Los Angeles, CA – A University of Southern California professor was placed on leave after students complained a Chinese word he used sounded like a racial slur.
The National Review reported that Greg Patton, a professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business, was put on leave after students complained.
Patton was giving a lecture on “filler words” which are terms like, “ums and errs,” according to the professor.
“If you have a lot of ‘ums and errs,’ this is culturally specific, so based on your native language,” Patton said in the online lecture. “Like in China, the common word is ‘that, that, that.’ So in China it might be ‘nèi ge, nèi ge, nèi ge.’”
Those three Chinese words sound similar to the N-word.
Students accused Patton of pronouncing the phrase like the N-word about five times in an email to the university administration, according to the National Review.
The email stated that the professor “offended all the black members of our class.”
The students complaining identified themselves as “Black MBA Candidates c/0 2020.” The students said they reached out to Chinese students who told them there were “appalled” by what they had heard.
The students’ email stated, “In addition, we have lived abroad in China and have taken Chinese language courses at several colleges and this phrase, clearly and precisely before instruction is always identified as a phonetic homonym and a racial derogatory term, and should be carefully used, especially in the context of speaking Chinese within the social context of the United States.”
The students said the professor was negligent and stopped the Zoom recording right before saying the word so it was a calculated act, according to The National Review.
The students’ email continued: “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.”
The National Review reported that the students said the situation “has impacted our ability to focus adequately on our studies.”
USC Dean Geoff Garrett apologized for the professor saying a Chinese word that sounds very similar to “a vile racial slur in English,” according to an Aug. 24 email, according to the National Review.
“I am deeply saddened by this disturbing episode that has caused such anguish and trauma,” Garrett said, according to the National Review.
Patton also apologized and said his pronunciation of the word came form his time spent in Shanghai.
“Given the difference in sounds, accent, context and language, I did not connect this in the moment to any English words and certainly not any racial slur,” Patton wrote, according to the National Review.
Another instructor is teaching the class while Patton is removed.
The USC website biography on Patton states, “Greg Patton is an expert in communication, interpersonal and leadership effectiveness. He has received numerous teaching awards, been ranked as one of the top teaching faculty at USC and helped USC Marshall achieve numerous #1 worldwide rankings for Communication and Leadership skill development. Professor Patton has extensive international experience, has trained, coached and mentored thousands of leaders worldwide, and created scores of successful leadership programs. He has advised on several hundred consulting engagements throughout the Pacific Rim, serves as a keynote speaker and has held more than twenty leadership positions in national and international organizations.”