American professor placed on leave for insulting Vietnamese name

By Phan Anh   June 20, 2020 | 04:00 am PT
American professor placed on leave for insulting Vietnamese name
A building of Laney College, U.S. Photo courtesy of Laney College.
A U.S. college professor is being investigated for requesting a Vietnamese student to anglicize her name, saying it "sounds like an insult."

Screenshots of an email thread between Professor Matthew Hubbard of Laney College and Phuc Bui Diem Nguyen, a student of Vietnamese heritage, began doing the online rounds earlier this week.

Hubbard requested Nguyen to anglicize her name.

"Could you Anglicize your name. Phuc Bui sounds like an insult in English." Hubbard wrote.

"Your request for me to ‘Anglicize’ my name feels discriminatory and I will move forward with filing a complaint with the Title IX Office if you cannot refer to me by my given name," Nguyen replied.

"Your name in English sounds like F*ck Boy. If I lived in Vietnam and my name in your language sounded like Eat a D*ck, I would change it to avoid embarrassment both on my part and on the part of the people who have to say it," Hubbard responded.

"I understand you are offended, but you need to understand your name is an offensive sound in my language," he wrote.

A screenshot of an email thread between professor Matthew Hubbard and student of Vietnamese heritage Phuc Bui Diem Nguyen.

A screenshot of an email thread between professor Matthew Hubbard and student Phuc Bui Diem Nguyen.

Title IX is a U.S. federal civil rights law that protects people from discrimination on the basis of sex in education and other federally funded activities.

Instagram account diemquyynh, who says she’s Nguyen’s sister and posted the screenshots, said she felt "disgusted and disappointed."

"Anglicized means to make English in form or character. As a professor, he should be trying to learn her name and culture and not try to whitewash her name," she wrote.

The thread gained much traction, going viral on social media and being picked up by publications around the world. The original diemquyynh Instagram post had received over 24.4k "hearts" and over 1.1k comments as of Saturday.

Many netizens felt that Hubbard’s request was discriminatory, and some of them shared their own stories of being discriminated against in similar fashion.

"If you don’t have a basic white name, do not make accommodations for people! Your name is part of your identity and if people want to have access to you they should do the bare minimum and learn how to pronounce it!" wrote Twitter account Eli.

"If they can pronounce Tchaikovsky and Dostoyevsky and Siobhan they can learn your names too," wrote Twitter account Professionally obnoxious.

Award-winning Vietnamese-American novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen also shared the story on his Facebook fanpage, saying many Vietnamese in the U.S. know the pain of being mocked because of their names.

"If names like Trump and Schwarzenneger and Obama and Kissinger have become American names, then all our Vietnamese names -- including Phuc Bui -- can be American names, too," he wrote.

On June 18, the president of Laney College, Tammeil Gilkerson, published a message on the school’s official website, saying the school was 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."

"We take these allegations seriously and immediately placed the faculty member on administrative leave pending an investigation."

While diemquyynh has not immediately responded for additional comments, Hubbard has told the press he would not comment during the ongoing investigation.

go to top