A community college professor in Oakland was put on leave after repeatedly asking a Vietnamese-American student to “Anglicize” her name because it sounds it “sounds like an insult in English.”
An email exchange between the student, Phuc Bui Diem Nguyen, and Matthew Hubbard, who teaches math at Laney College, went viral after it was posted to Instagram last week. And with good reason:
Laney College President Tammeil Gilkerson wrote in a statement that Hubbard had been put on leave. Though she did not mention him by name, she said that “we are aware of the allegations of racist and xenophobic messages from a faculty member at our college with a student about the pronunciation of their name.
“While our mission has been bold and unrelenting, we also recognize that our college and its community is a reflection of broader society and we must actively fight ignorance with education. We do not tolerate racism, discrimination or oppression of any kind,” the statement read.
Nguyen said she’d previously gone by the nickname “May,” but decided to begin her freshman year by using her legal name, which means “happiness blessing.”
“I was shook because growing up, they were problems with how to pronounce my name, but they would ask me how to pronounce my name,” she said, adding that Hubbard was “being an ignorant person and not trying to learn my name.”
In an interview with the New York Times, Hubbard said that another student in his class, whose last name was also Nguyen, had opted for a nickname. That student apparently inspired him to ask Nguyen to do the same:
“The first email was a mistake, and I made it thinking about another student willing to Anglicize,” Professor Hubbard said. “But it’s a big difference with someone doing it voluntarily and asking someone to do it. The second email is very offensive, and if I had waited eight hours, I would’ve written something very different.”