The fourth annual KSUnite was met with attacks from several alt-right infiltrators Wednesday.
Several “Groypers” — a group of vocal alt-right provocateurs — Zoom bombed several sessions on diversity and inclusion throughout the day with profane and distracting interruptions.
“In all honesty, they just hijacked the technology well beyond anything that I knew to even think about or prepare for,” Bryan Samuel, chief diversity and inclusion officer, said. “We all had knowledge and understanding that we should be prepared for some disruption. What we didn’t understand was the volume, the scale, the pace, the technological capabilities with which it would happen.”
Samuel said the event began with little to no incident. The pre-recorded welcome video was shown without interruption. Then, the first plenary presentation featuring Bunky Echo-Hawk, a visual artist who worked on a painting for the Multicultural Student Center in his presentation, went “pretty well,” Samuel said.
The interruptions began when Clint Smith, a poet presenting on systemic racism in America, began speaking. Groypers flooded the Youtube Livestream attached to Smith’s presentation with profanity, sexually explicit comments and generally disruptive statements. When the comment section was disabled, the instigators moved to the Zoom conference call and continued their comments in the open chat space.
In the sessions after Smith’s, Samuel said Zoom bombings continued to occur with screens and audio taken over in some cases while those involved continued to disrupt comment sections and Zoom chats.
Samuel said while it had been discussed among the facilitators of KSUnite that some individuals may attempt to distract from and disrespect the event, the magnitude of the attacks came out of left field. He attributed the opportunity for disruptions to the open nature of KSUnite.
“We’d like to have our programs and activities open to all at Kansas State University because we believe we are both a community and a university,” Samuel said. “Therein lies the conundrum … because we opened it up … and we didn’t ask for EIDs and passwords … some people took advantage of that. Next year, we’ll figure out some ways to keep that from happening.”
Despite the Zoom bombings and distractions, Samuel said he hopes the fourth KSUnite will be remembered for the quality of the presentations and conversations that took place.
“It’s important to acknowledge that we had a very powerful and meaningful event,” Samuel said. “Our speakers were scholarly practitioners … they had the lived experience. Much of the information I am receiving from students, faculty, staff and administrators … they’re focusing on how great the presentations were.”
The distractions were unfortunate, Samuel said, but adversity will not stop the diversity and inclusion office from doing its job.
“Our role as a state university is to prepare students for growth and being able to contribute in a global world to solve problems,” he said.
Samuel said those participating in KSUnite showed great resilience in the face of opposition from those intending to detract from the event.
“Our students, faculty and staff persevered through it with their heads held high,” he said. “I think that deserves some recognition. It’s important to us that we continue the journey to grow, to learn, to appreciate differences and capitalize on the learning opportunities that differences can create.”