After emails from a graduate program director at Duke University telling international students not to speak Chinese in study lounges surfaced online Saturday, Duke has found itself facing national backlash.
On Friday afternoon, Megan Neely, then-director of Duke’s Master of Biostatistics program, emailed students and told them that two unnamed faculty members had asked to see photographs of first-year and second-year biostatistics students.
“Both faculty members picked out a small group of students who they observed speaking Chinese (in their words, VERY LOUDLY) in the student study/lounge areas,” Neely wrote in the email. “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."
This was not the first time Neely emailed students about speaking a language other than English in Hock Plaza, where the biostatistics department is located.
“Beyond the obvious opportunity to practice and perfect your English, speaking in your native language in the department may give faculty the impression that you are not trying to improve your English skills and not taking this opportunity seriously,” Neely wrote in a February 2018 email.
Neely stepped down as director of the graduate program Saturday, but remains in her role as an assistant professor, according to The Chronicle, Duke's student-run newspaper.
On Saturday, a group called Concerned Duke Students launched a petition for Duke to investigate Neely and the two unnamed faculty members Neely referenced in her email.
The group issued a statement about the petition, in which they said Don Taylor, a Duke public policy professor and member of the Academic Council, told the group the university’s Office of Institutional Equality “is opening an investigation of this matter and the department.”
UNC junior Joanna Zhang, who also takes classes at Duke, said she first saw the screenshots of Neely’s emails on Duke’s Facebook meme page. Zhang said she thought it was unreal, but despite her initial shock, she thought the content of the emails was unsurprising because of other experiences she has had at the university.