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USC Marshall Prof Replaced After Using A Chinese Term That Sounds Similar To The N-Word

USC Marshall’s campus. USC photo

THE EMAIL FROM USC MARSHALL STUDENTS 

Good morning esteemed Marshall Administration and Staff,

It is with heavy hearts that we write this letter only four days into our USC Marshall MBA journey as we are very displeased with Dr. Greg Patton. Yesterday, August 20th in all of our GSBA 542 core classes, he made use of the Chinese word “Na ge – 那个” and pronounced it as NIGGA consecutively approximately five times in every communication core class.

While he was using the words as an illustration of filler words used the Chinese language, the way he pronounced the word was exactly like the word NIGGA and offended all the Black members of our class.

A couple of us reached out to our Chinese classmates as we were appalled by what we had just heard. It was confirmed that the pronunciation of this word is much different than what Professor Patton described in class. The word is most commonly used with a pause in between both syllables. In addition, we have lived abroad in China and have taken Chinese language courses at several colleges and this phrase, clearly and precisely before instruction is always identified as a phonetic homonym and a racial derogatory term, and should be carefully used, especially in the context of speaking Chinese within the social context of the United States.

The way we heard it in class was indicative of a much more hurtful word with tremendous implications for the Black community. 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.

To repeatedly use the word in each session and conveniently stop the zoom recording right before saying the word, then resume the zoom recording afterwards is puzzling to us, and makes it appear that his actions were calculated. In other words, he was aware of the grave and inappropriate nature of the example and purposefully chose to leave it out of his Zoom recording for the session. Several students during the lecture brought up this inappropriate use of Na-Ga, and in subsequent core courses he still used the same example. Adjusting to a full-time MBA workload and now having to deal with this burden of feeling uncomfortable in his course is a heavy load to carry so early in our time at Marshall. His disregard to the impact of his use of the Mandarin example on Black students also led us to believe this was not the first instance of using this thought-less comment. We are in disbelief that he can teach us Communication and be unaware of the power of his words.

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. And to expect that we will sit through two more weeks of this class, knowing that the professor lacks the tact, racial awareness and empathy to lead and teach an audience as diverse as ours is unacceptable. We should not be made to feel ignored and belittled in an institution that prides itself on being a “Family”. Thursday we were made to feel less than and we are only a week into our MBA journey. We are burdened to fight with our existence in society, in the workplace, and in America. We should not be made to fight for our sense of peace and mental well- being at Marshall.

The irony is that we have Diversity Training this morning. It seems to us that Diversity and Inclusion should be included in the Pre-Orientation on the FIRST day of orientation. Faculty and all students should be required to attend and participate to gain a better awareness of the collective struggle of black and minority perspectives. Our classmates are shocked and collectively we are in disbelief that you all would allow this to go on in this program. No matter what way you look at this, the word was said multiple times today in three different instances and has deeply affected us. In light of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the recent and continued collective protests and social awakening across the nation, we cannot let this stand.

We expect this situation to be addressed promptly as we do not take this lightly. We gladly await your response, in addition to a course of action as to how this situation will be remedied in order for us to move forward.

In solidarity
Black MBA Candidates c/o 2022

DEAN GEOFF GARRETT’S RESPONSE

Dear Full-Time MBA Class of 2022,

Last Thursday in your GSBA-542 classes, Professor Greg 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. It is simply unacceptable for faculty to use words in class that can marginalize, hurt and harm the psychological safety of our students. We must and we will do better.

Professor Marion Philadelphia, Chair of the Department of Business Communications, will take over teaching the remainder of GSBA-542, beginning tomorrow, Tuesday August 25.

Over the coming weeks and months, I have no higher priority than to work with Vice Dean Sharoni Little, Vice Dean Suh-Pyng Ku and the other members of the Marshall leadership team to identify and redress bias, microaggressions, inequities and all forms of systemic racism associated with anyone’s identity throughout our school. We each must grow and learn always to engage respectfully with one another while fostering and exemplifying the knowledge and skills needed to lead and shape our diverse and global world—such as courage, empathy, compassion, advocacy, collaboration, and integrity.

I am deeply saddened by this disturbing episode that has caused such anguish and trauma. What happened cannot be undone. But please know that Sharoni, Suh-Pyng and I along with the entire Full-Time MBA Program team are here to support each of you. We welcome the opportunity to have conversations with any of you individually.

