The effects of the Zoom bombings that occurred during KSUnite linger for session speakers, minority students and the future of events at Kansas State.
In October, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion held the third annual KSUnite via Zoom and YouTube livestream. What began in 2017 as an opportunity to share students’ experiences with xenophobia, homophobia, racism and more was infiltrated by self-proclaimed “groypers,” a group of alt-right provocateurs.
These anonymous accounts flooded comment sections with disruptions and direct attacks against speakers and minority students. The religion session had to be shut down because of the comments.
Aayat Kazi, senior in construction science and management, was a speaker representing Muslim students in that session. She said the distractions were personal.
“I invited family and friends to watch our session,” Kazi said. “My mom took her lunch break in between that hour to watch our session. I had friends from my country watching this, so I wasn’t embarrassed, but I was caught off guard by how many fake accounts there were and what they were saying and targeting our panelists. I was reading the comments at first, but then I just stopped because that wasn’t the point of me speaking. It was to share my experience.”
The Zoom bombing of KSUnite was discouraging to see as a speaker, Kazi said.
“It was hard enough to share,” she said. “Personally speaking, I mentioned 9/11 and how that changed my life, so our topics and what we were talking about did not make anything easy, and then reading those things and dealing with it didn’t make anything easier.”
Two other panelists in Kazi’s session shared their experiences with spirituality and atheism. Meanwhile, many of the comments by hijackers were questioning where the Christian session was.
Though the religion session didn’t go the way she hoped, Kazi said it was still an honor to speak at KSUnite.
“You’re sharing such personal information on what made you be the person that you are,” Kazi said. “I’m very thankful that I had this experience. I hoped it would have turned out in a different way, but I hope that someone somewhere heard me and my fellow panelists and opened their eyes.”
The university was not able to post recordings of this year’s sessions due to the nature of many messages posted.
Many accounts renamed themselves, claiming to be President Richard Myers, vice president for student life and dean of students Thomas Lane and Vedant Kulkarni, a senior in management information systems and mass communications.
Kulkarni has previously spoken out against groypers and those at K-State affiliated with them. As a result, he’s been targeted throughout the semester.
“The first thing I did that night was I reached out to Vedant,” Kazi said. “I adore that guy. He’s so energetic. I reached out to him and I was like, ‘Listen, you don’t deserve it, don’t mind it. You know you’re loved by people, and you’re doing great things for the university.’”
Kulkarni shared Kazi’s frustration over the way KSUnite unfolded.
“That experience destroyed the day for me,” Kulkarni said. “When I started seeing that people were renaming themselves to my name … I was panicking. I got scared.”
The week after KSUnite was a blur of meetings, Kulkarni said, and he experienced persistent cyberbullying for several days.
“I did get a lot of love and support from K-State, the administrators and students,” Kulkarni said. “Obviously, I’m advocating for stricter actions to be taken, and it is a complicated situation with us being a public university and how we can deal with the situation. But overall, I have received a lot of love and support from the administration. President Meyers reached out to me and replied to an email that I wrote to him, so that made me feel much better.”
Kulkarni said there are points in the Student Code of Conduct that could allow action against the perpetrators of the Zoom bombings, but the First Amendment complicates the legality of a public university taking any repercussions.
Natalie Rodriguez, junior in human resources management and Spanish, moderated one of the KSUnite Zoom sessions. While she spent time filtering suspicious-looking users out of the sessions, it was impossible to completely stop the disruptions without disabling chats and comment sections.
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion fought an uphill battle during and after KSUnite to control the narrative, Rodriguez said.
“It was still a really successful event, but nobody sees that anymore,” Rodriguez said. “[They only see] what happened, and there’s no action taken toward students.”
The openness of this year’s KSUnite was meant to increase inclusion, but the opportunity for audience members to maintain their anonymity resulted in the Zoom bombings that took over the event.
In the future, Rodriguez said, events will likely require student identification information to avoid a repeat of the situation.