A shocking video appears to show a pair of students taunting and berating a female Black professor during an online sociology class last fall.
The 21-second video, posted Wednesday to Instagram by senior psychology major Monique Nembhard, appears to show the two students taunting associate professor of sociology Brenda Moore and using demeaning names and expletives during a Zoom class session. The students, who appear under the names Ben Dover and Barry Scott on Zoom, do not attend UB, and were successfully identified and dealt with by their respective universities, according to Deputy Chief of Police Joshua Sticht.
Sticht declined to give the names of the universities, citing FERPA.
“You don’t make any f—ing sense,” one student can be heard saying in the video.
“Yeah, what even is this?” the other student replies.
“You’re saying random f—ing bulls— to us,” the first student says.
“F— you, Brenda,” one of the students says. “Suck a d—.”
Students in the class said the interruptions happened weekly and ranged from outbursts like the one captured on the video to “just random moaning” throughout the class.
“Being in the class was frustrating,” Abby Kolstee, a sophomore biomedical sciences student, said. “If I knew I didn’t have a group discussion I wouldn’t end up going to class. I wasn’t really able to focus and learn.”
Kolstee, who was a Spectrum reporter last semester, said the professor did the “best she could” and “tried to get heavier security on Zoom, but it never really worked.”
Sticht said University Police received a report on Oct. 7 about a series of “at least three” harassing and disruptive incidents “clearly targeting [Moore’s] gender” that occured during Moore’s SOC 211: Sociology of Diversity class. He said UPD “immediately started an investigation” with the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and that the department figured out their names thanks to “significant digital forensic evidence” obtained by UBIT.
In her Instagram post, Nembhard writes that the video is “degrading, disgusting and disrespectful.” She says the students “must be punished” for their conduct and asks for help finding their real names.
“Not only is it that UB doesn’t really have Black professors, let alone Black female professors,” Nembhard told The Spectrum, referencing the university’s lack of racial diversity among faculty and professors. “I would be irate no matter who it was, if they were white or they were Asian. But it hits home because it’s a Black lady. I have family members that are teachers and have been principals [and] I can only imagine that happening to them.”
As of July 2020, UB’s faculty was 82% white and 5.9% Black. UB’s Department of Sociology lists 20 faculty members on its website; Moore is the only one who is Black.
Nembhard says the incident is especially upsetting in a college context.
“Just the simple fact that this is not middle school... But it’s the fact that we’re in college and they’re clearly old enough,” Nembhard said. “It’s just like, you guys are old enough to know right from wrong. The fact that you guys are taking time out of your day to do this, it’s like, for what? You guys are just doing this to be disrespectful. It’s just not valid. It’s upsetting to say the least. I can’t even find the words.”
In a statement to The Spectrum, Moore confirmed the incident and said UB’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion has handled “similar incidents that take place in other classrooms on UB’s campus.”
Sharon Nolan-Weiss, the director of UB’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, said in an email to The Spectrum that her office received “approximately five complaints of Zoom harassment” during the spring 2020 and fall 2021 semesters.
She said EDI partners with University Police and UBIT to “determine whether we can identify the perpetrators of the conduct.” But, she noted, because of the nature of these incidents, “it has not always been possible to identify the perpetrators.” She said these incidents have typically been perpetrated by people from outside the UB community.
Moore says she contacted multiple UB departments about the incident.
“The incident did indeed happen in my class last semester,” Moore wrote. “I reported it to UB’s Office of Equity and Inclusion as well as UB’s Campus Police. I was informed that the students were identified and were confronted by the Office of Student Conduct at their universities. As far as I am concerned, I have done my due diligence by reporting the incident and the case is closed.”
Moore did not say if she felt targeted for her race or gender, but said she does not intend to speak any more about what happened.
Robert Adelman, chair and associate professor in the UB Department of Sociology, knew about the Zoom bombing in the fall and called it “unacceptable.” He said Moore reported the problem to him and told him she was reporting it to the University Police Department.
“I was informed by Professor Moore about the situation,” Adelman said. “She contacted those offices and by then, it was taken from there. It happened a couple of times, I think, actually. As far as support, I said I’d do what she needs, this is terrible, this is horrible behavior.”
He added the behavior “will not be tolerated.”
“I’m always concerned about these kinds of things happening,” Adelman said. “We learned a lot of lessons in the fall, and I think precautions have been taken to improve security measures with Zoom. But I’m always concerned about them. I’m hopeful it won’t happen to anyone ever again.”
On Jan. 25, UB Zoom was updated with new security features, according to a UBIT press release. Professors are now required to use one of three security measures — a passcode, a waiting room or only authenticated users allowed — for class. Students joining by phone are required to use a passcode. Professors have an option to “suspend participant activities.” And the “allow participants to rename themselves” option is off by default.
Nolan-Weiss said her office is required to keep complaints confidential and cannot disclose whether someone has filed a report under UB’s Discrimination and Harassment Policy.
In a statement, UB spokeswoman Kate McKenna said, “UB strives to be an accepting, respectful and inclusive institution and will not tolerate acts, such as this, that undermine or contradict those values. When acts of online harassment occur, UB’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) will coordinate with UB Police and UB Information Technology to identify the perpetrators of the harassment.
“If the perpetrators are identified to be UB students, the Office of Student Advocacy will address conduct of this nature. UB will also refer perpetrators who attend other colleges and universities to their schools’ conduct offices. It is important that anyone experiencing or witnessing conduct of this sort reports it to UPD immediately with a description of the offender(s) so that they may be identified and the situation investigated.”
Moore became an assistant professor in 1988 and was promoted to associate professor in 1996. She has been “recognized many times for her work as a sociologist researching in the fields of race and ethnic relations, military sociology, gender and social stratification,” according to her UB biography.
Moore is a member of the Women’s Army Corps Veterans Association and American Sociological Association. She has served on UB’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Committee and chaired the Faculty Senate Committee on Affirmative Action. She is currently a member of the Intercollegiate Athletic Board.
In 1994, she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the American Battle Monuments Commission. She is also a presidential appointee to the Department of Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.
“It is always disheartening when our faculty, staff and students are subjected to upsetting and harassing conduct when participating in university activities online, and UB will take action to address this to the maximum extent we are able to do,” Nolan-Weiss said.
Vindhya Burugupalli contributed to the reporting.
Justin Weiss is the managing editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Justin Weiss is the The Spectrum's managing editor. In his free time, he can be found hiking, playing baseball or throwing things at his TV when his sports teams aren't winning. His words have appeared in Elite Sports New York and the Long Island Herald. He can be found on Twitter @Jwmlb1.