Ashley DeLeon | Executive Editor | 

A virtual panel discussion on the consequences of Russia’s attacks against Ukraine was subject to suspected pro-Russian disturbances Tuesday night. The intruders posted racial slurs and sexist comments using the chat feature on Zoom, followed by sexual acts displayed on video. 

“In our IT discussion… we thought that the actual disturbances were carried out by people,” said IT Director Joe Pawlaczyk. He explained, however, that an automated tool, or internet bot, may have been used to identify and target online Ukrainian-based forums and presentations.

He added that the meeting information was posted on social media platforms and sent to alumni. Anyone with the Zoom link could access this meeting.

Over 50 people attended the event. 

“Some of the content was pro-Russian and seemed to be targeting the Ukrainian-based presentations,” he said.

Political Science Department Chair Jeffrey Ayres ended the meeting after 15 minutes and swiftly coordinated with IT to restart the discussion. 

The session was reset with a waiting room enabled, which allowed monitors to impede intruders from joining the meeting. The intruders were not affiliated with the St. Michael’s College community, Ayres and Pawlaczyk confirmed. 

“I shut down the meeting, restarted it, prevented the return of these bots… and we managed after a brief pause to continue discussing the situation involving gross violations of human rights and international norms by Russia into Ukraine,” Ayres said. 

“None of us wants the bravery and resilience of Ukrainians or other oppressed groups to be diminished even slightly by the actions of people motivated by hate and violence,”

Daniel Simmons, panel host and assistant professor of political science

Almost 40 people rejoined the discussion.

“None of us wants the bravery and resilience of Ukrainians or other oppressed groups to be diminished even slightly by the actions of people motivated by hate and violence,” said Daniel Simmons, panel host and assistant professor of political science. 

Mike Bosia, professor of political science and international relations, was a panelist at Monday’s discussion. He explained that the intent was to impede discourse about Russian attacks against Ukraine. 

“Many of us have no doubt that it was part of Russia’s concerted effort to sow dissension, create confusion and distrust, and disrupt discussion of Russia’s brutal wars in Syria and Ukraine,” he said. 

Lesley Rivera ‘25 said she looked forward to the event on Tuesday, and felt hurt by the racist remarks.

“That was an event I looked forward to that whole day… This was my first encounter with a verbal racist slur here at St. Mike’s,” she said. 

Rivera added that she decided not to join the panel again after the incident. 

“The things said made me feel too uncomfortable to even log back onto the event,” she said. 

Anna Witkowski ‘22 also attended the meeting, and said she was overwhelmed after the incident.

“I was in a daze the entire evening after it happened,” she said.

Witkowski also explained that she expected an immediate response from administration after the meeting.

“Doing so would have brought those who witnessed it some much needed closure,” she said. 

The Dean of Faculty’s Office sent an email to the St. Michael’s community on Thursday morning and acknowledged the harmful language used during the meeting. 

“…We recognize that the very offensive language that was used was disturbing and hurtful and we are taking steps to ensure that future discussions of otherwise timely and important events are held in such a way that diminishes the opportunity for such disruption…,” the email stated.

Kaylee Sayers ‘23 said she never experienced “Zoom bombing” until the incident, and was also disturbed by the racist language.

“It was really shocking because I’ve never heard such vulgar language used before and also never experienced a Zoom bombing… I wasn’t sure what to think when it initially happened,” she said.

Political Science Professor Shefali Misra described the incident as “repulsive and terrible.” She said that it is important to focus on preventing these acts when possible.   

“Far better to prevent such acts when we can, condemn them strongly when we cannot, and stay focused on the bravery and the plight of the Ukrainian people and what the world owes them…,” she said.