Over the past month, UNC Charlotte’s student chapters of the NAACP, College Democrats and the Black Student Union (BSU) all had their virtual meetings interrupted by racially charged Zoom bombings.
Dean of Students Christine Davis called it “a pattern of behavior that needs to be addressed on a larger university level.”
The most recent incident occurred during BSU’s general body meeting on Oct. 13. According to President Jada Flowers, they were interrupted twice at the beginning of the meeting–once by someone playing loud music and a second time by a user with the screen name James Miller who shouted racial slurs for about two minutes. They kicked the Zoom bomber out and “pushed through with the rest of the meeting,” said Flowers.
“This was a terrible event and we are all saddened by it,” said the BSU in a statement on Instagram. “We already have so much to deal with as Black students, and now, just blatant racism.”
The student group alerted University administrators, who say it is unclear whether “James Miller” is a student at UNC Charlotte. According to Assistant Vice Chancellor for Client Engagement Beth Rugg, the BSU meeting was accessible without a UNC Charlotte email address. Dean Davis added that there is no James Miller registered at UNC Charlotte, though this may very well be a pseudonym.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Kevin Bailey also connected with OneIT to request an investigation into the incident, but OneIT's report indicated that many of the people that entered the meeting did not have an email address associated with them and there is no way to identify the IP address of the perpetrator. Chief of Police and Public Safety Jeffrey Baker plans to reach out to Zoom to obtain more information about how they identify Zoom bombers and connect with the FBI’s Cybersecurity Task Force.
On Oct. 15, the Student Government Association passed a resolution condemning the racist attack against the BSU.
“[This] definitely made me nervous for future meetings,” said Flowers. “We are going to take future precautions to ensure that people who want to be in the meeting are allowed. But we are an open organization and we want people to come. It’s going to be very hard to keep them out. We’re going to start having students register so that we have everything on record.”
The UNC Charlotte College Democrats had a similar experience during their virtual debate watch party on Sept. 29. According to Vice President Brian Halliburton, the meeting had just started when a “random name with no image” entered the meeting and immediately began yelling racial expletives.
“He screamed ‘Trump 2020’ and made a whole bunch of noise,” said Halliburton. “We kicked him out pretty quickly. I don’t know if he saw that I was in the call prompting him to say those things because at that time I think I was the only Black person.”
College Democrats President Bailey Adams added that other users with names he didn’t recognize tried to join the meeting but he did not let them in. Afterwards, Adams filed a Bias Assessment and Resource Team report and also conducted his own investigation.
“I believe I may have an unofficial suspect who may be a UNC Charlotte student,” said Adams. “Because the names in Zoom can be changed, or someone could join using someone else's account, I cannot say with certainty that the unofficial suspect is the person who did this, or that they are a UNC Charlotte student."
Halliburton added that the meeting invitation was only shared within the College Democrats group.
“I think it’s very indicative of the current political climate we’re in right now,” Halliburton commented. “Particularly within the last year or so we’ve seen a lot of people of color or people who have been historically discriminated against have a more concrete foundation in our everyday discourse and our decision making and that just doesn’t sit right with people so they resort to these kinds of tactics.”
According to Dean Davis, several staff from the Office of Identity, Equity and Engagement have offered to attend the next meetings hosted by the BSU and College Democrats.
“I’m not nervous,” Halliburton told the Niner Times. “It’s just the reality we live in so we just kind of deal with it.”
About a month ago, the UNC Charlotte chapter of the NAACP was hosting their virtual interest meeting when a white man with the screen name “Jeff” began masturbating on camera. He made no noise, and Vice President Doris McNeil simply removed him from the group and continued with the meeting.
“It’s not shocking to me,” commented McNeil. “That’s very sad to say but it’s not very shocking. Black organizations try to do their thing but stuff like this just happens.”
Though the Zoom bomber did not shout racial slurs as with the other two incidents, McNeil says she does believe the attack was racially charged. The student organization reported the incident to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP, though they did not tell the University.
“I personally didn’t report it because I have never had faith in school administration,” said McNeil. “It has to do with my identity. I think I have learned to navigate who I can talk to.”
Dean Davis has since been made aware of all three incidents and says the University will continue to investigate.
“It makes me angry and sad for the students that they have to experience that,” Davis told the Niner Times. “We’re prepared to take swift and appropriate action both under the Code of Student Responsibility and for review on whether or not these incidents rise to the level criminally as a hate crime.”
It is unclear whether the Zoom bombers were affiliated with each other, though each organization said they believed the perpetrator to be male.
“As a community of educators and scholars, we hold a special responsibility to raise our voices to condemn injustice against Black people, other people of color, and other historically marginalized identities,” UNC Charlotte said in a statement to the Niner Times. “It is up to us to lead, modeling civility, respect, and holding true to the values of diversity and inclusion that ensure all members of our community will thrive. We strive to create a campus community where everyone is equally valued.”