(OAKLAND, Calif.) — A professor at a San Francisco Bay Area community college has been put on leave after asking a Vietnamese-American student to “Anglicize” her name because it sounds like a vulgarity in English, school officials confirmed.
Laney College President Tammeil Gilkerson said that as soon as campus leaders learned of the comments, an unnamed faculty member was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, the East Bay Times reported.
Freshman Phuc Bui Diem Nguyen told KGO-TV last week that on her second day of classes at the college in Oakland, she received an email from her trigonometry professor, Matthew Hubbard, asking her to use a different name.
“On the surface this incident is obviously disturbing and comes after decades of discussing and working to combat structural racism, xenophobia, and violence” against the Black and Asian Pacific Islander community, Gilkerson said.
Hubbard said in an email to The Associated Press that he was sorry for his mistakes “and the pain they caused so many.” He declined to elaborate.
About 30 percent of the college’s more than 16,000 students are Asian-American.
Nguyen said people would ask how to pronounce her name when they didn’t know how while she was growing up. “He’s being an ignorant person and not trying to learn my name,” she said of the professor.
Emails exchanged between Hubbard and Nguyen shared on social media show Hubbard wrote to her saying her name “sounds like an insult in English.”
Nguyen responded that his request “feels discriminatory” and warned the professor she would file a complaint with the school if he refused to refer to her by her given birth name.
Hubbard wrote her back repeating the request, saying he would change his name if he lived in Vietnam and it was offensive. “I understand you are offended, but you need to understand your name is an offensive sound in my language,” he wrote.
After the emails went viral on social media Thursday, Hubbard tweeted an apology that read: “I apologize for my insensitive actions which caused pain and anger to my student, and which have now caused pain and anger to an untold number of people who read my two inappropriate emails on the internet.” He has since deleted his Twitter account.