Written by Hannah Finley and Haneen Zain

The professor is unable to continue teaching as a Zoom-bomber interrupts class. Illustration by Ryan Tran.

As spring quarter kicked off, a number of UC Santa Cruz’s virtual classrooms were bombarded with racist, sexist and pornographic disruptions. These interruptions, known as “Zoom bombings,” have cropped up across the country, putting Zoom’s security into question.  

“These incidents create real harm and we are taking [them] extremely seriously,” said Scott Hernandez-Jason, UCSC Director of News and Media Relations, in an email. “We have several open investigations.”

According to Hernandez-Jason, Information and Technology Services (ITS), with the help of campus police, are conducting eight investigations into Zoom bombing incidents. Fifteen reports of Zoom bombing were filed from the start of the quarter up until April 9. No new reports have been filed since April 9. 

UCSC Police Chief Nader Oweis said no charges have been filed toward Zoom bombers. 

UCSC Students who are charged with Zoom bombing will face potential student conduct sanctions which can range from a letter of warning up to expulsion. 

“The sanction is meant to be in line with the violation,” said Hernandez-Jason in an email. “As a campus we strive to help students understand their mistake and be able to continue in the campus community.”

ANTH 2 Faces Zoom-bombers 

A Zoom bomber interrupts a lecture. Illustration by Ryan Tran.

Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (ANTH 2) — a 300 person class taught by Melissa Caldwell — faced Zoom bombers on the first day of instruction.

Caldwell attempted to mute all participants at the beginning of the lecture multiple times. However, the Zoom bombers repeatedly unmuted themselves and enabled video in order to engage in disruptive behaviors.

“I drafted a message to the students in my class telling them I was sorry that happened and that I thought I had done everything I needed to do,” Caldwell said. “Then I explicitly identified these things as hate crimes because that’s what they were and I felt like the students needed to have someone verbalizing exactly what it was.”

In response to the Zoom bombing in her class, Information Technology Services (ITS) offered to provide Caldwell with a student worker to sit in the class and monitor behind the scenes. The ITS student would be able to force Zoom bombers out of the lecture immediately. Caldwell decided not to take this offer.

“I need to make sure the door is shut before that disruptive person enters the class,” Caldwell said. “If somebody gets in and starts spewing threats at somebody else, it’s too late at that point.”

After discussing the incident with her teaching assistants and department colleagues, 

Caldwell decided it would be best to proceed with pre-recorded lectures for the rest of the quarter. 

Third-year transfer psychology undergraduate Sierra Spivack was one of many students who supported the professor’s decision. 

“I understand why she eventually moved the class away from live lectures,” Spivack said. “I feel like she had to do it because it’s for the safety of the students and the safety of her in general […] I’m kind of disappointed that I don’t have a live lecture because I already have another class that’s pre-recorded so now I only have one live class. I guess it’s kind of disappointing that we’re paying all this tuition for a pre-recorded lecture and it’s just not the same.” 

Caldwell felt she received minimal support and communication from the university in the days that followed the incident. On April 2, two days after waiting for the university to take action, she emailed campus Police Chief Nader Oweis who responded within minutes, encouraging her to file a police report. 

That same day, Caldwell and department chair Mark Anderson drafted a letter to Chancellor Larive, who responded the next day, revealing it was the first she’d heard of the ANTH 2 incident. That afternoon on April 3, the campus released its public affairs announcement. 

“We are deeply saddened and disappointed to hear about multiple instances of racist and offensive disruptions to class sessions held via Zoom,” read the announcement. “This behavior causes real harm and is not tolerated on our campus.” 

UCSC Center for Innovations in Technology and Learning (CITL) was created in 2016 as a tool to expand inclusive learning and provide resources for faculty in transitioning to online learning. In response to Zoom bombing reports, administration provided faculty with a link to a CITL document outlining the ways faculty can boost their Zoom security.  

The six page document provides step by step instruction for faculty to tighten those accessing the Zoom to only “authenticated users.” This way, anonymous participants are not permitted. 

“The measures that were communicated to us by various units on campus about how to lock down Zoom were inadequate and put too high a burden on individual instructors […],” Caldwell said. “There was consensus in the [anthropology] department that our number one priority was to keep students safe, and that we could not be guaranteed the technology would do that if we were teaching synchronously.”

According to Director of News and Media Relations Scott Hernandez-Jason, administration is working closely with the Hate Bias Reporting Team to address Zoom bombings. Students can file a report online.