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Racist and anti-Semitic emails sent to University of Michigan students are under investigation

The University of Michigan Union
Wikimedia Commons
A rising number of racist incidents have occurred on campus over the last few years.

Three emails containing racist and anti-Semitic content were sent to students in the computer science and engineering departments at the University of Michigan Tuesday night.

The emails, which were made to look as though they were sent by a university professor and graduate student, had the subject lines "African American Student Diversity" and "Jewish Student Diversity."

According to University of Michigan officials, the emails were the result of a spoof, or imitation, of two U-M faculty members.

Images of the e-mails have been shared on Twitter:

University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald says it's important to distinguish between a spoof and a hack in this situation. 

"This was not a breach of University security or due to the access of a person's personal information," Fitzgerald said.

The professor spoofed in the second email was J. Alex Halderman, a computer scientist who researches computer security and privacy. Halderman was part of a national team of computer scientists that urged the Clinton campaign to demand a vote recount in three states, including Michigan.

Halderman told The Michigan Daily that he did not send the emails, and that this incident could be a retaliation against his investigations into cybersecurity and elections.

From an e-mail statement Halderman sent to the Daily:

“This appears to be a cowardly action by someone who is unhappy about the research that Matt and I do in support of electoral integrity,” Halderman wrote. “We study cybersecurity and elections, and in recent months we were involved in efforts to recount the presidential election to confirm that the outcome hadn't been changed by a cyberattack. I wrote about why these efforts were necessary shortly after the election. In any case, the content of these emails is contemptible, and I'm sorry that the EECS student body was subjected to them. The university is aware of the situation, and I expect an official response soon.”

Fitzgerald condemned the emails as incongruent to the values of the University of Michigan community. He says police are working with the FBI to investigate the incident.

"These kinds of messages are simply not welcome and not part of the University of Michigan culture," Fitzgerald said.

Mark Hwang was one student who received the emails. While he believes they were sent to be inflammatory rather than actually preempt violence, he says the spoofing needs to be taken seriously.

“In the scope of political and current events, it’s immoral and not right to do such things,” Hwang said.

A small protest broke out in front of the home of President Mark Schlissel early Wednesday morning. The president came out and spoke with concerned students.

There has been an uptick in racist incidents at the university, such as flyers found on campus promoting white supremacy last year.

*This post was last updated at 4:30 p.m.

Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
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