School of Religion apologizes for “distressing violation” by hacker at Zoom event

Following statements from student groups, Principal Deane condemns “hateful, sexist, racist and anti-Semitic messaging”

Principal Deane issued a statement on the incident Wednesday night.
Journal File Photo

The School of Religion released a statement acknowledging the “disturbing incident” that happened during an event it hosted Tuesday afternoon.

The event was a guest lecture by Dr. Kathryn Lofton of Yale University, called “The Present Life of Blasphemy: Kanye West in American Popular Culture.”

The event—which was attended by more than 160 students, staff, faculty, and community members—was hacked by an anonymous user who portrayed swastikas, as well as other hateful and violent imagery including pornography, and used anti-Black, anti-woman, and Queerphobic language.

“[T]he School of Religion wishes now to recognize that the hackers’ vulgar language, obscene and violent images, and racist insignia displayed to our community was shocking, offensive, and terribly injurious,” Dr. Adnan Husain, director of the School of Religion, wrote in a statement.  

“As director, I deeply regret that many students of several of our courses, our colleagues, co-workers and the public experienced this distressing violation.”

Husain added that Information Technology Services (ITS) is investigating the incident, which has also been reported to Campus Security and Emergency Services and Kingston Police.  

“I am so sorry that this happened,” Husain wrote. “We will take further measures in future to ensure that a space safe for critical inquiry and discussion can be preserved from such malign attempts.”  

“We will endeavour to safeguard online public events with enhanced security measures.”

A number of student groups and faculty societies have expressed support for students impacted by this event, including Queen’s Hillel, Q+, and Queen’s Female Leadership in Politics (QFLIP).

While Queen’s Hillel addressed the anti-Semitic nature of the attack, Q+ acknowledged the use of “bigoted language, including Queerphobic language.”

“We are also deeply saddened by the display of pornography at the event, which we feel clearly constitutes sexual harassment,” Q+ wrote in a statement posted to Instagram.

QFLIP launched a call to action initiative encouraging students to email the University administration and faculty about the importance of creating safe spaces at campus events.

“It is your duty as administrators, faculty, and community members to ensure that students are granted a safe space in their learning. Yesterday, through no fault of the professors whose privacy and safety was also invaded, this was violated,” QFLIP’s email template said.

“Therefore, investigation is necessary and proactive measures need to be undertaken to ensure that no other students experience this.”

Principal Patrick Deane issued a statement about the violent incident Wednesday night. 

“Our university condemns the hateful, sexist, racist and anti-Semitic messaging that occurred during a Zoom hack yesterday by unknown hackers during a guest lecture from Yale Professor Kathryn Lofton at the School of Religious Studies,” Deane wrote in a statement.

“We are grateful to our staff and faculty for acting as quickly as they could to address this destructive and hurtful assault on what should have been an invaluable academic and learning opportunity.”

Deane also extended “a personal apology” from Queen’s to Professor Lofton and those who attended for any harm they suffered due to the incident. 

“There is no place for harassment and discrimination on our campus. It is particularly alarming when there is no warning of such an attack and limited means of defense in an anonymous, cyber world.”

He said Queen’s put Zoom security guidelines in place last spring following a string of similar hacking incidents across the sector.

“We urge all community members to familiarize themselves with these guidelines and to follow them closely to safeguard against these types of attacks."

Deane encouraged students who feel in need of support following the attack to contact Student Wellness Services, consult the online 24/7 resources through Empower Me or Therapy Assistance Online, see the list of After-Hours Services, or reach out to Faith and Spiritual Life

The Office of Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion is also available to offer support to staff, students, and faculty members seeking assistance in addressing harassment or discrimination matters. 

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