Purdue University Northwest Chancellor Issues Apology After Video Shows Him Mocking Asian Accent During Ceremony

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Chancellor Thomas L. Keon of Purdue University Northwest (PNW) has sparked outrage on social media 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 took place on Saturday.

Keon Did an 'Asian Version' of Keynote Speaker's Speech

Thomas L. Keon
Thomas L. Keon Twitter

Keon's remarks were in response 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.

A clip of the moment was captured and posted by University of Minnesota professor, Richard Lee, on Twitter, where it has garnered more than 430,000 views.

The video drew the ire of social media users who accused Keon and the university of racism.

"That's so outrageously racist," wrote one user, while another commented, "Disgusting. Thinking about all the Asian graduates celebrating their big day but had to experience that."

Keon Issues Apology

Keon issued the apology Wednesday in the wake of the backlash, admitting that his comment was "offensive and insensitive."

"On Saturday, December 10, during one of our two PNW Commencement ceremonies, I made a comment that was offensive and insensitive," he said in his statement. "I am truly sorry for my unplanned, off-the-cuff response to another speaker, as my words have caused confusion, pain, and anger."

Keon, who wrote in his statement that he "did not intend to be hurtful," added that he would be meeting with members of the student government as well as directing new diversity initiative, PNW Respecting Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity, to understand and address issues of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

"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," he added.

Keon concluded 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."