A professor has been suspended for using the Chinese word for the expression ‘um’ as it sounds like a racial slur.
While lecturing about the use of ‘filler words’ during an online class, Professor Greg Patton mentioned the Chinese word for ‘um’ which is ‘neige’ (pronounced nee-gah).
Professor Patton said during the virtual class at the University of Southern California: “If you have a lot of ‘ums and errs’… based on your native language, like in China, it might be nee-gah, nee-gah, nee-gah.”
Many students threatened to drop out of the class rather than “endure the emotional exhaustion of carrying on with an instructor that disregards cultural sensitivities,” adding: “Our mental health has been affected.”
But a mother of one of the students also said: “This is political wokeness gone mad. Professor Patton was teaching students about Chinese business culture and how the expression ‘nee-gah’ is often used as a pause in negotiations.”
The mother added: “It was nothing to do with the N-word and there was no context for what he said to be interpreted as racist. It is heartbreaking.
“A wonderful professor has been suspended and put through this. It’s outrageous.”
However, the university has backed the students. In said: “Recently a faculty member during class used a Chinese word that sounds similar to a vile racial slur in English. Understandably, this caused great pain and upset among students.
“We acknowledge the historical, cultural and harmful impact of racist language and offer supportive measures to any student, faculty or staff member who requests assistance.”
Prof. Patton had been placed on administrative leave ‘while we review the situation and take any appropriate next steps.’
Prof. Patton said he had been teaching the class for a decade and just tried to “include as many international, global, diverse, female, broad and inclusive leadership examples.”
He explained: “I have strived to best prepare students with real-world examples to make the class come alive. I did not connect this in the moment to any English words and certainly not any racial slur.”
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