The organizations Purdue President Mitch Daniels apologized to in an email Wednesday aren't entirely satisfied by his response.
Daniels apologized to several organizations for comments he made during a hallway conversation on Nov. 21 when he referred to an African American scholar as "one of the rarest creatures in America."
The apology came two weeks after Daniels discussed diversity with concerned students after he attended a Purdue Student Government meeting. Daniels’ appearance at the meeting was partially prompted by his lack of a response to an incident that occurred at the CVS on Northwestern Avenue. Purdue student Jose Guzman Payano was denied cold medicine when he supplied a Puerto Rican ID. After Daniels left the meeting, he was approached by several students in the hallway outside of the senate meeting in Pfendler Hall.
While he spoke with them about his efforts to increase diversity on campus, he referred to a leading African American scholar he was planning on recruiting as a "rare creature," inciting outrage among students present and others on social media later.
The New York Times published an opinion article early Wednesday in which G. Gabrielle Starr, the president of Pomona College, in response to Daniels’ remarks, said that African American scholars are not rare and explained why she thought his words were harmful.
Many who received the statement from Daniels urged that it be sent to more students than just a few in several student organizations.
D’yan Berry, who is president of the Black Student Union and was present at the Nov. 21 conversation, said over the phone Thursday that Daniels’ statement was not an apology, and that she sent the president an email asking it be sent to the whole campus and made official on behalf of Purdue.
“This apology is pretty much meaningless as it is right now,” she said.
Berry hadn’t received a response to her email as of Thursday evening. She also questioned the motivation behind Daniels’ statement, saying he likely issued it to avoid further bad press.
“I honestly don’t think it’s very genuine,” she said.
Floridelma Ramirez, president of the Latinx Student Union, said over email the statement should have been sent to more people and that Daniels still has the time and power to do more.
“I want to see change in his actions and in his support for minority students on campus. President Daniels can and should be doing more for his fellow Boilermakers," she said.
PSG president Jo Boileau said via text message Wednesday that Daniels should send his comments campuswide. He said he hopes Daniels will be more empathetic and allow himself to learn from those who choose to share their experiences.
“What I'm hoping President Daniels takes away from this, is that — in instances where there are real or perceived prejudices — he should defer to the judgment of those feeling impacted by it. Chances are, they are right,” he said. “And chances are, listening will help him to make the right decision in the moment, rather than needing to correct the record after the damage is done.”
Sandra Sydnor, chair of the Black Caucus Faculty and Staff, said the organization appreciates Daniels’ apology, though his original statement still has a significant effect on the University’s community.
“We appreciate President Daniels’ retraction and apology regarding the impromptu dialogue with students following the PSG senate meeting,” Sydnor said via email. “While President Daniels may not have intended to dehumanize black students and faculty, his statement had a significant impact on the Purdue community as a whole. Incidents such as these inhibit our ability to recruit and retain diverse students, faculty and staff.
“The (BCFS) stands ready and willing to work with the president to use this moment in time to recalibrate and foster a truly inclusive climate, which maximizes everyone's potential.”
The University Senate’s equity and diversity committee chair, Audrey Ruple, said she thinks Daniels’ response will have a positive impact on diversity efforts.
“As chair of the Senate Equity and Diversity Committee, I am grateful to President Daniels for his statement,” Ruple said via email. “I am sure this will have a positive impact on our efforts to address the issues surrounding diversity and inclusion at Purdue University and in our greater community.”
At a Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, University Senate Chair Cheryl Cooky thanked Daniels for apologizing for concerns about diversity on campus.
“I know that I've heard from faculty and students and staff that that meant a lot,” she said.
Daniels' email was sent to the Purdue chapter of the NAACP, the Black Caucus of Faculty and Staff, the Latino Faculty and Staff Association, the Black Student Union and the Latino Student Union.
Carey Walls, the Purdue NAACP chapter president, said via email he would be meeting with his executive committee to release a statement. A representative from LaFaSa said she did not feel comfortable sharing a statement before the organization dealt with the fact that the email wasn’t sent out to the entire campus.
Daniels had no comment on why he released an apology at the board meeting, after saying he wouldn’t release a statement on the CVS incident.
The statement reads:
"I retract and apologize for a figure of speech I used in a recent impromptu dialogue with students. My reference was in praise of a specific individual and the unique and exciting possibility of bringing that particular individual to Purdue. I wasn't talking about any group or making generalizations. The word in question was ill-chosen and imprecise and, in retrospect, too capable of being misunderstood. I accept accountability for the poor judgment involved.
"To be clear, I sincerely believe that individuals of every race and ethnicity are capable of and demonstrate academic excellence and achieve top recognition in all of the academic disciplines. I also recognize that more needs to be done to recruit, support and encourage individuals from groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education. My word choice, as clumsy as it was, was an expression of my excitement with the progress of one such effort.
"While I am reviewing past judgment calls, I regret not making some kind of statement at the time of the CVS incident that precipitated the impromptu dialogue and therefore the misunderstanding. It would have been possible to express the genuine concern we all felt without condemning prematurely any individual or local business establishment before the facts were known. That was a misjudgment on my part and a lesson for the future. Sincerely, Mitch."