Dr. Greg Patton, who teaches at the Marshall School of Business, used the word “那个” (pronounced as “nà-ge” or “nèi-ge” depending on one’s dialect) in a graduate online class, which tackled pausing between ideas.
Dr. Patton explained that in China, “那个,” which literally translates to “that,” is used as a filler similar to “um” and “err” in English.
“If you have a lot of ‘ums and errs,’ this is culturally specific, so based on your native language. Like in China, the common word is ‘that, that, that.’ So in China it might be ‘nèi ge, nèi ge, nèi ge,” Dr. Patton told the Master of Business Administration class.
As it turned out, Dr. Patton’s use of the word offended Black students, who claimed that it affected their mental health.
In an email obtained by National Review, the students, identifying themselves as “Black MBA Candidates c/o 2022,” argued that the pronunciation of the word is “much different” than what Patton had described in class,” noting that it is “most commonly used with a pause in between both syllables.”
The group added that they have lived in China and taken Chinese language courses at various colleges, and the word was “clearly and precisely before instruction is always identified as a phonetic homonym and a racial derogatory term.” They stated that when “in the context of speaking Chinese within the social context of the United States,” it should be used more carefully.
They also claimed that it was a calculated move from the professor, who allegedly “conveniently stop[ped] the Zoom recording right before saying the word.”
“Our mental health has been affected,” the group wrote. “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.”
Dr. Patton’s faculty profile describes him as “an expert in communication, interpersonal and leadership effectiveness.” In light of the situation, he “agreed to take a short-term pause” amid a review, while a new instructor took over the class, according to Campus Reform.
“I am deeply saddened by this disturbing episode that has caused such anguish and trauma,” said Dean Geoff Garrett.
Dr. Patton, who has taught clinical business communication for a decade, apologized for using the term.
“The inclusion is part of a deep and sustained effort at inclusion as I have reached out to find and include many international, global, diverse, female, broad and inclusive leadership examples and illustrations to enhance communication and interpersonal skill in our global workplace.”
Dr. Patton added that his pronunciation of the word originates from the time he had spent in Shanghai.
“I have since learned there are regional differences, yet I have always heard and pronounced the word as ‘naaga’ rhyming with ‘dega.'”
USC is reportedly offering “supportive measures” to any member of the academic community who needs assistance. It maintained its commitment to “building a culture of respect and dignity where all members of our community can feel safe, supported, and can thrive.”
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