Black students at the University of Pennsylvania awoke Friday to racist messages and graphic images posted to a social media group that they were added to without their permission.
The Daily Pennsylvanian reports that several black freshmen were added to a GroupMe message labeled “Mud Men” that was full of racially explicit content.
A member of that group posted an image of a lynching with the message “I love America,” then followed up by creating an event called “Daily Lynching.” In another group, called “Trump Is Love,” a person was called “a dumb slave” by another participant in the group, and a photo was posted of a red hat with the words, “Grab them by the [p—sy]!”
The university posted a statement to its official Twitter account Friday afternoon that the GroupMe account in question appeared to be based in Oklahoma, and that police as well as information-security staff were working to find the location of the account. Staff in the Office of the Vice Provost for University Life were in the process of determining how many students had been reached by the account.
According to the Daily Pennsylvanian, a letter signed by university President Amy Gutmann, Provost Vincent Price and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli was sent to the university community later Friday afternoon addressing the incident. They called the GroupMe account repugnant and said that its messages and images were “violent, racist and thoroughly disgusting.” The letter said that campus safety had been increased and that the university was reaching out to support the affected students.
Statements denouncing the abuse have been issued by professors, department chairs, Penn College Republicans and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, who said in a statement, “I condemn in the strongest possible terms the racist activity taking place at the University of Pennsylvania.” Kenney added that he would “urge the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations to investigate and hold all responsible parties accountable for this disgusting behavior.”
Sydette Harry, who is a 2005 graduate of Penn, told The Root that she is concerned not just about the racist message but also about the information-security breach that it exposes.
“This is a problem of informational security and informational literacy, because how did these people get information on all these students, and how quickly were they able to add them?” Harry said. “How do you wake up one day and end up having all of your information somewhere?”
GroupMe is a group-texting app that works across platforms. As long as you are signed up for the service, you and your friends can participate in group chats whether you are an iOS or an Android user. The app does require your phone number, so just how someone was able to identify, add and target a select group of black freshmen on the UPenn campus remains to be revealed.
In the meantime, the Division of Public Safety said in a statement: "Public Safety is working with VPUL and ISC Security to investigate this issue and provide support to the affected students."
Read more at the Daily Pennsylvanian.