It was just minutes after 9 a.m. on a Friday. Spanish teacher Larry House and her students had barely begun shaking out their morning grogginess when several Zoom bombers appeared in the meeting. Soon, they began hurling the n-word into the chat.
House told her students during second period on Feb. 26 that about thirteen unknown individuals had entered the Zoom waiting room of their Applications in Spanish class, according to junior Ahlyah Albritton, who attended the class from home. Four students in that class told the Bit that House let between two and four of the unidentified Zoom users into the virtual classroom to determine who they were and why they were there.
When House began asking them to identify themselves, one user—by the Zoom name Lucas—turned on his camera and revealed himself to be wearing a black ski mask hiding his identity. Multiple sources told the Bit that he appeared to be a teenager.
House asked the offenders who they were; a user by the Zoom name BHM unmuted himself and responded, “Your mom,” according to freshman Matthew Jones, who was in room 320 on campus at the time. Jones said the Zoom bombing seemed like “a harmless joke at the beginning,” but it quickly became clear it was “maliciously intended.”
As House struggled to remove them, the offenders spammed the n-word in the chat with no context “at least 20 times,” according to freshman Anna Ford, who was also in person and had joined the Zoom from her own computer. Eventually, the students helped House kick the intruders out.
In response to the incident, Principal Katie Gibson addressed the GDS high school community in an email early that evening. “I am horrified by this and have launched an investigation led by the HS Deans and the technology team,” Gibson wrote.
Gibson offered minimal details of the incident in her email but suggested that only one intruder was admitted into the Zoom meeting.
Gibson and House declined to comment to the Bit, citing the pending investigation.
Ford, who is new to GDS, said the incident was especially unexpected at a school like GDS.
Albritton, who is Black, was not as shocked by the incident. “This is something you just deal with, coming from the Black community,” Albritton said. “I wouldn’t say that I was expecting it, but it happened and I’m not surprised.”
This Zoom bombing incident comes after a summer rife with calls for racial justice and the emergence of the Instagram account Black at GDS. The account, featuring numerous anonymous stories from Black students and alumni, has called out the school for its alleged mishandling of repeated race-related disciplinary cases. Now more than ever, students are grappling with race within the walls of GDS.
In her message to the high school community, Gibson promised that “the school would do everything in our power to learn who was responsible for this and hold them accountable.”
Senior McKenzie Griffith, a co-head of the Black Student Union, said that incidents like this one have “definitely become the expectation” at GDS. She recounted that there has been at least one racial incident in each of the four years she has attended the high school.
Griffith said that desensitization to incidents involving racism is a common topic of conversation in BSU. In the past, students have seen GDS respond similarly to each incident: addressing the community, working to create dialogue through open space discussions and taking no public steps to prevent the next such occurrence. Griffith described it as a “cycle of talking and talking and no action.”
“We’ll hear the admin say, ‘Oh, we can’t believe this happened. The school doesn’t tolerate it.’ But it happens all the time,” Griffith said. “All the Black students are sitting there like we’re kind of used to it.”
Amid the investigation launched by the school administration, students have been confronting the aftermath of past incidents and what should happen if the offenders are caught.
Jones doubts that anyone in his class “would do that sort of thing.” However, he suspects that a student in one of House’s other classes, which all share the same Zoom link, could have shared the link with the offenders.
Gibson said in her letter to the community that the school would work to improve the security of Zoom classes and meetings for the future.
While Albritton does not think the offenders were GDS students, she said, “If I were told they were, I wouldn’t be surprised.” However, Albritton is not hopeful that the administration’s investigation will yield any conclusive results. “I feel like there’s not much you can do,” she said, referring to investigative efforts.
Ford said that in a conversation among the class’ in-person students after the period, someone suggested the possibility of using IP addresses to identify the digital intruders.
Ford thinks that if the offenders are GDS high schoolers “they should definitely be expelled.” Jones believes the students deserve a suspension at the least.
“From my knowledge,” Albritton said, “GDS doesn’t do much” to discipline students who commit racist acts.
Griffith chalks up the belief that perpetrators of such acts go unpunished—which she said is widespread among students—to a lack of transparency from the administration. “We all see these things happening but then we never see the punishment for them,” she said. Even when punishments are imposed, Griffith thinks GDS’ failure to communicate—often explained on grounds of privacy—“still creates distrust.”
“Knowing that [racist incidents] still happens here—and it happens often—it definitely does not better my view of GDS,” Griffith said. She wonders whether GDS’ responses to racist incidents are “performative” or whether “GDS actually wants to be the leader of change-making.”
In her Feb. 26 email, Gibson wrote, “There is no room for hate speech in this community.”
After the Spanish class’ immediate unsettled reaction faded, they returned to their normal work. House began the discussion of their upcoming test as planned, but the Zoom bombers remained in the waiting room until the end of second period.
As Matthew Jones recounted, “There was a little bit of shock, but besides that, we just went back to doing what we usually do.”
Tabitha Lynn ’21