The University Record, December 19, 1995

Racist e-mail message resurfaces

By Julie Peterson
News and Information Services

A racist electronic message originally distributed by a computer hacker using the University of Michigan computing system in April 1994 has resurfaced recently in messages forwarded across the Internet.

The message, which contained racially offensive jokes and threats of violence, was originally posted to about 30 Usenet news groups worldwide. Campus officials investigated the posting in 1994 and were able to determine that the U-M student whose name was attached to the message was not the sender. The student's computer password had been stolen from a campus computing site by a hacker, who used a program to capture the passwords of a number of campus computer users. Despite a thorough investigation, the sender of the message was never discovered.

The student whose account was broken into has expressed his outrage that his name was used to send such a message, and has stated that he does not agree with or support the contents of the message in any way.

President James J. Duderstadt condemned the message at the time it was distributed, describing it as "a monstrous act that has made a mockery of the values of civility that we hold so dear at this University. We support freedom of expression by members of our community. But we deplore expressions that demean individuals and create a hostile environment."

University officials also cancelled the original message and sent an apology to all who originally received it. Nevertheless, it has continued to circulate on the Internet as individuals have repeatedly forwarded the message.

"Many people we hear from are forwarding the message to express their sense of outrage at its content and to raise consciousness about the persistence of racism in our society," says Lisa Baker, associate vice president for university relations. "But forwarding the message is only prolonging its existence and adding to the distress that is experienced by its recipients. We strongly urge anyone who receives this message not to continue passing it along."

Individuals who have questions about the message or who receive electronic messages originating from the University of Michigan that they believe to be offensive or a misuse of University computing resources should contact the Information Technology Division User Advocate by sending e-mail to user_advocate@umich.edu.