Commenters on Tuesday tried to hijack a K-State diversity event by flooding the comment section of some of the sessions with racist comments.
The event, KSUnite, is an annual event to promote diversity, equity and inclusion at the university. Generally it includes an in-person rally and speakers, but this year’s event was entirely online.
The executive board of the KSU Young Democrats said on Twitter that student Jaden McNeil, a conservative advocate, had shared a link to the KSUnite livestream and Zoom call to his Twitter followers, who then spammed the comment section, making it impossible for other participants to have a conversation about the subjects of the talk. Because of the disruption, the university turned off its chat function and made the stream private.
After K-State tweeted Tuesday about KSUnite, McNeil, in a since-deleted tweet, retweeted the message and said “Groypers, stand back and stand by.” McNeil’s tweet is both a reference to Groypers, a loose collective of alt-right figures, and a comment made by President Donald Trump during the first presidential debate on Sept. 29 when he said the same to Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group whose members advocate white supremacy.
“Now, as much as before, we want Jaden McNeil expelled,” the Young Democrats group wrote. “Kansas State might claim to have a welcoming atmosphere, but it’s all a sham until they take concrete action against white supremacist ideals on campus.”
Vedant Kulkarni, K-State senior and international affairs director of the Student Governing Association, said that bots and individual users attacked people for their identity during his breakout session discussing religion. (Bots are software programs that are automated but look like users.) Kulkarni said the group noticed the chat section suddenly flooded with derogatory messages, and he began sharing what was going on with the public and with university administrators.
Kulkarni said after some of the Zoom bombers realized he was tweeting about them, they began targeting him personally, creating Zoom accounts under his name to comment in other sessions.
Kulkarni shared some of the hundreds of comments in a video on Twitter, which included baseless accusations of pedophilia, pro-Christianity comments, saying George Floyd "deserved it" and messages of support for McNeil. Many of the comments were just single letters spelling out n****r. One said, “Diversity divides Americans.”
McNeil, a junior, is no stranger to controversy on campus ever since he founded the local Turning Point USA chapter. After leaving the group, he founded and is the president of America First Students, which was met by opposition from those who accused the group of white nationalism. McNeil has denied he is a white nationalist.
After the death of George Floyd, who died in May after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck during an arrest, McNeil tweeted, “Congratulations to George Floyd on being drug free for an entire month!”
People called on K-State to take action against McNeil and the tweet, including K-State athletes who temporarily stopped their sports activities to demand action. While President Richard Myers said in a statement to the campus community that the messages were “disrespectful and abhorrent,” he said the university would not violate the First Amendment and expel him.
The university then shared an 11-step plan to address racism and discrimination, which includes establishing a work group to make recommendations regarding university policies to address institutional bias and barriers; increasing recruitment efforts to raise enrollment of students of color; offering cultural competency workshops for faculty and staff; and more.
Some people, including Kulkarni, are again calling for the suspension or expulsion of McNeil after the event.
"This time he has disrupted and obstructed a university-sponsored event, which is a violation of the student code of conduct," Kulkarni said. "... I do believe suspension or expulsion of him from this campus is in order."
McNeil tweeted that during a KSUnite session he attended, he asked the professors if white lives mattered, and they kicked him out of the Zoom room. He said K-State should face legal consequences for their “blatant discrimination against White Christians.”
“You’re not allowed to say, ‘White lives matter’ without them attacking you as a white supremacist and calling for you to be expelled,” he said. “I thought college was supposed to be about the free exchange of ideas? Guess not!”
Jeff Morris, K-State vice president for communications and marketing, said in an email that the university trained the moderators and hosts to be prepared for disruptions.
“They were given the discretion to turn off chat and control entry into the rooms,” he said. “Given the public nature of the event, we wanted to encourage dialogue and interaction.”
Morris said the university is reviewing the incident before deciding what steps to take next. He said the university would not comment on individual students, but it would adhere to its diversity and inclusion plan.
While Kulkarni said he felt "depressed" immediately following Tuesday's events, he is hopeful for the future based on the feedback he has received from his peers and that strict action will be taken against the perpetrators.
"KSUnite is an event that started against racism and discrimination on campus and for it to face racism and discrimination is a cruel irony," he said. "... But the overall love and support that I've received from the K-State community and the unity that I've seen on campus ... gives me some hope that there is obviously a brighter future ahead of us and a few bad apples don't represent K-State as a whole."