Eric Warner Opinion Editor
On Oct. 14, writer and poet Luis Alberto Urrea was invited to speak during a virtual event to discuss his 2009 novel “Into the Beautiful North,” but the event took a turn for the worst when immature hackers got involved.
Mr. Urrea is a Mexican-American citizen born in Tijuana, Mexico. His book “Into the Beautiful North” is a powerful coming-of-age story. The Mexican main character, Nayeli, travels north to find seven men to help defend her small Mexican town, populated mostly by women, against the evil men who plan to take over.
The National Endowment for the Arts’ selected this book for the 2020 National Big Read Program which, according to the NEA, “…annually provides support to selected nonprofit organizations around the country to host dynamic community-wide reading programs, each designed around a single NEA Big Read selection.” Over 500 students and staff members attended the virtual presentation. The event is the first of a series for the NEA occurring from Oct. 7- Dec. 3. Easten looked forward to being a part of this initiative.
Not long after Urrea started the Oct. 14 event, an unknown attendee(s) began to make noise as he spoke. According to an anonymous source who attended, at least one or more attendees going by different names throughout the event began to troll and insult the guest speaker. They wrote offensive racial slurs and names in the Webex comment section. The attendee(s) hacked into the event using Urrea’s name and started typing degrading sexual language and curse words into the chatroom as the author.
The faculty moderator struggled to resolve the interruptions, asking students to ignore the comments. Amid the confusion, the moderator accidently kicked out Urrea when the hacker was using his name. Urrea eventually came back and continued the presentation, unwavering in his efforts to dismiss the mockery.
Appalled by these events, President Elsa M. Nunez of Eastern Connecticut State University released a statement condemning these actions and apologizing to Mr. Urrea. “This was unacceptable behavior, and I apologize to Mr. Urrea, anyone in the audience, and every other member of our campus community,” said Nunez. “… Disrespectful, hateful and deliberately offensive language and behavior has no place in our society, and I will not tolerate it on our campus.”
To ensure events such as this no longer appear, the university is reviewing its procedures in hosting future public virtual events. The university’s Information Technology Services team is already working to identify the disruptor(s). If they turn out to students at Eastern, they will be subject to disciplinary action under the university’s Code of Student Conduct. It is Eastern’s duty to ensure a safe environment for all its students especially among such a racially divided time in the U.S.