A US academic has been suspended from his university for using a Chinese word that sounds like an English racial slur
Professor Greg Patton was giving an online lecture about the use of “filler words” in an online class at the University of Southern California when he mentioned the Chinese expression “neige” (pronounced “nee-gah”).
He informed his students that in China people use this like English speakers use “um” and “er”.
A group of students threatened to withdraw from the class rather than “endure the emotional exhaustion of carrying on with an instructor who disregards cultural sensitivities”, adding: “Our mental health has been affected.”
But the night before last, the mother of a USC student 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.
“It is nothing to do with the English n-word and definitely not racist.”
But the university has backed the students, according to media reports.
In a grovelling apology, it 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.”
It said Patton had been placed on administrative leave “while we review the situation and take any appropriate steps”.
A source said Patton was “devastated” and consulting lawyers.
In an email, Patton explained he had been teaching the class for a decade without complaint.
He said he had been taught to pronounce the word in Shanghai, adding: “I have strived to best prepare students with real-world examples to make the class come alive. I did not connect this to any English words and certainly not any racial slur.”
There is currently no word on the emotional health of the affected students.