Racist ‘Zoom bombing’ attack disrupts University Senate meeting

By: Katelynn Robinson and Jadyn Brandt

Hands typing on laptop keyboard. Instagram Publishing

This article was published on The Daily Aztec website on June 23, 2020.

As the University Senate began their first-ever Expanded Senate Executive Committee meeting on June 4 – in response to the murder of George Floyd and other members of the Black community at the hands of police – “zoom bombers” entered the virtual meeting and began spewing hateful comments and defacing on-screen slides. 

The meeting, held on the virtual platform Zoom, was called in order for staff and faculty to discuss a resolution that would offer race-relations training to campus police officers and require all criminal justice majors to take a class on race relations and policing. 

Associate Professor and Program Director, Nola Butler-Byrd, said the attack occurred at the start of the meeting. She said she heard racist epithets and comments about the LGBTQ community. 

“I have to admit myself as a person of African descent who has been yelled at and disparaged like that previously I wasn’t in shock,” Butler-Byrd said. “I wasn’t surprised it had happened.”

Butler-Byrd said the event further validated the resolution the senate was there to discuss. 

“It’s always horrible to hear those kinds of words directed towards you,” Butler-Byrd said. “So yes, I was thinking about what we were trying to do. I was thinking about George, his murder. I was already feeling a lot around all of that, and I’m also just tired of dealing with these kinds of issues.”

Butler-Byrd said she felt “a combination of anxiety, fear, and excitement” about the resolution. 

Sherry Ryan, the university’s director of the School of Public Affairs, said it sounded as if there were 20 different people making racist and threatening remarks.

Ryan called the attack “horrifying” and said it was one of the most violent things she had ever experienced.

“It was unspeakable, the things that were being said and the brutality of it and the violence of it, it was just mind-boggling,” Ryan said. “I couldn’t believe it.” 

The interruption was a shock to Ryan who said it was an exact example of the hate and violence members of the Black community continue to face. She added that the grace of the senate leaders in the face of such an atrocity was inspiring.

“What struck me was how graceful (senate leaders) were, how they didn’t let it destroy them, how strong they were in the face of a violent attack,” Ryan said.

 Associate Professor in Africana Studies Adisa Alkebulan said the attack highlighted just how important it was for the university to respond to the issues at hand and for the senate to move forward with the resolution on the table. 

“It was some of the most obscene racial slurs and trashing you can imagine,” said Alkebulan. “(The incident) highlighted the urgency and the importance of doing something like (the resolution). So if there was anyone on the fence, and I don’t think there were on the fence, or certainly that many, I think that the meeting being hijacked by these racist hackers brought the issue home for folks that were undecided about the issue.”

The meeting continued as planned after the interruption and the University Senate passed the resolution unanimously.

Ryan said she suspected that the individuals responsible had found the link for the meeting online, as it was a public meeting and accessible to all.

Associated Vice President for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion, Luke Wood, provided the Daily Aztec with a statement, as he was not available for an interview.

“We do not tolerate and are deeply opposed to any actions motivated by racism or that serve to marginalize individuals or groups based on their social identities. It is a testament to the incredible support from our faculty, students, and staff, who make up the University Senate, that this attempt to disrupt the passing of this resolution was unsuccessful, and the body unanimously supported the passing of this action as the meeting continued. We remind our community that any incidents may be reported via Inclusive SDSU.”

The meeting was recorded and, although Ryan said the attackers wore face-coverings to hide their identity, University Police has launched an investigation according to Community and Media Relations Advisor, Raquel Herriott. 

Herriott said the case was forwarded to the FBI Internet Crimes Unit with a list of IP addresses. Additionally, future meetings and security options have been discussed. 

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