The president of Purdue University was under some major heat after referring to Black scholars as “creatures.” After being called out, he’s now claiming that he was “misunderstood” and the statement was over-sensationalized.
According to Journal & Courier, President Mitch Daniels made his initial comments last Wednesday outside a Purdue Student Government meeting. In a conversation about race and diversity on campus, students pressed him on how the university was addressing issues. Daniels went on to say that they were making efforts to recruit more diverse students and even faculty. This is when Daniels explained that he was making a new hiring choice.
“At the end of this week, I’ll be recruiting one of the rarest creatures in America – a leading, I mean a really leading, African-American scholar,” Daniels said.
This comment caused murmurs from those present at the meeting. Meanwhile, the president of the Black Student Union, D’Yan Berry can be heard saying in the recorded clip, “Creatures? Come on.”
Daniels responded, “It’s a figure of speech. You must have taken some, you know, literature. Let me say, rarest birds. Rarest phenomenon.”
Obviously, this still didn’t help. The backlash against Daniels was swift, including an #IAmNotACreature Twitter campaign. Berry later responded to the incident, writing on social media, “I am disappointed but not at all surprised by his reference – in front of a group of mostly black, minority students – to black students as creatures. It afflicts me that this is how he speaks even when ‘boasting’ on students.”
On Friday, Daniels tried to defend himself by saying he believed he was judged on “one word out of an hour.” He also pointed to articles in national publications outlining the climate for Black professors. One article, which was published in The Atlantic in April 2019, showed statistics that fewer than 6 percent of full-time faculty in U.S. universities are Black.
“I’m saying what hundreds of people have said,” Daniels said. “It’s a bit ironic, given all this, that this week, I was in the process of working on (a professor) that’s just stellar, quite apart from ethnicity. I mean, that was my point. They’re all long shots, because everyone wants them on their campuses. I feel very passionate about that.”
This still doesn’t address the “creature” term, however.
Daniels went on to tell Journal & Courier, “I’ve never felt so misunderstood before.” He continued, “I was saying that, this very week, we’re working on a superstar who happens to be African American. Extraordinarily rare talent and one of our target populations. That’s what I said. And to have that stood on its head as an indifference to diversity, or worse, it hurts. That’s all I’ll say.”
Faculty on the University Senate’s Equity and Diversity Committee also slammed Daniels saying in a statement that “the idea that there is a scarcity of leading African American scholars is simply not true.” The committee called for training for university personnel to better understand the history behind Daniels’ statement and why it was problematic.
“To all Purdue students who have experienced persistent dehumanizing comments in their lives, we want you to know that we acknowledge your frustration and support you,” said the faculty committee’s statement.
“Regardless of intent, referring to people of color as anything less than human is tied to our country’s history of oppression and discrimination. We do believe that … this was a mistake. However, 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.”