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Price addresses biostatistics email controversy in statement to Duke community

Friday evening, President Vincent Price and 35 other members of the University’s leadership sent an email to all students, faculty and staff, in response to a controversy that erupted last weekend after a director of graduate studies sent an email telling students to not speak Chinese in the building.

The email addressed the biostatistics department's controversy regarding Chinese-speaking masters students, as well as similar events that have recently occurred at Duke.

“Over the past year, we have experienced a series of events that have been exhausting and hurtful for many, most recently students from China who were criticized for using their native tongue in a social space,” the email stated. “These events are not restricted to one school or group—to a disturbing degree, they are widespread on our campus.”

The message came in response to an email sent by Megan Neely, assistant professor and former director of graduate studies for the Master of Biostatistics program, last weekend.

In her email, Neely told students that two faculty members had complained about students speaking Chinese “very loudly” and asked to write down their names, in case they applied to work with them in the future. Neely then urged students to speak only English on campus to avoid “unintended consequences” against their academic and professional endeavors. 

Controversy has erupted since the release of screenshots of the email, leading to major national news outlets covering the story, as well as Neely’s apology and resignation from her role as director. Neely remains on the faculty as an assistant professor of biostatistics and bioinformatics.

After reiterating Duke’s Statement of Diversity and Inclusion and affirming the importance of valuing the identities of everyone on campus, the email ended on a hopeful note.

“Our excellence is built on the experiences and perspectives of each person,” the email stated. “And all of us—leaders, students, faculty and staff—must hold ourselves accountable for strengthening this community so it lives up to its great promise.”

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