Editor’s note: This article contains mentions of gun violence and hate speech, which may be disturbing for some readers.
On Monday, March 22, Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA) hosted a virtual vigil and discussion in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the Atlanta spa shootings on March 16. The vigil took place from 11:30 a.m. to noon, and a discussion surrounding Asian hate among the campus community followed.
Minutes after the Zoom call began, multiple participants unmuted themselves and turned on their cameras to verbally attack other attendees. Some participants had disturbing images on their Zoom screens, and it took around a minute for the meeting hosts to mute all attendees and severely limit the participants’ Zoom functionality. The meeting room, which was previously accessible through a public link, was immediately locked following the Zoom bombing. It is not clear yet whether the attendees who disrupted the event were NC State-affiliated or not.
The vigil was hosted by MSA Director Nashia Whittenburg, who immediately delegated co-hosts to kick off the offending participants. After 15 minutes, Whittenburg was able to resume the vigil and begin the presentation.
“Shamefully, this demonstration of what is happening virtually is just a snippet and a small part of what a lot of minoritized communities… are having to go through,” Whittenburg said.
Whittenburg had to pause for a few more minutes to remove the rest of the unidentified attackers before resuming her introduction to the vigil.
“As we can see from what has been demonstrated, hate across the board has been very prevalent,” Whittenburg said. “It has been heightened, in my opinion, now more than in years past. This is the time where we need to make a very conscious effort to unite, unify and support one another and our community.”
The presentation was not screen-shared for fears of further Zoom bombing; instead, Whittenburg flipped her camera around to show the presentation slides on her monitor. After a few opening statements, there was a moment of silence in remembrance of the eight lives lost in the Atlanta spa shootings, six of whom were Asian American women.
Following the moment of silence, Whittenburg presented several slides detailing the age and names of the victims, as well as a short biography of each. Benny Tillman, a fourth-year studying business administration and the MSA student coordinator, read a passage from “There Is No Hierarchy of Oppression” by Audre Lorde at the conclusion of the presentation slides.
Whittenburg then opened the floor up for discussion. Due to the Zoom bombing, only co-hosts were able to manually unmute participants. Links to resources were also provided for students to take advantage of.
“Earlier, this was really one of those moments where it was just something that was painful to remedy,” Whittenburg said. “Right now, I do believe that we are in safe space, and we have our NC State community, and so I’ll allow for folks to be able to have a discussion and we’ll allow for space to chat.”
Security restrictions were subsequently lifted at the assumption that all negative participants were removed from the locked Zoom call. Whittenburg invited the remaining attendees to use the chat feature or take themselves off mute if they felt comfortable doing so.
No attendees spoke up, although some participants used the chat feature.
“If you’re not comfortable, I completely understand and do apologize for earlier technical difficulties,” Whittenburg said. “We will be repeating this space again for an opportunity to discuss, and our discussion will focus on encouraging an opportunity for us to be a catalyst for positive change.”
Whittenburg said that MSA plans to host another discussion on Wednesday at 11 a.m., “in an effort to continue or have a discussion.”
“I do know that today was very heavy and emotional, speaking personally for myself, with the disappointment and disgust in those who felt it necessary to continue to exude hate as we are discussing a very sensitive topic in remembering real people who lost their lives,” Whittenburg said. “I know for me, the veteran and grandmother and single mother, and all of those lives, they hit home.”
Thomas Witherspoon, the senior director of campus community centers for the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, closed out the discussion with a few words.
“I’m deeply saddened by how the start of this vigil happened, and it’s a direct reflection of the hate and disregard that we see in our world,” Witherspoon said. “I think that because of what we’ve seen, and the disregard for human life, it is so important that we have the discussion and then move from discussion to action — to figure out how we hold lives at the center of our humanity and allow their lives to be elevated and held up.”
As of 1:30 p.m., an NC State Police spokesperson said they had not received a report of the incident.
Resources for Asian American students can be found on the Counseling Center website.