Nova Scotia

Virtual event for Black Dal students hijacked by people spewing racist comments

A virtual social event for Black students at Dalhousie University on Wednesday was hijacked by people who hurled racist and homophobic slurs at attendees.

University trying to ID people who took part in 'co-ordinated attack' on Jan. 20

A Zoom event on Jan. 20 for Black students at Dalhousie University was interrupted by unknown people who made racist and homophobic comments. The school is actively trying to identify those involved. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

An online social event for Black students at Dalhousie University in Halifax was hijacked Wednesday by people who hurled racist and homophobic comments at participants.

OmiSoore Dryden, who organized the event, called it a "co-ordinated attack" as several people tried to gain access to the Zoom session, which was supposed to be a place where Black medical and health profession students could talk about their studies and support one another.

"People actually felt that they had the right to do this," Dryden, the James R. Johnston chair in Black Canadian studies in Dalhousie University's faculty of medicine, told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon on Friday. 

"They felt perfectly within their rights," said Dryden. "They actually colluded and collaborated with others to engage in this racist behaviour, and they were gleeful."

It wasn't the first time Dryden has been at an event celebrating Black students that was Zoom-bombed, a term used to describe when people take over digital meetings and cause mayhem or post disturbing content. 

In September, an online event to launch the National Black Graduate Network was also attacked, Dryden said. 

"I think to be a Black person in Canada in 2021, these are experiences, whether it's virtually or just walking down the street, where people will call you the N-word or people will push you off the sidewalk claiming that you don't have the right to be in public space," she said.

On Wednesday, there seemed to be a lot of people waiting to join the Zoom meeting. It was the first "chair chat" since November, and Dryden said she was looking forward to meeting new students.

She's been hosting the events for Black medical students, health profession students and graduate students since 2019 through her role as the James R. Johnston chair.

OmiSoore Dryden is the James R. Johnson chair in Black Canadian studies in the faculty of medicine at Dalhousie University. (Dalhousie University)

Dryden asked people who joined the meeting to turn on their cameras so she could see their faces and they could introduce themselves. 

At first she noticed one person had posted a creepy picture, and then several people's mics turned on.

"That's when we were confronted and affronted with their racist and misogynist and homophobic slurs and their hateful speech and, you know, it was a kind of taunting and racist bullying that many people still have to face," Dryden said.

In the past, Dryden has promoted the events on social media, but this time she also sent a letter to several departments at Dalhousie.

"My sense is that they may have been Dal community members or folks who know Dal community members, but I can't guarantee that. There's nothing I can pull from that call that would solidify that," she said.

During the onslaught of racist comments, Dryden said she quickly removed people and noticed there was a slew of other people still waiting to join.

She then shut the meeting down and asked students to rejoin. The event was able to continue after that. 

University trying to ID perpetrators 

Dalhousie IT staff and security services are now trying to figure out if they can identify the people who made the comments, according to a letter sent to the university community on Thursday.

Deep Saini, president of Dalhousie University, and Theresa Rajack-Talley, vice-provost equity and inclusion, wrote that the university "unequivocally condemns these cowardly acts of anti-Black racism."

"The Dalhousie community stands with Dr. Dryden, the students and all those affected by this incident and condemns all forms of racism and discrimination in the strongest terms. We will continue to focus on strengthening our resilience, resistance and efforts moving forward," they wrote.

Deep Saini is president of Dalhousie University in Halifax. (Dalhousie University)

Dryden said she appreciates that response.

"I think whenever we are confronted with this kind of overt racial harassment, racial violence, we should be enraged. I think that's an appropriate response to racism and anti-Black racism," she said.

What most disturbs her, she said, is that the perpetrators seemed to revel in what they were doing. It's part of the culture in Canada right now that allows people to feel emboldened in their racist behaviour, she said.

"It can make one weary, continually weary or tired because it's part of the day-to-day, everyday racism that Black people have to face."

Saini and Rjack-Talley encouraged students affected by what happened on Wednesday to reach out to the university for resources and support.

The next chair chat event is planned for Feb. 17. The social events — which typically include food and music if they're allowed to happen in person — are a chance for students to celebrate their accomplishments, ask questions and socialize.

"It was just a social space where we got to talk to each other about navigating the university as Black people and supporting each other in our milestones and in our successes, and we will return to that," Dryden said.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


With files from CBC's Maritime Noon