Sorority’s virtual poetry event barraged by racist cyber attack

Unidentified attackers made racist comments and displayed a graphic image before finally being removed

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Updated Wednesday, Feb. 17, at 6:15 p.m.

UPDATE: Slippery Rock University President William Behre announced an update to the ongoing investigation of the Zoom bombing incident that took place Saturday.

In an email to university stakeholder’s Feb. 17, Behre said the university police is working with the Butler County District Attorney’s Office, along with counterparts with the Pennsylvania State Police and FBI.

“Authorities have advised the University that investigations of this kind can take time but that does not diminish their severity or importance,” Behre said in his emailed statement.

He added that if the attackers are determined to be SRU students, “they will face full disciplinary sanctions.”

Behre also announced SRU will be hosting three events to address the incident and talk about issues going into the future.

The first event will be held Feb. 22. Details will be emailed to the SRU community Thursday.

Original Story Below

Slippery Rock University police and administration are investigating a possible hate crime after a poetry workshop was hit Saturday by a cyber attack known as “Zoom bombing.”

The tactic sees unwanted guests drop into a video conferencing call and hijack the conversation taking place.

Hosted by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA)—a historically Black sorority—the workshop was supposed to be an evening of writing exercises and discussion of prominent Black poets when an unknown number of actors hijacked it.

The attack lasted an unknown amount of time. It included the involuntary sharing of a video that showed a victim of mutilation along with a message which repeated a derogatory epithet for an African American over 90 times, according to Alexis Gish.

Gish, who serves as the vice president of diversity and inclusion for the Slippery Rock University Student Government Association (SGA), was not an attendee of the event but learned of the details through her role on SRU’s Campus Inclusion Response Team (CIRT).

Chief Student Affairs Officer David Wilmes said CIRT learned of the incident from a student around 8 p.m. on Feb. 13. The team, which had only stood up three days prior, met Sunday morning to discuss how the administration should respond and what could be done immediately to protect students.

The attackers’ identities and whether they have any affiliation to SRU have yet to be determined. According to Wilmes, once CIRT received the information, they passed it along to SRU’s information technology department and police.

According to SRU Police Chief Kevin Sharkey, SRU police are working with the local district attorney’s office to determine what criminal offenses may have occurred.

During Sunday morning’s meeting, CIRT decided upon two recommendations: having SRU President William Behre release a statement condemning the act and ensuring all other organizations holding events received resources to secure their online gatherings to prevent another attack.

CIRT plans to meet Feb. 16 to discuss the more significant issue of racist attacks on campus and how the community can get a handle on it, according to Wilmes.

SRU stakeholders were notified of the incident Monday morning in an email sent out by Behre. In the email, Behre called the acts “reprehensible.”

“Frankly, I am disgusted and saddened that members of our community were attacked in this way,” Behre said.

Behre asked for anyone who had information regarding the incident to come forward and fill out a CARE referral. He also requested that students show their support by participating in the many events SRU organizations are hosting during Black History Month.

“A great way to show your support is by showing up, listening, and learning about the many contributions that African Americans have made to our nation’s history,” Behre said.

While the administration was quick to respond to the incident, some students were not happy with the president’s message.

During the SGA informal meeting Monday night, students were encouraged to help develop the body’s response to the attack.

SRU student Brooklyn Graham told the SGA that she had only learned of the severity of the incident through the information put out by Gish earlier in the meeting. For Graham, Behre’s email downplayed the ordeal.

“So, I think it’s kind of inconsiderate that the emails that we receive in the statements that are put out are kind of watering down the scenario,” Graham said.

She added that students, especially those of color, should not have the facts “glazed over” to share a more informed opinion on the matter.

Gish agreed that the president’s statement about the incident’s details did little to inform the students about what happened but understands there can be some hesitancy with using graphic language.

“But the vast majority of people who read the statement weren’t aware of what went down during the incident,” Gish said. “So, I would agree that if you were reading something that is just very vague language in terms of a racist act, it doesn’t entail everything that happened on Feb. 13.”

SGA President Joey Sciuto said getting the real story and not the “watered down” version out to students would be the first step SGA takes.

“Getting people fed up, getting people pissed off, is a good first step,” Sciuto said.

Sciuto asked the Senate body to talk with their professors and classmates about what happened and having College Senators reach out to their deans to share the story.

Along with spreading the word about what took place, Sciuto directed the executive board to begin drawing up a draft proclamation demanding the Student Counseling Center diversify their staff and include Black counselors.

Members of the Senate also felt it was important to give AKA and attendees their voices back. Sciuto said the executive board would begin looking at the best way to provide them with a platform to discuss what took place and how they were affected.

For Gish, she said she would continue fighting for students, through both the SGA and CIRT, to make sure students’ demands are made known to all in the administration.

“That’s what I’m there for, as a student representative it is my role to make sure [the students’] voices are heard,” Gish said.

Joe is a senior communication major with concentrations in converged journalism and digital media production. This is his second year with The Rocket and first as the news editor. With a penchant for asking tough questions, his byline can be found on more than 100 articles for The Rocket including many breaking news and investigative pieces. During the hours he’s not wearing the hat of student journalist, he spends his time as a husband, father and dog owner in Slippery Rock.

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