Eight anonymous individuals used racist and homophobic slurs against BSU members and said they were Trump supporters who were planning to kill president-elect, Joe Biden during the Black Student Union’s weekly Zoom meeting on Sunday.
The uninvited meeting attendees used pseudonyms while keeping their cameras off to hide their identities. When members of BSU addressed them, they responded with verbal attacks and also posted pornographic links, GIFs and lewd comments in the Zoom chat.
The meeting started out with with a discussion of the members’ feelings regarding the 2020 presidential election that was called for Biden.
“BSU is such a safe space for Black students at GU,” senior BSU member Alaysia Lane said.
Thirty minutes into the discussion, eight anonymous people joined the meeting.
“Malcolm [Duncan] asked them to introduce themselves and after 30 seconds of silence, one of them started spewing out racist comments,” Lane said. “They called Malcolm the n-word and then started calling all of us the n-word.”
Lane took the opportunity to record the incident in hopes of it being used as evidence. The intruders continued to disrupt the meeting by screaming into their microphones.
Once the outburst subsided, the intruders left the meeting together.
Following the incident, Duncan took to Twitter to post a 19-second video of the incident, posting it with the caption, “I am sad today. The Gonzaga Black Student Union was attacked by about eight random people via Zoom, spewing racist and homophobic statements geared towards my fellow Black students. We do not tolerate this hatred and are working diligently to find out who did this.”
The video has 42,000 views and the tweet has 456 retweets, 171 quote tweets and 1,155 likes.
This incident comes two months after a sign dedicated to George Floyd as a part of the Unity Multicultural Education Center’s (UMEC) #SayTheirName exhibit went missing.
The Gonzaga community swiftly responded, with clubs and organizations like Gonzaga United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) addressing the incident on their public Instagram account.
USAS posted an eight-slide Instagram post stating that the incident perpetuated against BSU was only a reflection of Gonzaga’s refusal to take serious action to address the reoccurring problem of racism and bigotry at the school.
USAS stated that hate against minorities is a chronic problem on the GU campus, citing an incident that happened in 1995 where four Black students at the GU School of Law were targets of a racial harassment campaign.
“These hateful acts were met by a statement from Associate Dean William Clarke claiming ‘we will not tolerate any form of harassment,’ however, no serious action was taken,” USAS said in the post.
On Monday, USAS started a change.org petition demanding that GU take immediate legal action against hate speech on campus.
“The acts committed against Gonzaga Black Student Union violates basic human rights which the school claims to protect. Enough is enough, it is time that Gonzaga University begins to uphold these alleged ‘community standards’ they claim to value,” said a representative for USAS. “We will not allow empty platitudes.”
As of Wednesday, the petition had over 5,000 signatures.
This is not the only petition going around, as Gonzaga Students Empowering Women (Gonzaga SEW) released a petition the same day calling GU to diversify the core curriculum.
“This is a chance for our faculty to educate themselves as they educate their students. It’s an opportunity for our curriculum to reflect our values as a university and uplift scholarly work [work written by minorities and women] that is normally excluded in the mainstream,” said Melina Monlux, president of Gonzaga SEW. “It’s a small step that Gonzaga can take to say to its marginalized students that you matter.”
BSU made an official statement on its Instagram that same day calling for GU administration to track down the IP addresses of the individuals responsible, hold them accountable and set clear goals for moving forward to protect Black students and students of color on GU’s campus.
“We will not accept any statements of solidarity, or any promises made, unless they are followed by tangible action,” BSU said in the post.
Six hours after the Zoom incident, an email was sent to undergraduate students from the Office of the President condemning the incident and announcing an investigation was launched Sunday afternoon.
“We can only imagine the devastating mental and emotional impact this incident has had on the members of the Black Student Union, many of whom feel victimized and vulnerable, and are subjected to incidents of racism on a regular basis,” the email said.
After the email was sent, President Thayne McCulloh and the official GU account took to Twitter to tweet a three-part tweet addressing the situation.
“This behavior is not reflective of the [Gonzaga University] I believe in, the community I am a part of and labor on behalf of every day,” McCulloh said in a tweet.
GU students on Twitter responded by asking how to financially support BSU, spreading GU’s club donation link.
BSU’s and USAS’ posts were shared on Instagram by GU students as well as numerous clubs and organizations including, but not limited to, GU La Raza Latina, Gonzaga Kennel Board, Creative Collectives Club, Housing and Residence Life, GU admissions, GU Ambassadors, Social Justice Peer Educators, Gonzaga Women in Business, the communication studies department, Gonzaga Environmental Organization, the department of women’s and gender studies, the Big Bing Theory, Setons of Gonzaga, Gonzaga Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the Human Physiology Club.
“We are called by our tradition to move past simply posting on Instagram or sending up a prayer,” Mission and Ministry said in a post. “Our Catholic tradition recognizes that reconciliation cannot be reached without striving for justice in the wake of injustice.”
GU’s Office of Health Promotion cited in an Instagram post that “racism is a public health issue.”
GU also took to Instagram, posting a photo that called for “unity in diversity.”
“‘Zags for Zags’ is not just a saying. Right now, the Gonzaga community is harnessing its collective power to stand with and for our Black Student Union members and other who have been made to feel unsafe by the outburst of racists,” GU said, in an Instagram post.
Departments also took to sending emails regarding the situation to their students.
