.

“As someone who speaks Chinese, this is literally another language. No, my people did not think about how it sounded like the N-word when we created it thousands of years ago,” one commenter said.

Another said: “I consider myself a liberal and condemn racial discrimination. However, this professor did NOTHING WRONG! I speak Chinese/Cantonese myself. If this professor cannot show how Chinese people utter, ’em, uh,’ then the word ‘deal’ may not be taught in places that use Cantonese. The word ‘deal’ literally sounds like the F word in Cantonese! No reasonable Cantonese-speaking person would condemn an English-speaking [person] using the word ‘deal’ if the speaker is using it in its true meaning. If USC has other motives in firing this professor, they should be clear about it! SHAME ON YOU, USC, AND ALL THOSE STUDENTS WHO CONDEMN THIS PROFESSOR!”

Read Mercer Schuchardt, an Associate Professor of Communication at Wheaton College in Illinois, told

“This is indeed how bad it is getting across the educational spectrum.

“My own Wheaton College just quietly (this month) instituted a ‘Bias Incident Reporting Form’ in which individuals may anonymously snitch/complain/whine about other individuals without ever having to take responsibility for what they’ve alleged, and without their target ever having a chance to address or redress the issue. The form, created and sent out by the Chief Diversity Investment Officer, was originally sent to only females on campus. The form itself is a Bias Incident that should be reported on, because one of the questions it asks you is, ‘Did this incident make you feel distrustful of others?’ ”

In a statement to Campus Reform, USC officials said Patton “agreed to take a short term pause while we are reviewing to better understand the situation and to take any appropriate next steps.”

USC is “offering supportive measures to any student, faculty, or staff member who requests assistance” and is “committed to building a culture of respect and dignity where all members of our community can feel safe, supported, and can thrive,” Campus Reform added.

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