Controversy over USC Professor for Using Chinese Expression

A USC Professor is under fire for using a Chinese expression that sounds like an English-language slur. The professor, who was suspended, came under fire from a group of students who wrote a letter and signed it by, “Black MBA candidates c/o 2022.” Professor Greg Patton of USC’s Marshall School of Business was teaching a ​communications class via Zoom call on August 20, according to the university. An online video recording of the call, which USC confirmed was authentic, shows Patton ​discussing the use of pauses while speaking, and giving an example of how Chinese ​speakers use filler words.

“In China, the common word is ‘that’ — that, that, that, that,” he said in the video, before using the equivalent Chinese term nei ge several times to demonstrate.

“Taking a break between ideas can help bring the audience in,” Patton said, according to a recording of one of the Zoom course sections and a transcription that appeared next to him on screen. “In China,” for instance, he continued, “the common pause word is ‘that that that.’ So in China it might be ne ga, ne ga, ne ga.

“The way we heard it in class was indicative of a much more hurtful word with tremendous implications for the Black community,” wrote the students, who identified themselves as Black M.B.A. Candidates c/o 2022. “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.”

“It is simply unacceptable for faculty to use words in class that can marginalize, hurt and harm the psychological safety of our students,” The dean of the business school wrote. 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.”

One petition for Patton’s reinstatement with thousands of signatures says, “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. It also dismisses the fact that Chinese is a real language and has its own pronunciations that have no relation to English.”

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