The Daily Illini

Save universities from discrimination by respecting culture

By Daniel Jin, Columnist

Last week, two Chinese students were lectured for speaking their own language at Duke University. Professor Megan Neely noticed the two students speaking “loudly” in Chinese on the campus (after class) and she subsequently sent an email to every student in the department asking students not to speak Chinese.

She also added students who speak their native languages will be more likely to get a rejection when applying for higher degrees or internships.

It is unbelievable such discrimination could exist in the United States. We have to respect different cultures, including native languages.

Without that, America is no longer America.

Two hundred years ago, immigrants from many European countries established colonies that developed into what we now know as the United States. Since then, millions of immigrants have made their way to the U.S. from places all over the world. Simply put, our country itself is made up of immigrants.

For hundreds of years, the Spanish, French, Italian and Chinese languages have been used by Americans with different origins. People have been encouraged to speak their native languages even though they need to speak English for formal occasions. Language is the root of native cultures and it is precisely these different cultures that make our country more attractive and colorful.

Let’s say two Hispanic students (or any minority, for that matter) are speaking their native language in a department building at Duke; would Neely have sent an email to ask other Hispanic students not to speak Spanish? If so, I believe she would have quickly fired.

The logic is clear. Showing respect for native languages is a basic requirement for every citizen in the United States. If some students speak too loudly in Chinese, Neely should ask them to lower their volume instead of targeting the language itself. She intentionally missed the point and what she did was offensive to all minorities. She subsequently stepped down from her position as head of the master’s program at Duke but kept her job as an assistant professor of biostatistics.

It is also against the law to discriminate against these two Chinese students by native languages when they apply for jobs on campus.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “National origin discrimination involves treating people (applicants or employees) unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not).”

Meanwhile, it also claims that “it is unlawful to harass a person because of his or her national origin. Harassment can include, for example, offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s national origin, accent or ethnicity.”

Our University treasures and respects diversity. Every single one of us should be proud of our native languages and more importantly, protect our rights from being deprived.

As a student from China, I am happy to wish you all a Happy Lunar New Year with “新年快乐” — “Xin Nian Kuai Le.” 

Daniel is a graduate student in LAS.

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