UMass investigating racist attack on Zoom call 

  • The University of Massachusetts Amherst campus COURTESY PHOTO

Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 23, 2020

AMHERST — Several unknown individuals targeted an African-American staff member at the University of Massachusetts Amherst with racist slurs during a Zoom call last week, according to the university. 

The incident occurred at a College of Computer Information and Computer Sciences (CICS) virtual lunch event, according to UMass spokesman Ed Blaguszewski, where students and staff in the department were to discuss diversity and inclusion. 

As three CICS staff members and a student worker waited for students to join the videoconferencing meeting, “six or seven people suddenly joined the meeting without their video cameras on,” according to Blaguszewski, and began to target racial slurs toward the staff member.

The incident last week was not the first Zoom meeting targeted by racist attacks at UMass this spring, Blaguzsewsk said. UMass IT staff had previously created a web page on unwanted intrusions into Zoom meetings, known as “Zoom-bombings,” to help faculty try to avoid these scenarios, and will continue to try to prevent further incidents.

“Throughout the spring semester, UMass Amherst, along with many other colleges, universities and organizations across the country, experienced disruptive, often racist, ‘Zoom-bombing’ incidents,” Blaguszewski said. 

Staff swiftly ended the meeting last week and alerted the CICS dean of the incident, which is now being investigated by the UMass Police Department and UMass Information Technology.

The staff member who was targeted has been contacted by the CICS dean, Blaguszewski said, and the department held a virtual listening session the next day “which included a frank discussion of ideas, suggestions and what CICS can do better moving forward to strengthen its diversity and inclusion work,” with another session planned for next week. About 100 students, staff and faculty members attended the first session. 

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.