“As a department, we denounce racism in all its forms and dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of just and equitable communities on campus, in Spokane, and in the wider world,” said chair of the English department, Ann Ciasullo, on behalf of the English department faculty.
News of the incident moved outside of the GU community as the University of Washington’s BSU made an official post of solidarity with GU’s BSU club.
“We support their decision to urge Gonzaga into taking legal action,” UW BSU said, in an Instagram post.
Since news broke of the occurrence, Raymond Reyes, associate provost and chief diversity officer, has been fielding calls from concerned parents wondering what the university is doing to protect their children.
Reyes has been working to fulfill what he calls the university’s moral and ethical obligation by reassuring parents and students that their highest priority is the community’s safety, and the university is working to not only identify the perpetrators, but also hold them accountable to “robust and severe” consequences.
“Gonzaga has been a caring community, sometimes too caring,” Reyes said. “I think we need to make sure we’re very clear about our healthy boundaries and our abilities to enforce those boundaries.”
Virtual events housed by Zagtivities are outwardly open to external users, leaving Reyes wondering how and why this incident occurred in the first place.
According to Kent Porterfield, vice provost of student affairs, GU’s Information Technology Services (ITS) has been working in collaboration with Campus Security and Public Safety to trace the electronic signatures of the Zoom bombers to pinpoint their origins and ultimately identify the perpetrators.
ITS does not yet know if the perpetrators were internal or external users and have since been working to restrict external users from accessing GU Zoom meetings.
After working at GU for 33 years, Reyes said he is tired of seeing racially motivated assaults such as the attack on BSU go unpunished.
“No tolerance means one and done, if you do something like that and you’re a student here, you do not belong here,” Reyes said. “You are not a part of this community.”
Reyes met with GU’s attorney Monday morning to discuss the university’s options in terms of taking legal action against the perpetrators. The attorney is evaluating the footage and chat logs to determine whether the actions constitute cyberstalking and/or hate crimes.
Kiantha Duncan, vice president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Spokane branch, reached out to Reyes to offer her support to BSU students.
Duncan and Reyes met Monday to discuss NAACP serving as a community resource to address the needs and concerns of students.
Duncan also hosted a Healing Circle in collaboration with UMEC on Tuesday to provide a safe space for students to voice their feelings on the incident and be in community with one another.
The racist attack on BSU happened three days after Gonzaga Student Body Association (GSBA) released their collaboration with BSU, GU Deans, over 20 campus departments and organizations to sell $2 Zags for Black Lives Matter T-shirts where all the profits are set to be donated to local Black-run nonprofits. In addition, with the purchase of a shirt you will have the option to financially support the Dr. Robert L. “Bob” Bartlett Appreciation Endowed Scholarship which supports first-generation African American students at GU.
The posts regarding the shirts garnered a lot of attention on social media, GSBA’s Instagram post received 292 likes and was shared 134 times.
In an email sent from GSBA to the student body, GSBA called for students to not forget, do not ignore and to take the anti-racist pledge in association with the “Zags for Black Lives Matter” T-shirt campaign and hold yourself accountable.
“The ‘Zags for Black Lives Matter’ campaign was already in the works and planned prior to the attack on our Black community this past Sunday, however the importance to stand in solidarity with our Black community is more important now than ever,” the email said.
The email was signed by Haley Wilson, GSBA director of diversity and inclusion, Jackie Lee, BSU vice president, Faith Ngae, president of BSU, Fese Elango, GSBA president and Taylor Sipila, GSBA vice president.
On Tuesday, BSU posted a list of five updated demands to GU, reiterating that it will not accept any statements of solidarity or promises made by [GU] unless they are followed by tangible action.
On Wednesday, the Office of the President sent an update on the administration response to the hate incident to the community, responding to one of the demands of BSU and commenting on the steps being taken to address the situation.
“In response to a specific request, we will shortly be creating and separately communicating the opportunity for a virtual ‘Town Hall’ to which members of the Gonzaga Community will be invited, and at which these matters and other, related issues can be discussed,” the email stated.
To address the situation, GU’s Information Technology Services (ITS) Department captured data and conducted an initial forensic analysis of the attack and Campus Security and Public Safety reached out to law enforcement.
Two detectives with the Spokane Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Unit and the Federal Bureau of Investigation is facilitating a preliminary review and investigation.
“Initial analysis shows that the IP addresses of the attackers are both domestic and international,” said the email. “We are aware that other universities and organizations around the nation have been targeted with similar attacks in recent months.”
Numerous other multicultural clubs have come together to support BSU and also fear a potential racist incident will be perpetuated against their clubs as well.
Gonzaga Hawaii/Pacific Islander Club (HPIC) will no longer make its meetings public and will be locking its meetings with a password and implementing a waiting room that only the executive board can monitor.
“We’re doing all of this in effort to prevent our club members’ safe space from being compromised by potential agitators,” said Joshiah Saifoloi, public relations officer for HPIC.
On the other hand, GU’s Asian American Union (AAU) is hesitant to create password secure meetings in fear of complicating the inclusion of new members. Instead, it is focusing its efforts to bring more inclusion discussion in the club.
“We are excited to promote more inclusivity and equality in our club meetings, as well as host more discussions pertaining to racial injustices,” said Terrance Yim, public relations officer for AAU.
Despite the incident, multicultural clubs, including BSU, are not going to let it discourage them from meeting.
“If we get zoom bombed again, we will record it and find our justice. That’s what Black people are all about, finding justice,” Lane said.