Zoom ‘hijackers’ berate Rockhurst students, community members with hate speech and pornographic images


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Sariana Barbarotta, Editor

A virtual event for Black History Month hosted by the Rockhurst Black Student Union was hijacked Thursday by “Zoom hackers” who hurled racial slurs and allegedly displayed pornographic images of children.

The Feb. 3 event, a panel hosted by the Rockhurst Black Student Union (BSU) featuring Black-owned businesses, was interrupted when three individuals joined the Zoom session simultaneously minutes after the beginning of the event, according to an account provided in a statement on Monday from BSU. At that time, the individuals began shouting racial slurs and hate speech while they broadcast what appeared to be pornographic images of children to all present in the online room.

The hijackers, who have not been identified, were eventually removed from the Zoom by the virtual hosts. The event is set to be rescheduled for another time not yet announced.

Reaction to the online attack has been swift across campus.

In a statement released late Thursday night, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Curran, Rockhurst president, said “We are appalled that our students, colleagues and community members were subjected to this senseless act of violence, and we condemn this action in the strongest possible terms.”

“There is no place in our society, in our community, or on our Rockhurst University campus for such unspeakable acts of hate,” Curran said.

The university president added that Rockhurst security and computer services had already begun an investigation, and he pledged “to do everything in our power to learn who has committed this atrocity and to seek justice.”

Federal and local law enforcement officials have been brought into the investigation according to a joint statement issued Feb. 4 from Cindy Schmersal, vice president for mission and ministry, Hubert Benitez, vice president of strategy and innovation for Saint Luke’s College of Health Sciences and Matt Quick, Rockhurst dean of students.

“Rockhurst departments of security and computer services are working closely with local and federal law enforcement agencies to do everything possible to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice,” they said.

When further questioned, Quick told the Sentinel that the University wishes to withhold information on any suspects until it is formally released to the public. Further statements will be available to the Rockhurst community to communicate this.  At this point, it is unclear whether the perpetrators were affiliated with Rockhurst in any way.

BSU is appealing for justice to be served, not only for hate speech but for the potentially serious criminal offense of child pornography, and the accessing, sharing, and involuntary viewing that took place.

BSU has also urged the Rockhurst community to show support to the Black-owned businesses that were the victims of the hacking event. These businesses were Blacque Onyx Apparel, Equal Minded Café & Event Center, BLK + BRWN BookStore, and DHood Notary Services.

“Ways to support these businesses include reposting their social media pages, leaving a positive review, purchasing from their businesses, and tagging the business on social media when you make a purchase,” they said.

An additional message from the Rockhurst Faculty Senate shared a call to action.

“Today we wish to give our support to those who have been hurt,” they said in a statement Friday. “We also call to action all those in our community with power and privilege–we must confront and fight the destructive force of white supremacy. On behalf of our students, we must make sure that Rockhurst is always a place firmly grounded in the principles of anti-racism, social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

BSU expressed similar hopes in the actions of the Rockhurst community.

“Our hope is that the Rockhurst community intentionally supports Black students on campus while also serving as advocates and allies who stand up against racism in their school, work, and personal lives,” they said.

BSU is hosting “Stand for Solidarity” for all faculty, staff, and students to show support and togetherness in the wake of the racist hacking attack. It will be located in the Quad at 1:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 8. Individuals are asked to wear all black to further show their support.


Edited by Brian Roewe