Anonymous racist AirDrop at Queen’s debate ‘dehumanizing’ and ‘traumatizing’: Principal Deane

Kingstonist file photo of Queen’s University campus.

A recent racist photo AirDrop at a Queen’s University Alma Mater Society (AMS) leadership debate on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, has caused a student candidate to drop out of the race and has touched off a bigger debate on campus.

Queen’s University confirmed this week that a large number of students received the AirDrop photo of one of the debaters while she was on stage. The photo was a screenshot of a Snapchat photo, taken when the student was only 16 years old, which contained racist imagery. Because the student was a minor when the photo was taken, Kingstonist has chosen not to publish more details about the photo or the student involved.  

AirDrop is an iPhone feature that allows users to share photos and other files quickly. However, when someone makes an AirDrop, their identity and phone number are withheld, giving the sender anonymity. Anyone within roughly 10 metres of the sender who has an iPhone can receive the AirDrop picture or information over Bluetooth and/or Wi-Fi.  

Users have to actively turn the feature off or set it to Contacts Only if they do not want strangers to AirDrop them files or messages. Thus, the anonymous sender was able to drop the image into all the unprotected iPhones within the radius, not only exposing the racist photo and embarrassing the candidate, but forcing the image on unsuspecting debate audience members without their consent.

The racist AirDrop provoked statements of condemnation from several Black student associations on campus.

The Queen’s Black Alumni Association released a statement on Instagram on February 5 that read, in part, “As Black alumni, we have endured unspeakable and overt racist incidents during our time at Queen’s and this has left many of us with traumatic scars decades after graduation, with many vowing never to return to the campus. Though we have noted efforts of the University administration towards increased representation and providing spaces and resources for Black students, staff and faculty members to thrive, incidents such as this emphasize that they have a long way to go.”

On Facebook, Smith Black Students Association stated, “Acts of anti-Black racism should not be tolerated on campus and individuals that participate in this behaviour need to be held accountable. We hope that this incident does not overshadow the efforts being made to uplift Black faculty and students this month. We know the distressing [effect] that these incidents can have on the mental health of Black individuals, and we have placed resources in our bio for anyone seeking additional support.”

Queen’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane released a statement in response to the incident on February 8, 2023, stating, “I have written many times before that racism has no place on our campus, and while I fully believe that, it would be naïve to think it does not exist. Recent events have made that very clear.”

He continued, “For Black students who have been subjected to images of anti-Black hatred and dehumanizing commentary, I can only imagine how traumatizing the past few days have been. As a community, we need to fully understand the severity of the impact that racist actions have on the people to whom they are directed. Such actions unwind progress and divide us by fuelling mistrust, pain and anger. As Principal, I am deeply saddened by the effects racism has on our institution and in this case on Black students, as well as on Black staff and faculty.”

Deane went on to state that February is Black History month and “should be a celebration of Black histories and futures, but instead we have been forced to confront again an image steeped in colonial racism. I know that the Black community feels burdened by our failures, but I want everyone to know that our commitment to change and to take real action is resolute and strong.”

Deane also noted that he was a signatory on the Scarborough Charter, a post-secondary education sector-wide agreement designed to move institutions beyond rhetoric and to more meaningful, concrete actions to address anti-Black racism and to promote Black inclusion. This, he stated, indicated Queen’s “readiness to be held to account.”

Deane finished by promising continued effort “to ensure that the Black community thrives and flourishes, not just at Queen’s but also beyond. I am hopeful that our university can become what it aspires to be – a fully inclusive institution that sees value in every member of its community.”

At the end of his statement, resources and support for students were offered, which can all be viewed here.

Kingstonist reached out to Queen’s for further details about how the AirDrop incident is being handled and received the following statements.

Marie-Claude Arguin, Chief Information Officer and Associate Vice-Principal (Information Technology Services), said she condemned the incident along with the AMS, offering, “I often state that ‘cybersecurity is a team sport,’ meaning that security controls alone could not have prevented this particular incident from happening. Unfortunately, it would seem that cybersecurity best practices in relation to mobile device management were not followed with respect to the air-dropping of this photo between individuals and their iPhones. A comprehensive cybersecurity education and awareness program has been established for members of the Queen’s community. I encourage all students to take the training modules they are notified of (by email) and [which] are available to them.” 

A further statement from Queen’s Communications reads, “The University is aware that a racist image was airdropped to several students during the AMS executive and undergraduate trustee debate on February 2nd. Queen’s University condemns any form of racism or discrimination and is committed to promoting a safe, healthy, and inclusive community. We strive to provide a range of services, programming and support for students, including in response to campus or external events or situations. This week, for example, the Yellow House held a Community Care drop-in for Black-identified students to gather with peers, staff and a BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Colour] counsellor to share, show care and process the recent police brutality in Memphis, Tennessee. Yellow House will continue to provide and promote additional and similar programming. Students who need or would like support are encouraged to connect with Yellow House, Student Wellness Services, and Human Rights Advisory Services.”

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