Dear Liberal Arts Undergraduates:
By now, you are starkly aware of the number of “Zoom-bombing” incidents that have occurred in our Penn State community these past few weeks. Like many of you, I am disturbed not only by the targeting of black people and other underrepresented or marginalized groups, but also by what appears to be the collective, coordinated nature of this form of harassment and violence, which is affecting institutions of higher learning across the nation. Although “Zoom-bombing” represents an emergent form of racial terror made possible by the shift to remote learning and work, it is nonetheless a continuation of patterns of exclusion and harm that have occurred in higher education, and elsewhere, prior to the COVID pandemic.
As I conveyed in my February 1 message, hate-filled language and behavior in all their manifestations have no place at our University, or anywhere else for that matter. Further, our students, as well as our faculty and staff, deserve a campus environment in which we can thrive, develop into our best selves, and most importantly, feel safe and supported. I want to assure you that I remain committed to employing all the mechanisms available to foster an equitable and inclusive environment in which all members of our college are free from any threats and intimidation based on racial/ethnic/national, gender, sexual, religious, or other social identities.
To those of you who were attending any of the events during which these assaults took place, I am deeply sorry for what you experienced, and I share your outrage. If you or anyone you know is in need of support, I urge you to contact the University’s Center for Counseling and Psychological Services or Multicultural Resource Center.
I also want you to know that our college supports Penn State’s ongoing actions to identify the perpetrators of these attacks and hold them accountable, whether they be Penn State students or not. Indeed, my office will do whatever is possible to support those efforts. At the University level, the offices of Student Affairs, Educational Equity, and IT Security, as well as University Police and Public Safety, have been actively engaged in determining who may be involved in these virtual assaults and are working collaboratively to thwart future instances like these from occurring. Like you, I want the assailants identified and brought to justice as quickly as possible, and I can assure you that these sentiments are shared at the highest levels of Penn State leadership. That said, I have personally weighed in on conversations about how the University can further communicate the seriousness with which everyone has been taking these crimes, and the planful nature of the institution’s responses and deliberation.
It is true that we are dealing with multiple crises, but I suspect we would agree that we cannot simply be reactive in our sense of emergency. Hence, while our college is involved in activities to more deftly manage a “Zoom-bombing” epidemic, we are also assembling policies, practices, and programs to better onboard, mentor, professionally develop, and serve faculty and staff. One trending example of this is the creation—at the behest of Liberal Arts staff members themselves—of a Staff Reading Circle to read and discuss scholarship on anti-racism and wide-ranging matters of social justice. Our college is immersed in other forward-looking initiatives to advance inclusion and equity as a feature of research, scholarly activities, graduate education, and service.
Well before the pandemic occurred, our college was also cognizant of the need to continue broadening the base of our network of alumni volunteers, leaders, and donors, and expanding the range of priorities that we present to them. This work continues apace. At the campus level, our college will be represented in conversations about how to better embed diversity as an element of a Penn State degree, and to make recommendations to situate racial and social justice more fully as an institutional feature of the University’s profile. Part of this work should entail confronting the University’s own fraught past as a pathway toward greater truth, reconciliation, and community-building.
I recognize that this work at the college and University levels may often be invisible. But as your dean, please know that I will always try to ensure that our college offers the support and resources you need to navigate these challenging times. To be clear, individuals on the receiving end of a “Zoom-bombing” assault are never at fault and should never be the focus of blame. As a precautionary measure for those of you planning to host an event or activity via Zoom, please review the tutorial available on Penn State’s Zoom page outlining how to make your meetings more secure in less than four minutes. Here are a few tips, as well, if you are hosting an event and an attack occurs:
- Stop the offending participant(s)’ video and remove them from the meeting;
- Mute all participants until the offending participant(s) is removed from the meeting;
- End the event if you are not able to silence/remove the offending participant(s);
- Report the incident to University Police and Public Safety immediately;
- Also report the incident to the Office of Student Affairs (in cases involving a student event) and/or the Office of Educational Equity (in cases involving students, faculty, and/or staff);
- Notify the college dean’s office that this incident has occurred, as well.
Please continue to be safe and be well, and please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions or concerns.
Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts
Professor of African American Studies
The Pennsylvania State University
111 Sparks Building
University Park, PA 16802