State Watch

Purdue Northwest chancellor apologizes for ‘offensive’ remark after impersonating speakers of Asian languages

FILE – In this May 17, 2018, file photo, new graduates line up before the start of the Bergen Community College commencement at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Purdue University Northwest’s chancellor apologized for making an “offensive and insensitive” comment during the school’s commencement, when he mocked Asian languages in an impersonation.

Chancellor Thomas Keon said he did not mean to be hurtful, calling the comment a “mistake.” 

“I made a comment that was offensive and insensitive,” he said in a statement on Wednesday. “I am truly sorry for my unplanned, off-the-cuff response to another speaker, as my words have caused confusion, pain, and anger.”

During the school’s Saturday morning ceremony, Keon responded to radio host James Dedelow, who said in his commencement speech that he sometimes uses a made-up language.

Upon taking the stage, Keon began his remarks by stating, “Well all I can say is” before imitating an Asian language.

“That’s sort of my Asian version of his,” Keon said before proceeding to his prepared remarks.

In his apology, Keon indicated he will meet with student government leaders and direct a campus diversity team to specifically address issues of importance to the Asian American and Pacific Islander community at the school.

“We are all human,” Keon wrote. “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 Asian American Foundation and other advocacy leaders condemned Leon’s comment.

“Students should feel honored and protected by their university leaders, not worried that ‘unplanned’ or ‘off-the-cuff’ remarks will humiliate them,” the group said in a statement.

“And leaders should be held responsible for undermining their students’ sense of belonging and safety on campus,” the statement continued. “TAAF is calling on Purdue University Northwest to fulfill its promise to understand and address issues facing AAPI communities, and we expect the university to deliver a comprehensive plan for what exactly that will look like and what actions come from it that will ensure this does not happen again.”

Tags Asian American and Pacific Islander Purdue University Northwest Thomas Keon

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