At last Thursday’s Meet the B-Frats event, one of the major recruiting events for Miami University’s business fraternities, a hacker seized hosting controls of the Zoom call and took over Pi Sigma Epsilon’s (PSE) presentation with an image of a swastika, verbal threats and homophobic and racist pre-recorded audio.
PSE took to Instagram to acknowledge the act, calling it abhorrent and heinous.
“No one should have to experience such blatant acts of hatred,” the post said.
In a university-wide email sent Aug. 28, President Gregory Crawford called the acts “beyond contemptible.” He said the incident did not fall under freedom of speech protections, and the university’s IT department was investigating it.
Crawford also wrote that the university had notified the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) with the intention to pursue criminal prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.
It is still unclear if the individual or group of individuals is an affiliate of the university.
Randy Hollowell, manager of IT communications & customer advocacy, said the IT department is investigating who took control and how. Beginning this week, Hollowell said, every Miami Zoom session must have a passcode. Webex has already been using this protocol.
Additionally, Hollowell suggested that anytime someone creates a Zoom meeting, they should create a waiting room that allows the control of who comes into the meeting. He also suggested that people not share passwords on social media and watch for unexpected participants.
Michelle Thomas, director of business organizations and diversity, was the lead administrator on the hacked Zoom meeting. As a Black woman, Thomas said she felt “targeted.”
She was excited about the human interaction, which she felt was a necessity after this summer’s isolation.
“I was so pleased when we first got on the call,” she said of the number of students.
“We were almost done, and someone took over,” Thomas said. “It was nothing like I would have expected. It happened so fast.”
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But Thomas acted just as quickly. She got out her cellphone and began recording. She told the hacker that she was recording and advised the host not to close the meeting.
The audio and imagery continued for almost a minute.
“The longer we keep them on, the more data we could have,” Thomas said.
After the hack, Thomas penned an email to Farmer School of Business (FSB) students, faculty and staff.
“What happened tonight was dark, disturbing and hurtful,” she wrote. “The person or persons who did this wanted to shock, provoke and anger our students.”
“I have been called the ‘N’ word only twice (that I know of!),” she continued. “The first time was when I was a student at Miami in the 1990s, and the second time was tonight … 2020.”
Sophomore Anthony Patrick, a PSE member, was in his off-campus apartment when his roommate and PSE brother Luke Benitez called him in to see the hack. Patrick said the audio, containing threats to the attendees’ lives as well as homophobic and racial slurs, was played at least twice.
“My reaction was shock and disgust,” Partick said. “Being a person of color and being targeted in the hack leaves you feeling a certain way.”
Patrick expressed appreciation for Crawford’s reply, specifically his involvement of outside resources to ensure the situation is handled appropriately regarding the severity of the incident.
First-year Tiara Moss-Keys, an FSB student, was on the call and said the hack was frightening.
“I got scared, honestly,” she said.
Moss-Keys said she came into this year “putting a lot of faith in Miami” after looking at some Instagram pages like Dear Miami U that detail some of the experiences of Black and other marginalized students.
The university faced backlash over the summer involving its response to accusations of racism within the institution. Moss-Keys said she has not been satisfied with previous responses by Miami’s administration, but that she’d like to keep seeing the effort taken in this incident extended to other matters.
"I want to see more activism,” Moss-Keys said, “especially from Miami faculty and staff.”
President Crawford called Thomas personally, and many of her students and co-workers also sent her messages of support after last week’s hack.
“It gave me some hope,” Thomas said, “because lately I've been seeing and hearing things in our world that aren’t exactly inspiring.”
For students struggling with this and other recent acts of hatred, Campus Care is available online for virtual drop-in services. For more information on educational resources, visit Miami’s Center for Student Diversity & Inclusion.