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Asian advocates renew call for Purdue leader’s resignation after trustees reprimanded him

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Officials at Purdue University Northwest in Hammond say its chancellor was reprimanded last week for using a mocking Asian accent at a recent graduation ceremony.

The action came after outrage from school faculty and the community. Advocates including the National Asian Pacific Islander Women’s Forum of Indiana and the Asian American Alliance say the reprimand is not enough.

The Forum early on called the chancellor’s actions racist. Since then, the organization has shared posts from agencies standing in solidarity and calling out his actions, saying the university only took action after an uproar of outrage.

Asian advocacy groups say they hope the pushback from Chancellor Thomas Keon’s words serves as a catalyst to expose Asian-focused hate and racism.

Melissa Borja, co-chair of the National Asian Pacific Islander Women’s Forum of Indiana, told News 8, “Anti-Asian racism can take a lot of different forms, and, as I said last time and I’ll say it again, it can take the form of a vicious act of violence — a hate crime — but they can also take these casual forms of racism.”

Keon’s words during a Dec. 10 graduation continue to make the rounds as agency after agency steps up to condemn them. But Borja, other advocates and faculty members who stepped up and said it’s wrong is likely what’s helped get some response from the university.

Rupal Thanawala, president of the Asian American Alliance, told News 8, “So, they had to take some action. However, they really did almost sweep it under the rug. I would say this is not really a resolution.”

Keon quickly apologized, and the Purdue board of trustees accepted his apology. Nearly a week later, on Dec. 23, the trustees issued a formal reprimand against Keon, but didn’t give details.

Thanawala said, “They didn’t have any choice but to have an action.”

The reprimand, advocates say, isn’t enough, since many are calling for his resignation.

Borja said, “I really want to talk about the importance of centering Asian American voices here. The reality is Asian Americans and Indiana have long been ignored.”

Thanawala says the university needs to do more, noting an Asian man will soon take over the office of former Purdue University President Mitch Daniels and the college’s Asian student population continues to grow.

Thanawala said, “We are going to challenge all of the students. Please do not come here because you will be mocked.”

While there is support, Thanawala is looking to corporate leaders to also condemn his words.

Borja said, “That’s why we are emphasizing this work. We see this as a catalyzing moment.”