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A professor in Oakland, Calif. is facing backlash after his email exchange with a Laney College student leaked online. In the exchange, Professor Matthew Hubbard asks a Vietnamese student to “anglicize” her name because it “sounds like an insult in English.”
In the email exchange, the professor tells the freshman, whose name is Phuc Bui Diem Nguyen, that he needs to address her by a different name because “your name in English sounds like F**k B**.”
When Nguyen replied explaining that the request was discriminatory, Hubbard said, “I understand you are offended, but you need to understand that your name is an offensive sound in my language.”
Firstly, Nguyen grew up in the U.S., so English is not exclusively the professor’s “language.” She had also been excited to start college so she could use her legal name after years of going by the nickname “May.”
Hubbard has since been suspended from the school. Laney College released a letter to the school community on June 18 that didn’t specifically name Hubbard but addressed “allegations of racist and xenophobic messages from faculty.”
In an Instagram post, Nguyen’s sister shared the exchange and wrote a lengthy caption about her disappointment in her sister’s first college experience, which quickly went viral.
“I’m disgusted and disappointed. Honestly, I really liked Laney college, but this teacher had the ignorance and audacity to tell my sister to anglicize her name is disgusting,” the post read. “I love that my parents want to keep my culture alive by keeping our Vietnamese name. If you can’t say it then ask.”
“I was shook because growing up, there were problems with how to pronounce my name, but they would ask me how to pronounce my name,” Nguyen told ABC13. “He’s being an ignorant person.”
In reality, when pronounced correctly, Phuc Bui does not sound like the insult. Phuc is pronounced like “f-oo-k,” but the “f” sound is similar to the sound in “pho” and the “k” is not enunciated. “Bui” is pronounced like “boo-ee.”
Additionally, in eastern Asian languages, names are written out very specifically. The traditional spelling of her name would be Nguyen Diem Phuc Bui — Nguyen being her family name, Diem being her middle name (occasionally this middle name in Vietnamese is taken from the mother’s side of the family) and Bui being her first name. Phuc is included in the name in case there is another Bui present, so she can either go by Phuc Bui or Bui.
Of course, the professor would know all of this had he asked Nguyen a single question instead of demanding she go by a different name.
“People should not be embarrassed of their name and they should be proud of their name,” Nyugen told ABC13. “I hope they’ll feel more comfortable using their real name rather than giving people a whitewash name.”
Don’t be ignorant like this professor. Educate yourself, starting with this personal essay by In The Know’s Justin Chan on what it’s like to be Asian American right now.
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