UMass hires cybersecurity firm to probe racist messages

  • University of Massachusetts Amherst GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 9/28/2021 3:23:04 PM

AMHERST — A national cybersecurity company is being called on to assist with an investigation into racist emails sent to members of Black student organizations at the University of Massachusetts.

Chancellor Kumble Syubbaswamy announced in a letter to the campus community Monday evening that Stroz Friedberg Digital Forensics of New York City will help UMass police and information technologies staff in identifying who is responsible for the emails and hate messages sent to the pages of registered student organizations

The racist incidents, which also included the yelling of an epithet at Black students by a passing driver, came to light last week in communications from Vice Chancellor Nefertiti Walker.

Subbaswamy wrote that the incidents are “contemptible and cowardly.”

“We will not be intimidated by the hateful acts of craven individuals who hide in anonymity. We stand with our students who have been victimized, and we will continually strive for a more equitable community grounded in the principles of dignity and respect,” Subbaswmay wrote.

Earlier Monday, Marty Meehan, the president of the University of Massachusetts system, announced that his office was also working to make sure the perpetrators are held accountable. Meehan called the incidents “appalling and disgusting.”

Subbaswamy’s letter states that even with Stroz Friedberg, a leading national firm in cybersecurity, the investigation will be difficult.

“While we are mindful of the challenges of determining the source of anonymous emails such as these, we are confident that Stroz Friedberg, with its extensive expertise and technical capacity, will methodically follow every lead in pursuit of the contemptible individual or individuals responsible,” Subbaswamy wrote.

The arrangement with Stroz Friedberg is still being finalized and will depend on the extent of work it needs to do with the campus IT professionals, said UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski.

Should the people responsible be identified, Subbaswamy said, the full weight of the university’s disciplinary and legal apparatus will be brought to bear.

“I want to assure you that we are committed to doing everything in our power to support our Black students at this difficult time and will spare no measure in our investigation to determine the perpetrator(s) of these incidents,” he wrote in an email.

Meantime, the campus is also taking steps to fight back against bigotry and intolerance with a series of educational initiatives and action steps aimed at promoting understanding, and an ongoing commitment to justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion, Subbaswamy wrote.

First, a forum titled “Black Joy, Black Healing and Black Justice,” led by the Center of Racial Justice and Youth Engaged Research, and sponsored by the Office of Equity and Inclusion, will be held Oct. 5 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The forum will bring together Black students from across UMass for an evening of community, love and kinship.

Next, the Black Advisory Council, a team of faculty, students, administrators and staff charged with developing recommendations to the Office of Equity and Inclusion, will be launched. The idea is to improve the experiences of Black students, faculty and staff on campus.

Finally, Subbaswamy stated, there is a commitment to increase funding for the Center of Racial Justice.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at
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