Sincerely,

Geoff Garrett

Dean

PROFESSOR GREG PATTON’S LETTER TO SCHOOL LEADERSHIP

I would like to begin with another deep apology for the discomfort and pain that I have caused members of our Community. My intent has always been to provide a dynamic, diverse and supportive learning environment and I recently learned this has not always been the case.

Last Thursday, I integrated an international illustration presented and framed within a specific topical context in each of three MBA class sections. I have taught the course for ten years and the illustration was given to me by several international students several years back. 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.

The international example stems from common Chinese Language patterns and the example is the Chinese word for the word “that” which is an extremely common filler word in the Chinese language. At the time we were specifically discussion presentation fillers and language differences. I have since learned there are regional differences, yet I have always heard and pronounced the word as “naaga” rhyming with “dega.” The transcript of the session records the pronunciation I made as “naga.” My experience is from years in Shanghai, having not taken language courses. Given the difference in sounds, accent, context and language, I did not connect this in the moment to any English words and certainly not any racial slur.

A student reached out to me after my third class session of the day suggesting others may be uncomfortable with the illustration. I immediately reached out to her and then a second students and we began to work on finding a replacement. Fortunately, that day we had also previously scheduled confidential, on-line mid-term course evaluations and I went into the results to further investigate.

Among the student feedback from the three sections were three comments that reference the particular illustration. When I read them, my heart dropped, and I have felt terrible ever since. I have tried so hard to deeply support every student at Marshall and to make them feel welcome and valued and seen. And it was clear in their writing that they were hurt and disturbed by the example.

I reached out to the entire Program in an email to draw attention to the issue and apologize for the discomfort. The next morning I also showed up in person before the entire Class to again apologize, recognize the hurt and begin to find a better way for the future. And I was willing to look at whatever I could do, personally and organizationally, to help the students and their classmates heal.

I very recently learned that there may have been students in previous classes who experienced varying degree of discomfort with the same international illustration. I had not realized this negativity previously or I would have replaced the example as we now have. I also apologize for not knowing and for any pain this may have causes.

Unfortunately, messages have circulated that suggest ill intent, extensive previous knowledge, inaccurate events and these are factually inaccurate. Fortunate we have transcripts, audio, video, tracking of messages and a 25-year record. I have strived to best prepare students with Global, real-world and applied examples and illustrations to make the class content come alive and bring diverse voices, situations and experiences into the classroom. This particular international illustration is a class example I have received positive feedback when presenting in the past. Yet, I failed to realize all the many different additional ways that a particular example may be heard across audiences members based on their own lived experiences and that it my fault.

The international illustration was provided by previous SC students and is from their lived experience in the Chinese culture and is extremely common in Chinese language. I have since learned the harsh critique of the illustration has also been felt by some in their community as yet another attack on their language and culture and it would never be my intent to bring about ill will towards any culture or society. Rather I believe we should be open to celebrate diverse voices and experiences of life. And I apologize for the negative attention.

While no derogatory or racial slur was or has even been used, and the example was framed as from China and in Chinese, and although my intent has been and always will be 100 positive towards every student, I recognize that I need to get better. And I will continue to learn from, partner with and grow together with my students in continually working to create a more perfect learning environment.

This is a year that has brought tremendous societal pain and a much broader and badly needed awakening to the long existing and deep inequities in social and economic justice. And there is a strong need for greater introspection and awareness by me and all of us to how we all view, frame and understand the experiences of each other across our society and in all our daily interactions. There are many wonderful examples of “Good Trouble” that have sprouted up across our society this year and I strongly support our students who wrote a letter to our administration this last week for giving voice to their thoughts and feeling to help ensure we learn, provide a strong focus to this important issue, and in my case, towards building my awareness and enabling me to get better by proactively expose a blind spot. And I continue to be committed to working to bring all of us closer in learning, sharing and understand our different life experiences.

As we move forward to build a better and stronger Marshall, I would ask the help of everyone to freely and openly share their experiences, feelings, ideas and suggestions for improvement in every course and with every faculty member, staff member, teammate and peer so that we can more fully understand each other, create greater value in learning about our many different experiences and make Marshall the best in the World.

Fight On!
Dr. Greg Patton

DON’T MISS: THE MBA LEADING THE FIGHT TO SAVE A BUSINESS SCHOOL DEAN or MARSHALL DEAN ELLIS: NO ANGER, JUST SADNESS BY A FIRING HE CONSIDERS UNJUST