Los Angeles Times, Controversy Over USC Professor’s Use of Chinese Word That Sounds Like Racial Slur in English:
A business professor at USC is no longer teaching his communications course after Black students complained that a Chinese-language example he used during class sounded like a racial slur and harmed their mental health.
Marshall School of Business professor Greg Patton was giving a Zoom lesson in his “Communication for Management” class on Aug. 20. The course, a three-week intensive, is part of the core requirements for first-year master’s of business administration students.
Patton’s resume describes him as “an expert in communication, interpersonal and leadership effectiveness” who has taught and led programs in the Pacific Rim for more than 20 years.
That day’s lesson focused on building confidence and improving presentation skills, according to a class syllabus. When Patton, who is white, began discussing the use of filler words like “um” and “er” in speech, he offered an international example.
“Like in China the common word is ‘that’ — ‘that, that, that, that,’” he said, according to video recordings of the class circulated on social media. “So in China it might be ‘nèi ge’ — ‘nèi ge, nèi ge, nèi ge.’ So there’s different words that you’ll hear in different countries, but they’re vocal disfluencies.”
Patton was referring to 那个，which in Mandarin is commonly pronounced nèi ge (NAY-guh) or nà ge (NAH-guh). He was using the former pronunciation.
To some students, the word sounded like the N-word in English. The next day a group of Black master’s candidates in the class of 2022 wrote a letter to Marshall Dean Geoffrey Garrett. ... The students said their mental health had been affected and they were unable to focus on their studies. ...
In an email to all MBA students on Aug. 24, Garrett said that 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,” Garrett wrote. “It is simply unacceptable for faculty to use such examples or language in class because they can marginalize and harm you and hurt your feelings of psychological safety. As a school, we must and we will do better.” ... In a statement, the school said Patton “agreed to take a short-term pause” from teaching the course, and another instructor took over. Patton continues to teach his other courses. ...
This week a group of nearly 100 USC alumni, most of whom are Chinese by ethnicity or nationality, wrote to the school’s administration in support of their professor, saying his use of the Mandarin word for “that” was accurate and “an entirely appropriate and quite effective illustration of the use of pauses.”
Eugene Volokh (UCLA), If Employers Believe That Hearing the Mandarin "Neige" (Meaning "That") "Affect[s]" Black Students' "Mental Health, would they be likely to hire blacks for jobs in China, or anywhere where they might have to hear Mandarin?:
I wrote on Thursday about USC Business School professor Greg Patton (who, among other things, is a specialist on business in China) being taken out of his business communication course, and being replaced by a different professor. Prof. Patton's offense: In a discussion of "filler words," such as "um" and "er," he gave the Mandarin "neige" (literally, "that") as a foreign example—and he pronounced the word, as do many other Mandarin speakers, similarly to [n*****]. The word is apparently indeed used, routinely, as a filler word in Mandarin. ...
[T]he "Black MBA Candidates c/o 2022" letter demanding the action, and in particular this passage, actually risks harming the employment prospects of black students:
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. His careless comment has impacted our ability to focus adequately on our studies. ...
[I]s it really a good idea for organizations of black students to make assertions that, if believed, will make black graduates less appealing to many rational employers?