HAMMOND — Thomas Keon, chancellor at Purdue University Northwest, issued an apology Wednesday for a joke he made Saturday at the graduation ceremony.
"On Saturday, December 10, during one of our PNW Commencement ceremonies, I made a comment that was offensive and insensitive," he wrote in a statement posted to the university website and social media. "I am truly sorry."
Keon's comment was made in reaction to keynote speaker James Dedelow of WJOB radio.
"I have a thing on the air if you ever listen, sometimes I just roll off into a made-up language, and I've taught it to my granddaughter so if she starts crying," Dedelow said during his address. "It's 'ishkamaloofla' language. Hopefully I don't have to use it."
Later in the speech, he returned to the bit for comedic relief and belted out gibberish that was seemingly reminiscent of a Slavic or Eastern European language.
When Keon took the stage, he did a cartoonish impression of an Asian language.
"That's sort of my Asian version," Keon said immediately afterward to a mix of laughs and gasps.
In his apology, Keon said his joke was an "unplanned, off-the-cuff response" to the keynote.
"We are all human," he continued. "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 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."
PNW spokesman Kris Falzone said Keon will be meeting with members of the Student Government Association and has asked the PRIDE Team, which he is the director of, to address issues of importance to the Asian American Pacific Islander community.
Keon also listed efforts the university has made to promote diversity and inclusion.
"Purdue University Northwest, and I personally, take great pride in being welcoming and inclusive to all people," Keon wrote. "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. ... 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."
Keon has been chancellor of Purdue University Northwest since 2016, when it was formed through the merger of Purdue University Calumet in Hammond and Purdue University North Central in Westville. From 2011 until the merger, he served as chancellor of Purdue University Calumet.
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