Students who participated in a discussion with Purdue President Mitch Daniels after a Purdue Student Government meeting Wednesday expressed hurt and condemnation for a remark Daniels made about an African American scholar.
Jackie Christon, a senior in the Polytechnic Institute who was present during the conversation with Daniels, said the comment was hurtful and made her feel “dehumanized as an individual and a person.”
Derrick Cotton, a junior in the College of Health and Human Sciences, was also part of the discussion said he was taken aback when Daniels said the word “creature.”
“I feel like it was a microaggression when he said the comment about the ‘rare creature,’ and I was very offended,” Cotton said.
Having been called names throughout his lifetime, Cotton said people need to look past differences like race and gender in the future. He felt the conversation was very statistics-focused, and there was more Daniels should have done to be in the right ethically.
Purdue Student Government president Jo Boileau said he found the Students Experience in the Research University data Daniels cited to be insufficient in portraying a holistic view of the campus environment.
“It is entirely inappropriate to use data like that to somehow justify current conditions, or attempt to undermine/delegitimize experiences of any member of our campus community,” Boileau said via text.
While Boileau said he was disappointed about the direction of the discussion, he believes there are opportunities for productive conversations in the future.
Others aren’t so sure.
Christon said she and others are trying to let Daniels know that they are fed up with Purdue’s actions, but feel as though minority students are often shut down.
She also said it would take time for the black and brown community to feel comfortable on campus, and questioned if she even wants to shake Daniels’ hand when she graduates in May.
The University Senate shared its support for the student body in a statement Friday. The senate’s equity and diversity committee said the president’s choice of words is concerning.
“The (EDC) believes that the language used by President Daniels on (Wednesday night) when discussing Purdue University efforts to increase ethnic diversity on campus is problematic in terms of the words he used to describe an African American scholar 'one of the rarest creatures' and the accuracy of the content he attempted to convey,” EDC chair Audrey Ruple said via email.
Although the committee disagrees with Daniels’ response, the statement acknowledges his choice of words was a mistake. Purdue spokesperson Tim Doty also called the incident an "innocent mistake" in his comment Thursday morning. The EDC said it believes proper diversity inclusion training can prevent this type of language.
“It is the type of mistake that can be avoided with training to increase one’s understanding of the concepts of privilege and power dynamics,” Ruple said. “To this end, the EDC will bring forward a resolution with specific recommendations for continuing education requirements related to diversity and inclusion topics for all faculty and staff at Purdue University.”
Ruple said the committee continues to support all students who feel discriminated against.
“And to D’Yan Berry, president of the Black Student Union, who voiced her opinion to President Daniels, the other students involved in the discussion, and indeed, to all Purdue students who have experienced persistent dehumanizing comments in their lives,” Ruple said, “we want you to know that we acknowledge your frustration and support you.”
Representatives from the Black Cultural Center did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.