Stony Brook students around the country used Zoom to resume classes on Monday, March 30, for the first time since the university announced that classes would be going online shortly before an extended spring break.
Some courses, however, are now facing video conferencing hijacking and harassment.
The Provost’s Office sent out a campus-wide email on Tuesday, March 31, to students, faculty and staff condemning “offensive and inappropriate content” in online classrooms after complaints.
The email noted that Stony Brook University “is actively working to address and prevent these instances of Zoom Intruding,” and remains “as committed as ever to maintaining an inclusive, welcoming, and respectful learning environment for all of our students, no matter the class format.”
“Any action that stigmatizes an individual or a group of people, including expressions of xenophobia, will not be tolerated,” the email said.
Intruders have been hijacking Zoom classes and meetings at universities all around the country, in a new trend called “Zoom bombing.” These hackers are posting pornography, racial slurs and swear words, and harassing students and faculty.
“My Zoom lecture was hacked and the word “n****r” was scrawled in red across the screen. I think today’s lesson in online teaching is done,” Badia Ahad, an associate professor of African American literature and culture at Loyola University Chicago, tweeted on March 31.
A similar incident occurred at Stony Brook University.
Georges Fouron, a professor from the Department of Africana Studies, held his first online class for AFS 393, The Caribbean Immigrants in the United States: Dreams and Realities, on Monday, March 30. Twenty minutes into the lecture, the class was interrupted with the same word written on the screen, along with pornographic images and swearing in the background.
“It took me by surprise, I didn’t expect anything like that to happen,” Fouron said. “They did all kinds of crazy stuff. Who are they? I have no idea, so that means that one way or the other, they managed to get through the system.”
Following the incident, many students reached out to Fouron apologizing for what happened, even though they weren’t involved. Fouron said that one student even emailed Interim President Michael Bernstein.
Hackers also found a way into his Wednesday online class, where they continued to display racial slurs and pornographic drawings.
“Students are upset by this behavior because it is getting in the way of our learning,” Kristen Kelley, a senior psychology major in Fouron’s class, said. “We have yet to have a successful class.”
Fouron said that if these disruptions continue to happen, he will not be able to finish the course material for the rest of the semester.
“Let’s fix the system so I can teach my class,” Fouron said. “That’s all I want.”
Stony Brook University made universal changes to Zoom accounts for all faculty and staff; users now have to use their university email addresses to join a class, only instructors have the ability to share their screens, and faculty can now remove disruptive participants, according to the email.
The email also noted that Zoom classes will be recorded, and that offensive behavior will be addressed through the student conduct process.
Correction, 4/4/2020 1:00 p.m.: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled the name of the professor of the Department of Africana Studies as George Foruon. The correct spelling is Georges Fouron.