Chancellor Thomas L. Keon of Purdue University Northwest (PNW) has stirred outrage online for using a mock Asian accent during the school’s commencement ceremony on Dec. 10.
The incident took place during the school’s first of two commencement ceremonies that Saturday. A clip of the moment was captured and posted online by Twitter user @RichLeePhD, where it has been viewed over 146,000 times.
Keon’s remarks were in response to colloquial elements in the preceding keynote speaker’s speech about speaking to his family in a made-up language, which the keynote speaker demonstrated a few times.
Following the speech, Keon stood up and spoke into the mic in his own made-up language, which the chancellor pointed out was an “Asian version” of what the keynote speaker did. Other faculty behind him can be seen laughing.
Netizens were quick to express their anger, accusing Keon and the university for racism.
One Twitter user even shared an anecdote of a Korean graduate student who experienced racism at the institution.
NextShark reached out to Purdue University Northwest for comment. Kris Falzone, the school’s associate vice chancellor, responded by sharing Keon’s apology posted on Dec. 14 and the full commencement video for more context.
“I made a comment that was offensive and insensitive. I am truly sorry for my unplanned, off-the-cuff response to another speaker, as my words have caused confusion, pain, and anger,” Keon opened his apology statement.
He goes on to highlight how he recently announced the formation of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative “whose mission is to promote an open, respectful and welcoming culture.”
“I am now directing this interdisciplinary team to specifically understand and address issues of importance to the Asian American Pacific Islander community at PNW, and to offer concrete ideas that our university will act upon to ensure that our campuses are places that welcome and value all. In addition, I will meet with members of the Student Government Association to discuss how to best address students’ concerns.”
He also pointed out how this last year has welcomed the most diverse student body in PNW’s history, that the school opened a multicultural lounge and that their faculty and staff come from a broad group with expertise in various cultural backgrounds.
Keon concludes with: “We are all human. I made a mistake, and I assure you I did not intend to be hurtful and my comments do not reflect my personal or our institutional values. In the true spirit of diversity and inclusion that is a cornerstone of PNW, I will learn from this and assure you that Purdue Northwest and I will take action to prevent such missteps from occurring in the future.”
The apology has been met with more backlash, with some stressing the statement never mentioned racism at all and that Keon should resign.