On Jan. 7, a GroupMe of more than 500 Black Miami University students was bombarded with racist imagery by an anonymous hacker. The hacker posted graphic images of lynchings and mocking people with brown skin before being removed from the chat.
Sinait Sarfino, a senior diplomacy and global politics major, was one of the first people to see and react to the GroupMe message. She said she was first confused, wondering if someone was trying to show the horrors of racism until she came upon the final image which poked fun at people with brown skin.
With the previous day’s domestic terrorist attack on the United States Capitol in her mind, she realized the chat had been hacked. She removed the sender and reached out to the group administrator. Sarfino said she believes the hacker was empowered by the attack on the Capitol, which led to the post.
“I’m just disappointed,” Sarfino said.
She said the GroupMe had become a safe space for Miami’s Black community at a school with so much racial tension.
“It’s somewhere you never would have expected that behavior to occur,” Sarfino said, “which makes it so much more disheartening.”
Student Body President Jannie Kamara, who is also a member of the GroupMe, explained that the chat is the only space on campus that is completely for Black students to express their authentic and genuine selves.
“It’s not just physical safety,” Kamara said. “We’re in a digital world. We have to have psychological safety.”
Every semester, members of the group invite incoming Black first-years to join. The GroupMe serves as a resource for Black students to connect, network and learn about new opportunities.
Going forward, new members must be approved by an administrator to be entered into the chat.
“It’s going to limit our ability to reach out to as many Black students because of the limitations of getting into the chat,” Sarfino said.
Anthony James, interim vice president for institutional diversity and inclusion, said the university condemns expressions of hate and discrimination, but because the chat thread was conducted using technologies not provided by the university, its ability to investigate is limited.
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“We are providing as much assistance as possible to aid the organization leaders in investigating the incident and reporting it as a potential hate crime to the appropriate authorities,” James wrote in an email to The Student.
James said until there is an investigation, the university won’t know if the hacker was a member of the Miami community. He urges organizations to use the resources available through Miami to maintain a safe space but with university security measures.
“We want to make sure that every community member feels safe,” James said.
He encouraged students who were affected by this incident and other issues affecting the community to reach out to one of Miami’s available resources, like the Office of Institutional Diversity & Inclusion or the Office of Student Wellness.
Kamara urged the university to be active and present in situations like this. She said a more public statement condemning the domestic terrorism at the Capitol would be another example of an active response in support of the community.
Miami’s statement was published on the university’s website but not on its social media.
“If you’re not actively supporting marginalized communities, then you don’t love us,” she said.
Sarfino said she also wishes to see a more firm stance against racism by university officials.
“At this point, Miami has failed Black students to the point where their response is expected to be performative,” Sarfino said. “The results will always be the same."
Correction: A previous version of this story mentioned that Dean of Students Kimberly Moore was waiting for a formal investigation to wrap up before making a statement. That is inaccurate. Dean Moore said she "strongly condemns acts of hatred and discrimination and is committed to advancing the efforts that will make our campus more inclusive and safer for Black students."