CASPER — An investigation into racist interruptions during a virtual Black History Month event last week at the University of Wyoming has found that one of the perpetrators was using a Maryland internet provider, a university official said Monday.
During a film discussion panel hosted by the UW Black Studies Center on Feb. 15, panelists were interrupted by pornographic images and videos appearing on the screen. A voice also could be heard saying the N-word and other racial slurs.
University spokesperson Chad Baldwin said Monday that the other four perpetrators were using virtual private networks, or VPNs, which made them appear to be calling in from outside the United States.
The one attacker who did not use a VPN was traced to a Maryland residential broadband connection, according to a university statement Monday.
Baldwin also said that as of now, investigators suspect the attack, or “Zoom-bombing,” came from outside the university and is connected to recent others like it across the U.S.
“This has happened at dozens of other universities in recent months,” Baldwin said. “Our security analysts for our IT department feel strongly this was a coordinated effort by people from elsewhere. And that they’re doing this all across the country.”
In the last several months, similar racist attacks have hit the Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers University, Rider University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Seattle University, Gonzaga University and the University of Southern California, many during Black History Month events.
The university police and IT department are working with the FBI to investigate the incident.
In the meantime, administrators are working to make sure an attack like this one doesn’t happen again, looking into more secure options for Zoom and virtual event hosting that don’t require a link to be published openly.
In a statement Monday, UW Chief Diversity Officer Emily Monago said that a subcommittee of the university’s Council on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion held a listening session last week attended by about 50 members of the community.
“Many of those participants and others expressed that the university’s initial statement about the racist attack was not strong enough; noted the concerns about safety for students of color and minority groups; said there’s not enough awareness about resources and efforts underway to address our problems; and made it clear that the university must do more,” Monago said in the statement. “People cannot thrive when they do not feel safe. I acknowledge that BIPOC, LGBTQ+, international, intersectional and other vulnerable social identities do not feel safe at all times in Laramie or Wyoming.”
Monago said that though the attackers are not believed to be affiliated with UW, the incident highlights the need to take action against racism at the university. If the investigation finds the attackers are connected to the school, she said in the statement, they will be held accountable.