Stanislaus State launched an investigation over the weekend after a virtual event was infiltrated by anonymous users posting racist messages and obscene images.
The presentation, held Friday via Zoom, was titled “Black Power STILL Matters” and was the third annual Black Power Matters event hosted by the university’s Ethnic Studies Program meant to empower and uplift black voices. The event fell victim to a “Zoombombing” as things got started, said event speaker and Turlock Black Lives Matter co-founder Jaimee Ellison, which have become increasingly common throughout education centers as more classes, presentations and performances are pushed online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The new form of harassment often sees intruders hijack video calls and post hateful messages, hurl racial slurs and share pornography — all of which happened during the university-sanctioned event last week.
“I’m used to it, especially at the age that I am and growing up with social media,” Ellison said. “It’s honestly funny to me because it’s like, wow you really don’t have a life. The way that they were spamming the chat, it was really sad. I was like, just say your piece and go.”
Phrases like “WHITE POWER” and other derogatory remarks about Jewish, black and Mexican people, including slurs, were posted in the chat of the Zoom call. While the event was ultimately able to be completed, Stanislaus State made counseling available to students in the aftermath.
In an email sent out to the campus community the day after the incident, Stan State President Ellen Junn said she was “horrified, deeply saddened and angered by this despicable act.”
“It was a deliberately heinous and racially-driven violation committed during a gathering that was meant to be a safe and affirming environment where those who’ve been marginalized and disenfranchised and their allies could come together to joyously celebrate our Black History Month,” Junn said.
Junn said that the university has launched an investigation in order to identify the online perpetrators, if possible, so that they can be held accountable.
“Harassment and disruption of communal spaces that are intended to foster connection, growth and learning will not be tolerated on our campus,” Junn continued in the email. “I want our campus community members to know that I and members of my Cabinet stand firmly in solidarity in condemning this attack. No member of our campus community should ever experience such targeted threats, degradation and hatred. All members of our Warrior community are highly valued for their commitment to dignity and should be treated with respect.”
Friday’s Zoombombing was the most recent occurrence in a history of racial tension on the Stan State campus. White supremacist posters and alt-right stickers have popped up around the campus beginning in 2016 — just three months after Junn took office — and 2017 saw several protests calling for the expulsion of then-student Nathan Damigo, who was responsible for the posters and went on to help organize dangerous rallies in Charlottesville, North Carolina and Berkeley, which all had ties to white supremacy.
Since then, Junn has made it her priority to help everyone on campus feel safe by establishing the university’s first Diversity Center, installing a Peace Pole in the school’s quad and helping to create the City of Turlock and Stanislaus State’s Joint Taskforce on Diversity and Inclusion, to name a few efforts.
“I like the prompt response from the president, especially after the whole situation with Nathan Damigo. I think that President Junn has learned a lot and I really appreciate her willingness to learn and be vulnerable in these ethnic situations,” Ellison said. “A lot of diversity-type changes have come during her tenure as president.”
In the campus-wide message, Junn also pointed faculty, students and staff to training workshops and resources to help keep virtual events secure, including the Office of Information Technology’s website which provides detailed information on the topic. The university will also host meetings and information for faculty who are teaching online, offering guidance on how to minimize Zoombombing risk.
“While it is especially troubling that a campus cannot control those who seek to disrupt and undermine our campus community — especially for our most vulnerable students, faculty and staff of color — we will always do everything we can within our authorized power to ensure your safety and well-being through legal avenues and processes. However, it is also our campus’ responsibility to provide other internal support services and resources for our members,” Junn said.
Though Friday’s events were disheartening, Ellison said she interpreted the heinous disruption as proof that activism is reaching everyone’s ears. She called it a sign of progression, rather than regression.
“People are commenting on it and that's a good thing because it’s left an impact,” she said. “Hopefully one day, they’ll be able to have discussions about it that are more educated on the topics.”