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Authorities investigating ‘racist, hate-filled’ emails sent to Black student groups at UMass Amherst

“I realize how frustrating the slow progress of the investigation is and how profoundly disturbing it is that our Black students have been targeted again.”

Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe
An aerial view of the UMass Amherst campus in April 2020. Blake Nissen for The Boston Globe

Authorities in western Massachusetts are once again investigating after a “racist, hate-filled, and misinformation-laden” email was sent to four Black student groups at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst on Tuesday. 

The Northwestern District Attorney’s office said in a statement on Wednesday that the email was also received by individual Black students and an office on campus. The communication was “similar in tone” to racist emails sent out last semester which are being investigated by UMass police and the DA’s office.

The most recent hate-filled emails also contained “mistruths about law enforcement’s role in the investigation,” according to the DA’s office. 

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Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan said in a statement that he stands in solidarity “with people of color who are targets of this hate campaign.”

“The Northwestern District Attorney’s Office, along with its law enforcement partners, approaches this investigation with the utmost seriousness, care and attention,” he said. “Free speech is rightly held dear in this country, but it does not permit hate speech that threatens and intimidates in a way that interferes with a right to education.

“The provocative and inflammatory email sent out yesterday to a select group at UMass is an attempt to sow discord and division within the UMass Amherst community,” he continued. “Unfortunately, currently in our country there is an effort to use misinformation as a weapon to provoke fear and mistrust. I believe the UMass community is far stronger and smarter than the writers of this email seem to think.”

In a statement responding to the Tuesday emails, UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said the investigation into the original email last fall — which is also being undertaken by the campus office of information technology and individual experts from Stroz Friedberg Digital Forensics — has so far been “inconclusive.”

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He said the investigation is as “comprehensive and independent as possible” and has probed online targeting of the community across multiple sources, including the dark web. 

“I realize how frustrating the slow progress of the investigation is and how profoundly disturbing it is that our Black students have been targeted again,” Subbaswamy said. “I am angry and frustrated as well. I will thoroughly assess the status of our investigation and will inquire with law enforcement agencies to make sure that we are doing everything possible to bring the perpetrator of these hateful acts to justice.

“If that person is someone in the campus community, they will face severe university sanctions, up to and including expulsion or employment termination, as well as a referral to the District Attorney for criminal prosecution,” he said.

The chancellor said he will work with campus leaders to ensure support services are made available to those in need, and expressed his solidarity with Black students, staff, and faculty on campus. 

UMass Amherst saw a string of racist incidents on its campus in the fall, prompting students to march in protest and demand accountability from school administrators.

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