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Purdue University chancellor apologizes for racist remarks during commencement

HAMMOND, Ind. (WISH) — The chancellor of Purdue University Northwest apologized Wednesday for racist remarks he made during a winter commencement ceremony on Saturday.

Thomas Keon did an Asian language impression on stage Saturday. In his apology he says it was an “unplanned off-the-cuff response” to the speaker before him, and that his words have caused “confusion, pain, and anger.”

Keon released a statement saying he will meet with members of the student government association to discuss how to address students’ concerns.

During the commencement, Keon imitated an Asian-sounding language, saying, “All I can say is (gibberish). That’s sort of my Asian version of his….” Keon said before trailing off and changing the subject. Some people in the crowd can be heard laughing at his remarks.

The Purdue University Board of Trustees, which oversees all of the campuses in the Purdue system, is “aware of the comments made by Chancellor Keon…and has accepted his apology,” Tim Doty, director of media and public relations for Purdue, said in a statement to News 8.

Doty declined to respond to questions regarding Keon’s future with Purdue Northwest.

Keon’s full statement, including his apology, is below.

On Saturday, December 10, during one of our two PNW Commencement ceremonies, 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.

Purdue University Northwest, and I personally, take great pride in being welcoming and inclusive to all people. Earlier this fall I announced the formation of a PRIDE Team initiative (PNW Respecting Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity) 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.

Additionally, within the last year we at PNW welcomed our most diverse student body in history, opened a multicultural lounge to encourage the sharing of ideas from students of all backgrounds, and formed a broad group of faculty and staff with expertise in various cultural backgrounds to coordinate celebrations of cultural heritage. These priorities illustrate our commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equity, but clearly we need to do more, and we will.

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.

Chancellor Thomas L. Keon