Thousands of Harvard affiliates received a racist email. Now the FBI is investigating.

Faculty at several other institutions also received the vulgar message.

–Charles Krupa / AP, File

Thousands of Harvard University affiliates received a racist email laced with vulgar language and a racial slur over the weekend that appeared to be sent from an account from Atlanta-based Equity Prime Mortgage.

The email, which was shared on Twitter by Black Harvard professors, said Equity Prime “is a lender for whites only,” referenced lynching, and contained the N-word. The message was also apparently sent to thousands of school faculty and affiliates at colleges and universities across the country, including the University of Michigan, Iowa State University, and Stanford University.

“If you have received and read the message, I am sorry,” Harvard President Lawrence Bacow said in a statement to the school community. “It is abhorrent and flies in the face of everything we stand for. Most importantly, its violent and abusive language comes at a time when many members of our community are already suffering deeply. I know I speak for everyone when I affirm that we stand together: A racist attack against one of us is an attack against all of us.”

Advertisement

In a statement to Boston.com Monday, Equity Prime Mortgage said the company was the “victim of a malicious, racially-charged email campaign that targeted students and administrators from higher education institutions.”

“It’s very unfortunate that this incident took place and by no means is this occurrence reflective of EPM’s values,” the statement says. “We are completely against any malicious, racists attacks and are doing everything in our power to find the organization responsible for this heinous act.”

Equity Prime Mortgage was boosted into the national spotlight recently after the company fired the stepmother of Garrett Rolfe, the former Atlanta police officer charged with the murder of Rayshard Brooks, the Black man shot and killed outside a fast food restaurant earlier this month.

The message was sent by an entity — believed to be assisted by a bot — outside of the company that used a list of emails that does not belong to Equity Prime Mortgage. The perpetrator filled out a “Pre-Qualify For A Loan” webform with the racist language that was ultimately mailed out, according to the statement.

“We believe the group has previously used this contact list as some users who reported these racist emails mentioned they have received similar correspondence in the past,” the company said. “While there is a chance one or more of these emails is in fact the email of a borrower it is likely to be a coincidence as most of the recipients are not and have not worked with EPM before.

Advertisement

“Our IT team is actively involved, and the impacted IT systems are revised,” the statement continues. “Since our site was being hit with a significant amount of traffic, and web hosting providers were being adversely affected, we have redirected our site to a cloud-based server.”

The mortgage lender, which is unsure how the email list was obtained, said there was no data breach or any customer information taken from Equity Prime Mortgage as a result. The company is now working with the FBI to find the culprit responsible, according to the statement.

In his statement, Bacow said the university’s IT and police departments were also investigating.

“We work continuously to try to protect and insulate members of our community from such vile and offensive messages, but our ability to do so is limited by the technology available to us—work made even more difficult when external vendors are compromised,” he said.

Braxton D. Shelley, one of two Black Harvard professors who shared the email on social media, told The Harvard Crimson the message was “extraordinarily painful and revelatory.”

“I thought that what was more painful than the hateful, racist words and the racial epithets in the note is also the way that the message taps into the cruel reality of America — that lending practices have been one of the most extreme sights of systemic inequality,” he said.

Professor Robert F. Reid-Pharr shared the email on Twitter Sunday, along with a message he wrote to Bacow and Provost Alan Garber urging them to address the persistent issues of racism and white supremacy that people of color face at the Ivy League school.

Advertisement

Reid-Pharr wrote that the email was the third racist attack he has experienced during his two years at Harvard. While he has regularly encountered anti-Black bias in his decades-long career as a university professor, none has been as blunt and direct as the email he received last weekend, he said.

He wrote in the tweet that Bacow responded “positively.”

“The time has come for all members of the Harvard community to stop sweeping these serious problems under the rug,” Reid-Pharr told the Crimson. “Some members of the community regularly receive racist threats and harassment. The truth is out. Now the only question is what the response of the folks in whose names these noxious actions are performed will be.”


Get Boston.com's e-mail alerts:

Sign up and receive coronavirus news and breaking updates, from our newsroom to your inbox.

Jump To Comments
Close

Get the latest breaking news sent directly to your phone. Download our free app.