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U of Alaska President Apologizes for Comments on Diversity

University of Alaska president Jim Johnsen on Tuesday apologized for not acknowledging “my own white privilege” in what many said were his tone deaf recent comments on diversity, reported KTVA.

His comments were criticized by many faculty at the University of Alaska system. The university’s faculty union called for his resignation for these comments and for other reasons to do with how the beleaguered university is being run.

Johnsen last week withdrew from being considered for the post of University of Wisconsin

Jim JohnsenJim Johnsen

president. Before that, at a forum, people representing Wisconsin asked him what experience and knowledge he brings to advancing diversity and inclusion. He replied by recounting that a Black man and his family helped raise him while his dad was serving in Vietnam, said an earlier report.

“…it was a strange response to the question. And I think that particular response is equivalent to saying that, ‘I have a black friend, and so I understand what’s happening,'” said E.J. David, a psychology professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

At the forum, Johnsen made a similar comment about his experience with Native Americans, when he recounted he was once one of the few White people in a native-owned company.

“Wow, that was also super inappropriate. First of all, he doesn’t understand his position of privilege as a white male in society. And he equates that to being the numerical minority in an institution where he still enjoyed a great deal of power,” said Nelta Edwards, a sociology professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

After criticism about these comments, Johnsen on Tuesday said his approach to diversity and inclusion is wrong.

“To have not first acknowledged my own white privilege in response to questions last week about my understanding of and approach to diversity and inclusion was a mistake,” he said. “For that, I am sorry. We must do better and I must do better. I seek to be a part of the solution.”

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