In an email to students, a female professor made a request of immigrant pupils who attend the university. However, she was soon forced to step down from her position when the school determined that the message was undeniably “racist.”
Megan Neely procured a position as the director of graduate studies at the prestigious Duke University’s department of medicine. Of course, part of her job description included teaching the best and brightest medical students. However, the once-beloved professor couldn’t foresee her ultimate demise, which would come from a single accusation of racism.
After being contacted by two prominent colleagues regarding certain disappointing behavior by her students, Neely decided to send a warning to her pupils. What she believed was nothing more than a well-intentioned letter of concern for the success of her students turned out to offend some of the recipients.
In the email, Neely informed her Asian students that two faculty members who had interviewed some of the young men and women for internships had requested their headshots in an effort to identify them, NPR reports. She explained that the colleagues were hoping to exclude certain students that they had earlier heard speaking Chinese “VERY LOUDLY” in the student lounge, which they apparently found obnoxious.
“Both faculty members picked out a small group of first-year student who they observed speaking Chinese (in their words, VERY LOUDLY) in the student lounge/study areas,” Neely wrote. “Both faculty members replied that they wanted to write down the names so they could remember them if the students every interviewed for an internship or asked to work with them for a master’s project. They were disappointed that these students were not taking the opportunity to improve their English and were being so impolite as to have a conversation that not everyone on the floor could understand.”
Neely suggested that her Asian students speak in English “100% of the time” in order not to harm their chances at being hired by her strict colleagues. However, her advice wasn’t taken as the desperate concerns of a professor trying to secure her students’ futures but the racist demands of a white supremacist.
“To international students, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep these unintended consequences in mind when you choose to speak in Chinese in the building,” Neely warned. “That being said, I encourage you to commit to using English 100% of the time when you are in Hock or any other professional setting.”
Neely also forwarded the email to second-year students, pointing out that they are “currently applying for jobs.” Her email was taken not as a piece of optional advice but as the rantings of a racist.
Although Neely issued an immediate apology, she was promptly forced to resign for her “racist” request after “concerned students” submitted a petition to Duke officials, USA Today reports. The petition garnered more than 2,000 signatures of students demanding Neely’s termination.
Neely sent a follow-up email with an apology: “I deeply regret the hurt my email has caused.” She has “asked to step down” from her position as director of graduate studies for the master’s program, according to an email from Mary E. Klotman, dean of the Duke University School of Medicine.
Many accused Neely of racism and denounced her for forcing Chinese students to refrain from using their mother tongue, which she actually didn’t do. Still, the damage was done, and word of the professor spread to the front pages of Chinese media.
“This is utter racism,” said a man who identified himself as a Chinese citizen studying in the U.S. “Why didn’t she send emails to Indian and Latino students as well? They talk loudly in their own languages too!”
No good deed goes unpunished, and Neely would likely agree with that sentiment. Although she was allegedly only expressing concern that her students may be damaging their chances at a career opportunity, it was her own career that was damaged.