Black Students in STEM’s (BSS) Zoom Gobblerfest recruitment call was bombarded by Zoom Bombers who targeted the group with obscene images and racial slurs.
Zoom bombing is when an unwanted individual or group enters a video call without the permission of the host.
Zoom bombings began as mild pranks or trolling at the beginning of quarantine, but have since esclated to hate speech and harrassment. Zoom bombing has become so prevalent that the FBI has issued a warning about the hijacking of Zoom calls.
On Sept. 4 at about 4:20 p.m., 20-30 unknown people bombarded BSS’s Zoom meeting within a two minute time span shouting obscene language and displaying graphic images and pornographic videos. The obscene language included racial slurs such as the N-word with the hard R.
“I know they couldn’t have said that to our faces, but the fact that they had it in their minds, it just shows me that people are still racist,” said Amber Mundy, a senior majoring in criminology and the BSS secretary. “They might not outwardly say it, but it’s still ingrained into their heads. If they can do it online, then they are definitely thinking about it when they’re walking past us or when they see us on campus.”
BSS leaders attempted to kick the bombers out one by one and ignored the obscenities the bombers were yelling.
“I’m completely ignoring what they’re saying because I understand they’re obviously here to get a rise out of me, to get some type of angry reaction,” said Wynnie Avent II, senior majoring in geology and founder and president of BSS.
Eventually the group decided to create a new call with stricter security measures. The entire incident lasted for less than two minutes, according to Avent.
There is still little known about the identity of the Zoom bombers. Only some of the bombers had their cameras on, and from what members of BSS heard and observed, they suspected the bombers’ ages ranged from children to young adults.
“Some of them were 12 (years old), some of them were 7 (years old), some of them had fake pictures, so you couldn’t see their ages or what they look like,” Mundy said. “The fact that they were kids was honestly the most disgusting part for me.”
The group has received a vast amount of support from across the Virginia Tech community. Professors and department heads have offered class time for the group to come in and recruit. The office of the dean of students has also sent messages of support.
Dean of the College of Science Sally C. Morton addressed the situation on Twitter, condemning the Zoom bombers' actions and promising to help find and discipline the bombers.
“The dean herself is doing all she can to provide resources in the sense that we’re being followed up with,” Avent said. “That this incident isn’t being ignored and that the Virginia Tech police and the dean of students is doing all they can to see who is behind this.”
BSS leaders have also collected a list of the bombers’ emails and are working with the Virginia Tech Police Department to attempt to track down the bombers via IP address.
It is unclear if the Zoom bombers are connected to Virginia Tech in any way or if they are a part of an outside organization.
“I’m not sure whether this was Virginia Tech related or not,” Avent said. “There is someone on this campus that would join in themselves if they could have. Knowing that alone, for me, tells me the work that I'm doing is necessary and we’re a necessary group at this point.”
Black Students in STEM is a community that aims to serve the needs of students of African or African-American descent who do not feel as if they’re getting adequate support from the college of science or the university. The work the group does covers all aspects of the Black college experience: advocacy and activism, community building and academic development.
“Since we were a new organization, this was our first Gobblerfest,” Avent said. “That definitely ruined a lot of people’s mood. The (BSS) executive board talked about it extensively afterwards … At first it was a bummer, but the more and more we sat on it, the more and more unsettling it became. There is no reason why this had to happen or should have happened.”
In the end, members hope this incident concludes with appropriate consequences.
“(I hope) that there’s consequences … and something that would impact them that makes them think, ‘What I did was wrong.’ That they can’t just get a slap on the wrist,” Mundy said.