The student was on her second day of class when she received the email request.
6 min read
A college professor been placed on administrative leave following a racist incident where he refused to call a student by her given name and instructed her — twice — to “anglicize” her name.
Phuc Bui Diem Nguyen, a Vietnamese American freshman college student at Laney College in Oakland, California, was on her second day of classes and was looking forward to using her legal name after years of being called “May” when she received an abrupt email request from her trigonometry professor, Matthew Hubbard.
The request? Anglicize her name.
“I never heard that before,” said Nguyen in an interview with ABC News’ San Francisco station KGO. “At that moment I was surprised, so I Googled the meaning — I didn’t know what it meant so I called my best friend to ask him what does that mean?”
Hubbard even allegedly refered to her as “P-Nguyen” later on during a Zoom class.
“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,” says Nguyen.
Nguyen informed him via email that she felt his request was discriminatory and insisted that he refer to her by her birth name.
Hubbard responded to her request saying that she should “change [her name] to avoid embarrassment both on my part and on the part of the people who had to say it … I understand you are offended, but you need to understand your name is an offensive sound in my language.” He also included a couple of expletives in the email message that has been shared on social media by one of Nguyen’s friends further explaining his reasoning.
Laney College issued a statement not long after the exchange between Hubbard and Nguyen that acknowledges allegations of “racist and xenophobic messages from a faculty member” who is now on “administrative leave,” but did not name Hubbard specifically.
“On the surface this incident is obviously disturbing and comes after decades of discussing and working to combat structural racism, xenophobia, and violence in both the Black and Asian Pacific Islander community,” said Dr. Tammeil Gilkerson, president of Laney College, in a statement posted on the college’s website. “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 … We take these allegations seriously and immediately placed the faculty member on administrative leave pending an investigation.”
The uproar sparked Hubbard to post an apology on Twitter but, as of Sunday morning, he has taken his Twitter page down completely. Nguyen’s sister confirmed to KGO that Hubbard sent Nguyen an apology email as well though that has not been made public.
Nguyen said she spent time on Friday speaking with the vice president of Laney College and feels satisfied with the school’s response in spite of the “ignorant person not trying to learn her name” and that she still plans to use her legal name going forward, which in Vietnamese means “happiness blessing,” according to Nguyen.
“People should not be embarrassed of their name and they should be proud of their name,” Nguyen told KGO in an interview. “I hope they’ll feel more comfortable using their real name rather than using a whitewashed name.”