×

UMass chancellor condemns new emails targeting Black students as ‘deeply racist,’ vows to investigate

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS



Staff Writer
Monday, May 16, 2022

AMHERST — Several months after racist emails were sent to Black student groups at the University of Massachusetts, prompting an ongoing investigation into their origins, Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy announced that additional emails, containing similar messages, were received on May 3.

In a letter to the campus community, Subbaswamy wrote that four Black student groups, several Black students and a campus office received emails that he characterizes as having “deeply racist, hateful language similar in tone to an email sent to Black student groups last semester.”

Law enforcement has been notified to assist in identifying the source of the emails, and Subbaswamy pledged that UMass “will do everything within our power to hold the racist, hateful coward who sent it accountable.”

He acknowledged, though, that investigations into such incidents are challenging and so far have been unsuccessful in identifying those who sent them, despite a collaboration between UMass Police, the campus office of Information Technology, the Northwestern district attorney’s office and a team from Stroz Friedberg Digital Forensics in New York.

“This multifaceted approach ensures that the investigation is as comprehensive and independent as possible,” Subbaswamy wrote. “It has assessed the online targeting of the UMass community across multiple sources, including dark websites, and leveraged custom tools as well as proprietary and commercial datasets.”

District Attorney David Sullivan issued a statement, as well, noting that the latest batch of emails is an attempt to sow discord and division, and contained mistruths about the role his office is playing.

“The Northwestern district attorney’s office, along with its law enforcement partners, approaches this investigation with the utmost seriousness, care and attention,” Sullivan said. “Free speech is rightly held dear in this country, but it does not permit hate speech that threatens and intimidates in a way that interferes with a right to education.

“Unfortunately, currently in our country there is an effort to use misinformation as a weapon to provoke fear and mistrust,” Sullivan said, adding that his office is an active partner with UMass Police on the investigation that will be comprehensive and thorough, and follow the facts wherever they lead.

Subbaswamy went on to note in his letter that he understands the frustration about the status of the investigation.

“I am angry and frustrated as well. I will thoroughly assess the status of our investigation and will inquire with law enforcement agencies to make sure that we are doing everything possible to bring the perpetrator of these hateful acts to justice,” Subbaswamy wrote.

Should the sender or senders be revealed to be part of the campus community, severe university sanctions, up to and including expulsion or employment termination, will be levied, as well as a referral to the district attorney’s office for criminal prosecution.

The Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the country, also weighed in on the racist emails.

“We condemn this despicable act of racist hate and stand in solidarity with Black students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst,” said Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, executive director of the state’s chapter.

Amatul-Wadud said the American Muslim community and CAIR stand in solidarity with those challenging anti-Black racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, antisemitism, white supremacy and other forms of bigotry.

Likewise, both Subbaswamy and Sullivan said they stand with Black students, faculty and staff and people of color who have been targets of hate.

“I will work with campus leaders to ensure that support services are made available to those who seek them and will keep the campus community updated on any developments going forward,” Subbaswamy wrote.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.