The head of a Purdue University campus quickly backtracked after footage of him making an anti-Asian “joke” in December 2022 gained more attention on social media.
Chancellor Thomas L. Keon’s outburst during a commencement ceremony was first streamed on Purdue University Northwest’s (PNW) YouTube channel, but came to light on December 13 2022 after Dr. Richard M. Lee, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota, posted it on Twitter.
Keon’s “joke” came after remarks from Jim Dedelow, co-founder of local radio station WJOB-AM. During his own speech, Dedelow responded to someone in the audience with a “made-up” remark, then told the audience: “Go in the shower and make up a fake language and then use it on your kids, it works great.”
He responded similarly after another child in the crowd said something later in his speech.
Following Dedelow’s speech, Keon made an unintelligible remark then said, “That’s sort of my Asian version of his …” before resuming the ceremony, which was captured in Lee’s tweet:
“Can’t get more racist than this @PurdueNorthwest administrator. Who is this person?” Lee wrote; he later identified Keon by his position as chancellor, though not by name. Reporter John Russell of the Indianapolis Business Journal responded to Lee, pointing out that Mung Chiang, the president-elect of Purdue University — the parent system for Keon’s school — was born in China.
“Will be interesting to see if he responds,” Russell wrote.
We contacted both Lee and Purdue University seeking comment. Neither responded. But shortly after the video began spreading online, PNW released a statement.
“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,” Keon said.
Keon also said that he would direct a university task force on diversity created in September 2022 to “specifically understand and address issues of importance to the Asian American Pacific Islander community” at the school.
“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,” Keon said.
We contacted PNW seeking additional comment. The university did not respond.