University of Southern California communications professor Greg Patton has been placed on leave for allegedly pronouncing a Chinese expression to intentionally sound like the n-word.

USC, N-Word, ProfessorFREDERIC J. BROWN / Getty Images

“Like in China the common word is ‘that’ — ‘that, that, that, that,’” he said while teaching to students on Zoom. “So in China it might be ‘nèi ge’ — ‘nèi ge, nèi ge, nèi ge.’ So there’s different words that you’ll hear in different countries, but they’re vocal disfluencies.”

Patton was speaking of a mandarin term which is pronounced (NAY-guh). A number of students felt Patton was intentionally trying to make the word sound closer to the n-word than it actually is. A recording of the moments in class circulated among the student body afterward.

Students in the class sent a letter to Marshall Dean Geoffrey Garrett regarding the incident.

“Our mental health has been affected,” the letter reads. “It is an uneasy feeling allowing him to have the power over our grades.

“We would rather not take his course than to endure the emotional exhaustion of carrying on with an instructor that disregards cultural diversity and sensitivities and by extension creates an unwelcome environment for us Black students,” they reportedly wrote.