ECC virtual event interrupted by racist intruders

ECC Police, IT are investigating the “Zoom-bomb”; school holds solidarity event in response

Dominic Di Palermo and Shayndel Valles

Intruders “Zoom bombed” a virtual event hosted by Elgin Community College’s Multicultural and Global Initiatives Committee (MAGIC) on Monday, Nov. 1. The event was the 11th part in their Black Lives Matter series on racial disparities in education. 

ECC’s Executive Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Anthony Ramos, said about seven to eight unidentified individuals unmuted their microphones and interrupted the Co-Chair of MAGIC, Clark Hallpike, with hateful and racist speech including instances of the N-word in the chat. 

The individuals also took over the meeting’s screen-share feature with a video of a Ku Klux Klan rally. Ramos explained that the video included various homophobic and racist terms. 

“…My first immediate reaction is, how do we stop it?” Ramos said. “And then how do we communicate care and support for the folks who were there and support our employees that were managing the Zoom space to make sure they had what they needed to execute that.”

ECC’s Chief of Police David Kintz said it’s unknown if the individuals were working together. 

A few minutes after the intrusion, members of the management committee began to mute and remove the individuals involved in the attack. The Zoom meeting then ended and restarted moments later with the waiting room feature enabled. 

“I want to emphasize this,” Ramos said. “The program was interrupted, but it was not stopped.” 

The new meeting began with an open discussion about the intrusion, and then panelists resumed speaking about the originally intended topic. 

ECC’s President David Sam sent an email to students the following morning of Wednesday, Nov. 2, explaining what happened during the intrusion and that a police report was being filed with ECC Police Department. The email also linked ECC’s Wellness Services so that students had the opportunity to contact someone if they needed support. 

“It happened, right?” Sam said. “You can make all plans and if someone has a will to infiltrate an organization, they can do it. But there are plans afoot to ensure that this will not happen in the future.”

ECC’s IT department gave settings that can be set up ahead of time to help prevent a “Zoom-bomb” from happening in the future. 

The settings include restricting attendees from entering the meeting before the host, disallowing file transfer and screen sharing, muting attendees upon entry, locking meetings after they begin and the option to remove attendees at any time.

IT believes Zoom’s best control features include three other advanced settings: waiting room, advanced registration and the webinar format. 

ECC’s police and IT departments are working together to identify the individuals involved. IT is working on tracking down the IP address of the attackers. If identified, the school will pursue charges, including for cyberstalking with a classification of a hate crime.

Eight days later on Wednesday, Nov. 9, ECC hosted an event in response to the hack called “Community Conversation: Reaffirming ECC’s Commitment to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion After a Hate-Based Incident.” The event included a panel of ECC faculty including Ramos, Sam, Kintz, Hallpike, MAGIC Co-Chair Susan Timm and Dr. Escortina Ervin the executive director of equity, diversity and inclusion and compliance at Joliet Junior College. 

The conversation updated the community on the police’s investigation and gave students and community members the opportunity to speak about what happened.  

“As a Black student, I thought that it didn’t affect me, but as my day went on, it bothered me,” said ECC student Mariah White. “With the encouragement of Dr. Hardy and my educators at ECC, I was able to work through it. But I want people to understand that this is what we go through on the daily.”

Representatives from human resources and LifeWorks were available during the community conversation to support employees and help them navigate the college’s employee assistance program.

ECC wellness professionals will continue to provide support to students both on campus and in a virtual setting.

“There is zero tolerance for hate and the display of it towards any group that happens, whether in person or in the virtual environment,” Sam said. “And we’ll make every effort to prevent that from happening and whatever steps we need to take, we will do that.”