Having a name that’s difficult to pronounce in English has its challenges. It means a lot of awkward mispronunciations, nicknames, and hurried apologies. Trust me, I know. However, just because somebody has a foreign name is no reason to ask them to change it.

Vietnamese student Phuc Bui Diem Nguyen says she became the victim of discrimination when a professor from Laney College in Oakland, California told her to “Anglicize” her name. The reason? Mathematics professor Matthew Hubbard believed that freshman Phuc Bui’s name sounded like an insult in English—‘f*** boy.’

The student’s sister shared the email exchange that happened between her and the professor on Instagram and it went viral. According to The New York Times, professor Hubbard was put on leave soon after the emails were made public.

A math professor from Laney College in Oakland, California, was suspended after he asked a Vietnamese student to “Anglicize” her name

Image credits: diemquyynh

Image credits: diemquyynh

Image credits: diemquyynh

The student’s sister made the emails sent by the professor public on her Instagram account

Image credits: diemquyynh

Image credits: diemquyynh

 

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The community college released an official statement

Image credits: diemquyynh

The first email exchange between Hubbard and Phuc Bui happened on Wednesday, June 17. Phuc Bui explicitly told her math professor that she would file a complaint with the community college’s Title IX office if he couldn’t call her by her real name.

President of Laney College, Tammeil Gilkerson, called the incident “disturbing” in a statement released on Thursday. According to her, the professor was placed on administrative leave while an investigation is being conducted.

“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,” Gilkerson said.

Laney College has a large Asian student population. 16k students study at this Oakland community college and 29 percent of them are of Asian descent.

Phuc Bui said in a Zoom interview with KGO-TV on Friday that she used to go by her nickname—May. However, after years and years of using this nickname, she wanted to use her real name which means “happiness blessing.” She added that when she had been unaware of what the word “Anglicize” meant until she asked her friend what it meant after she received the email from her professor.

The professor apologized on Saturday

On Saturday, Hubbard apologized on his Twitter account which has since been deleted. “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 wrote in his apology.

He admitted to The New York Times that sending out those emails was a mistake and added that there were two people in his online trigonometry class with the last name Nguyen. Since the other person with the same surname changed their online name, Hubbard said that he thought he’d ask Phuc Bui to do the same.

“The first email was a mistake, and I made it thinking about another student willing to Anglicize. 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,” he said.

Here’s how people reacted to the incident

Some people said that the professor had a point, even though he handled things very, very badly