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Purdue Northwest Chancellor issues apology after making racist comments during commencement

Purdue Northwest’s Chancellor during Saturday’s commencement speech (image taken from YouTube).
Purdue Northwest’s Chancellor during Saturday’s commencement speech (image taken from YouTube).

The chancellor of Purdue University Northwest issued an apology earlier this week after a mocking impersonation of Asian languages went viral.

During the Purdue Northwest’s December commencement, speaker Jim Dedelow talked about using a made-up language to calm down crying children.

Following him at the podium, Chancellor Thomas Keon made unintelligible sounds, which he then described as “my Asian version” of Dedelow’s made-up language.

That moment has led Keon to issue an apology, saying that he made a mistake that did not represent “my personal or our institutional values.”

In statements and on social media, Keon’s comments have been described as racist and harmful and his apology “insufficient.”

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue Kevin Kircher tweeted that he was “embarrassed and angry that my Asian students have to hear racist speech like this from a high ranking Purdue official. We can do so much better.”

On Friday, the Purdue Northwest Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released a statement saying that the “time has come for Chancellor Keon to resign.”

In the release, PNW AAUP chapter officials said that the incident at commencement was not an isolated one, and pointed to Keon’s all-white senior leadership team at the university.

“While Chancellor Keon talks [emphasis PNW AAUP] about diversity and inclusion, he fails to implement these values at the top level of university administrative governance,” officials wrote.

There have also been student petitions urging Keon’s resignation for “mockery of Asian language” at the commencement, with some pointing to Keon’s role on the university’s PNW Respect, Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (or PRIDE) team as a reason for serious concern.

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Purdue University said the Board of Trustees is aware of Keon’s comments and had accepted his apology.