The University of Southern California is under fire after caving in to students’ demands that an instructor be punished for using a Chinese word that sounds like the n-word.
During a recent Zoom course, professor Greg Patton was teaching the class about filler words — those things we mumble when we are unsure what to say — and said that the Chinese word used to fill the space was the word for “that.”
“The way we heard it in class was indicative of a much more hurtful word with tremendous implications for the Black community,” a letter signed “Black MBA candidates c/o 2022” said. “There are over 10,000 characters in the Chinese written language and to use this phrase, a clear synonym with this derogatory N-Word term, is hurtful and unacceptable to our USC Marshall community. The negligence and disregard displayed by our professor was very clear in today’s class.”
The students claimed Patton pronounced the Chinese expression wrong and said he used it in a following class after he was asked by the students not to do so.
The students wrote that “We are burdened to fight with our existence in society, in the workplace, and in America. We should not be made to fight for our sense of peace and mental well-being at Marshall.”
Garrett swiftly removed Patton from the class.
“Professor Greg Patton repeated several times a Chinese word that sounds very similar to a vile racial slur in English,” Garrett wrote in a mass email. “Understandably, this caused great pain and upset among students, and for that I am deeply sorry.”
“It is simply unacceptable for faculty to use words in class that can marginalize, hurt and harm the psychological safety of our students,” he wrote.
Over 25,000 people have since signed a petition objecting to Patton’s dismissal.
“For him to be censored simply because a Chinese word sounds like an English pejorative term is a mistake and is not appropriate, especially given the educational setting,” the petition said.
One professor wrote: “I’m scared to death to teach in this environment. Any innocent phrase can be turned around on you.”
Another noted that “Faculty will have to walk on egg shells all the time — anyone can be accused of being a racist, bigoted, insensitive, biased, etc.”‘
“[I] fear that if things are left as they stand now, this will have a very chilling effect on the faculty,” one wrote, with another adding, “Makes me not want to teach.”
Twitter felt the shock waves of the incident
I’ll say this ten thousand times, but if anyone thinks they’re helping the cause of racial equality by engaging in absurd, over-the-top speech policing of innocent people, then they’re sadly mistaken. https://t.co/K5q5PN4jSy
— David French (@DavidAFrench) September 3, 2020
Has political correctness killed free speech on college campuses? https://t.co/XnnAFBcyN1
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) September 17, 2020
The @USCTrojans students should be expelled. They’ll never make it in business. Their reaction is also overtly racist: Chronicle of Higher Education on the Greg Patton / USC / “Neige” Matter – https://t.co/x9hWtuHgrD https://t.co/Nddbpe5k9q
— Oderint, dum mutuant (@NakatomiXmas) September 17, 2020
Matthew Simmons, a spokesperson for the business school, said that Patton wasn’t “suspended from teaching. He is taking a pause while another professor teaches that one course, but he continues to teach his others.”
Faculty, however, have a different opinion about what it means.
“After the initial shock, my overwhelming reaction now is simple: fear,” one professor wrote in the survey. “I feel fear for myself, for my colleagues, and frankly for students who run the risk of inadvertently trivializing the importance of the monumental reckoning on racial injustice that our country is, I hope, experiencing at long last.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.