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Racist ‘Zoombombing’ incidents at UCLA disrupt online classes and students

Some UCLA lectures hosted via Zoom on Tuesday were interrupted by vulgar words and obscenities in “Zoombombing” incidents. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Christina Williams

March 31, 2020, 9:12 pm

A barrage of vulgar words and messages interrupted several UCLA classes held Tuesday on the video conference application Zoom.

“Zoombombing”, a new type of internet trolling, occurs when an individual or a group of individuals use Zoom features to interrupt a meeting or class. Following the cancellation of in-person classes due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, many professors have been using Zoom to hold classes, discussions, labs and office hours.

Phillip Valdovino, a third-year psychology and Chicana/o and Central American studies student, woke up early Tuesday to join the Zoom lecture for Chicano 143: “Mestizaje: History of Diverse Racial/Cultural Roots of Mexico.”

Within the first few minutes, however, a few voices interrupted the lecture spewing racial slurs, Valdovino said. The class was cancelled five minutes in.

Nyah Alexander, a first-year pre–communication student, tweeted about the incident.

“ucla has struggled with issues of racism on campus and it continues to be an issue even as we move to a digital learning platform,” she said in the tweet.

Soon after, Jessica Jackson, a second-year African American studies student, witnessed another case of Zoombombing during her 11 a.m. Astronomy 3: “Nature of Universe” lecture.

“About five minutes into the lecture, someone was presenting as if they had a question, … and then finally, when the professor acknowledged the person, he just immediately jumped out with the N-word and was calling him that repeatedly,” Jackson said.

“Over time, I got my phone and started recording what was happening,” Jackson said. “It just then spiraled out of control – chaos.”

Jackson later posted the recording on Twitter.

“Everyone’s kind of in my Twitter DMs right now saying … like wow UCLA students are the worst,” she said. “I really don’t want to believe that these (Zoombombers) are UCLA students.”

In an email to his Astronomy 3 class, Michael Rich, the professor, addressed the Zoombombing. Rich acknowledged the interruption and said the class would shift its structure to prevent future incidents.

Rich made two attempts at the lecture in order to continue the class. The first lecture did not have an access code, but the second lecture was protected with an access code. However, the access code did not prevent similar incidents, causing Rich to cancel the class for the day.

“The technology is something I am new to, and I did not expect to have to take extreme security measures but it appears this will need to be the case,” Rich said in the email. “I am terribly sorry that this incident, which was upsetting, affected every student trying to learn in this class.”

Jackson said this is the first time she’s heard anti-black or anti-Semitic remarks in class.

“This is definitely the first (incident for me), which I think makes it even more jarring,” she said.

Alexandria Davis, a fourth-year political science and African American studies student and chair of the Afrikan Student Union at UCLA, is collecting student responses to the Zoombombing on Twitter, and she also recommends students report the incidents to the dean of students.

“This is unacceptable and we need to protect students and faculty when it comes to this new online education system,” Davis said on Twitter. “No one should feel unsafe or unable to learn because of these new policies.”

The Afrikan Student Union has called on the university to investigate the incidents and to take measures to prevent future ones, according to a statement published Tuesday on Instagram.

“The Afrikan Student Union at UCLA is deeply concerned about these incidents and their effects on the wellbeing of students,” the statement read. “Black students specifically have been targeted by these hackers, causing added stress to an already chaotic situation. The current pandemic has uprooted students and prevented them from being able to thrive in the ways that they normally might be able to on campus.”

The Afrikan Student Union plans to address the issue at the Undergraduate Students Association Council meeting Tuesday, which is streamed on the USAC Live! YouTube channel at 7 p.m.

Contributing reports from Jintak Han, Daily Bruin senior staff.

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