OPINION: KSUnite zoom bombing is a loud wake up call

Vedant Kulkarni is a senior and a member of the Student Governing Association executive branch. (Archive Photo by John Chapple | Collegian Media Group)

To me, KSUnite is one of the greatest highlights of the fall semester at Kansas State.

Beginning in 2017, KSUnite represented a movement aimed at making our campus safer and more inclusive of students belonging to underrepresented and marginalized communities. As KSUnite’s website says, “Kansas State University established precedence with the KSUnite movement to provide all members of the K-State Family an opportunity to engage meaningfully and holistically embrace opportunities for respect, civility and tolerance, and to feel pride in participation, as we prepare students for global citizenry.”

This year, despite an ongoing pandemic, the university continued this tradition and hosted KSUnite virtually. Students joined via zoom and participated in the dialogues. It began with great enthusiasm and the sessions moved swiftly.

Suddenly, the session I was part of was zoombombed by people who started messaging hurtful things in the chat. Soon, it started happening in nearly every session.

In between that chaos, another unique challenge I had to face was alleged identity theft. Some of these zoombombers renamed themselves on Zoom with my name and started posting hateful comments to damage my image and reputation. This culminated in me panicking and apologizing to every person I meet and letting them know that I am not the one who was making those statements.

Overall, the KSUnite experience was not what we want it to be. An event that signifies the importance of love, diversity and inclusion had to face the wrath of hateful people. It bears the question — what do we do now?

The answer is both simple yet complicated. In an ideal world, racist individuals would be removed from campus just for their bigotry. However, that is not the case here because of the complexity of freedom of speech and First Amendment rights.

While the K-State administration works out how to penalize the disruptors, there are many things all of us can do.

First, call out racist behaviors and incidents you see on campus on social media. Social media in the 21st century has a great power to hold people accountable. The right tools and usage can be used to identify and stop hateful rhetoric before it spreads through targeted education.

Second, we should reach out to our fellow Wildcats who are affected by racism, offer them empathy, act as their allies and make sure their voices are represented everywhere on campus. We only truly grow when we help each other — let’s practice this attitude of helpfulness.

Lastly, the administration should create concrete measures to sanction individuals who use campus as a platform to preach their hate. Hate has no place at K-State, and our policies should reflect this point.

The fact that a huge and significant event like KSUnite can be zoom bombed by bigots from across the country is shameful and dangerous. The fact that we have not taken actions against students who lead this hatefulness on campus emboldens those who seek to attack us. That needs to change, and it needs to change as soon as possible.

What happened at KSUnite is just a wake up call and the tip of the iceberg. The actual problem runs deep and it will require the administration and student leaders to come together to make our campus better.

We have students from all over the country and the world at K-State. We are all proud Wildcats and we take pride in being part of the K-State family. Let’s reflect this pride in our actions by holding our family members accountable. We have to make sure none of our family members feel left out or discriminated against. We must make sure that our family is diverse and inclusive of everyone.

Together, with love and education, we can make K-State not hateful again.

Vedant Deepak Kulkarni is a Collegian contributor and a senior in management information systems and mass communications. He is also the international student affairs director in the Student Governing Association cabinet. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.