CSU Racist Zoom Bombings Target Black Students, Staff
By Dianne Anderson
Racist Zoom bombings targeting Black audiences have hit campuses all over the nation, most recently with attacks at Cal State University, San Bernardino and CSU Long Beach resembling a case of life imitating art.
A student victim of a hate crime was at the heart of the Black History Month play “Baltimore,” followed by a panel discussion around an investigation of who could have written the racial slur on the dorm door, and why at CSUSB.
Students were invited to dissect and ponder the nature of racism in the Zoom event when all of sudden, graphic images referencing Black people, the N-word and pornography were strewn across everyone’s laptops.
Prof. Kathryn Ervin at the CSUSB Theater Department, believes the hack constitutes a racially motivated hate crime, and most likely the culprit is close to the campus.
“It is very likely it’s someone on campus. There were 35 to 40 people, this was not a national speaker on campus about this upcoming play,” she said.
She reported it to the police, but there are no clear answers on prosecution. No one recorded the workshop, but there was a transcript of the chat reaction to the bombing. The police chief informed her that Zoom-bombings should be reported to police quickly, and an investigation is ongoing on “disruptive behavior” targeting individuals or groups.
But she sees it as much more than a disruptive incident.
She talked with a colleague who was also hacked by someone using a whiteboard to draw pornographic images.
“That’s a case of someone trying to be disruptive, but this was clearly racial in terms of language,” she said. “Certainly we felt violated. We were not in fact physically violated, it felt that way,” she said.
If enough incidents draw complaints and are reported, she hopes law enforcement or policymakers will step up efforts to find a solution. She is also bracing for what might happen next month, which is Women’s History Month.
In all, the whole event was just moments long, but she said it seemed like it went on forever.
“It was very disturbing for everyone in the room, to students faculty and staff, that there are still people who want to use this kind of hate speech, to be vocal and verbal about their hatred for Black people,” she said.
Tony Coulson, Ph. D., executive director of CSUSB Cybersecurity Center, said the attacks are not only on Zoom, but also with other teleconferencing systems.
Some solutions include identifying everyone entering the room, limiting meetings with a password, or set up a waiting room limiting who can attend. Participants could get permission to turn on their microphones or cameras. Users could implement a system for emergency shutdown.
“It is absolutely horrifying and it’s amplified that we’re boxed in that space. If you did that in a crowd of people you would risk your personal safety, people would try to shut you down. But in an online space, tracking down people is very difficult.”
Because of COVID, he wonders about access for disadvantaged communities, that putting in heavier technical controls could create more barriers. He said those determined to break into a meeting would already be using a hard-to-track fake IP address. Sometimes attacks come from different countries.
When he hosts large events, he has five or six people watch for trolls.
“It doesn’t mean we’re going to catch them, but we have people with their eyes out, but do you want every event with half the audience monitoring everything everybody says?” he said.
A racist Zoom-bombing last year at Cal State University, Long Beach prompted a petition that has amassed over 36,000 signatures calling for Zoom to get serious about security solutions.
Last spring, Dr. Dennis Johnson, recent Ed. D. graduate from CSULB was presenting his dissertation defense in front of an audience of family members when the room was contaminated with a barrage of smut and slurs.
“Truth be told, no matter how much I brushed it off, my moment had been taken and there was nothing I could do about to get it back. On one of my most remarkable moments of my life, I was called a “nigger.” My mother, grandmother, sister, spouse and many others were shown images of pornography,” he wrote in the petition.
Since then, the campus is passing along information about how Zoom users can tighten up controls on their end.
Dr. Johnson describes gliding through the dissertation defense until the shock of the experience, and shut down. He later finished the presentation, but he said he couldn’t enjoy what should have been the most special day of his long academic journey.
He is calling on people to sign the petition to demand Zoom create real solutions to prevent attacks.
“On Zoom’s website, the only help offered is an article on “How to Keep the Party Crashers from Crashing Your Zoom Event”. That is a slap in the face to me. I’ve never been to a party where I was called a Nigger. These are racist cyber attacks; not innocent party crashers just stopping by to say hey,” he wrote.
For recommendations to help bomb-proof rooms by CSULB, see
To see Dr. Johnson’s petition: