Texas A&M has issued security recommendations to students using the popular group messaging app GroupMe after anonymous accounts posting slurs and pornography invaded several student groups. But in one such case, an A&M student responded by posting a slur herself, sparking outcry on social media.
In the 2019 Sports Pass GroupMe, animal science senior Meagan Snow sent a message using the N-word while anonymous accounts under the username Tyrone Gay sent multiple pornographic images into the stream of A&M students looking to buy and sell sports passes. Some in the group identified the Tyrone Gay accounts as bots, though it's unclear whether they were truly automated accounts or simply an anonymous individual or group posting manually.
International studies sophomore Alexia Hernandez reported the incident to A&M’s Stop Hate system and took to Twitter with screenshots of Snow’s comment and subsequent apology.
Hernandez took screenshots of the conversation and tweeted them on Sept. 2 in a post that has garnered over 200 retweets.
Wow....This was in the sports pass GroupMe...Racism is alive and well at TAMU! Yikes. Inexcusable and disgusting.— 🌬 alexia (@essentialspook) September 2, 2019
This is what racists say out in the open in front of thousands of people. Imagine behind close doors. pic.twitter.com/V88C9a5Aju
In an email on Sept. 3, the Texas A&M Division of IT advised students and faculty to adjust the settings of their group messages to prevent malicious bots from being added to the chat.
“If you are using the ‘GroupMe’ app for your classes or organizations, we recommend using ‘closed’ groups instead of ‘open’ groups,” the email said. “Closed groups enable you to prevent unwanted individuals from joining by allowing you to approve and remove members.”
Snow sent her message into the GroupMe on Aug. 31 around 9:30 p.m. and followed up with an apologetic message an hour and a half later. At the time of publication, Snow had not responded to an email request from The Battalion.
“When I saw [her] responses, I was horrified and disgusted,” Hernandez said. “I was angry; I was saying ‘why is a student of A&M that embodies our core values, one of which is respect, going to say this horrible slur?’”
The group boasted over 1,700 Aggies, and as an active member, Hernandez noticed the short comment in the midst of the images.
“She claims she was drunk and that she was still drunk,” Hernandez said. “But to me, when you’re drunk, you tend to say things that are kind of on your mind and in the back of your head. [There is] no excuse, drunk or sober, to say anything like that. If you don’t hold those hateful values at your heart, you would never say that in the first place.”
Hernandez said several students accepted Snow’s apology despite not being a part of the community that was targeted.
“That’s sending the message that you can say something abhorrent, but you can make a not-really-genuine apology and people forgive you,” Hernandez said. “The people who accepted the apology were not people of color.”
Hernandez said she was disappointed by the response she received to her Stop Hate report.
UPDATE: pic.twitter.com/H3ZslAdUOn— 🌬 alexia (@essentialspook) September 3, 2019
“The bulk of the message was really just about the bot, which really wasn’t my what my report was about, but I understand why that was important as well,” Hernandez said. “I just kind of felt a little surprised that [Snow’s comment] wasn’t what they were concentrating on.”
Dean of Student Life Anne Reber said that when responding to incidents like these, the university’s approach is informed by students’ rights to free speech. Typically a student has to cause disruption on campus for A&M to be able to take action, she said.
“If a Stop Hate report comes in and it contains behavior that potentially violates our student code of conduct, then it is possible that we will follow up by calling that student in or maybe even conducting a student conduct investigation,” Reber said. “But if you’re just talking about speech, then it’s just that much more difficult because of the First Amendment.”
Despite the racist comment, Hernandez said that she doesn’t want Snow to be forced out of A&M. But she said she hopes that the incident will push the university to take student’s hate speech more seriously.
“I’m not saying I want her expelled or anything, but there can’t just be a slap on the wrist for severe instances such as this,” Hernandez said. “This contributes to the campus culture. This is why people of color don’t want to come here.”