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Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Student Government Senate began meeting via Zoom about a month ago, but it has struggled to be productive since the move online.

SG Senate has failed to meet regularly since the university moved to remote learning for the remainder of the semester. The group hasn’t heard legislation in three weeks. Meetings typically happen once a week. 

The same week in mid-March that Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that four UF students tested positive for COVID-19 and the university urged students to return home, SG Senate had its first virtual meeting. But since then, the legislative body has not had a complete meeting. 

The week after the first online meeting, SG Senate President Kyle Garner canceled Senate and sent an email to senators saying that this was to help them transition to their online classes after UF shifted all classes online and urged students to go home. 

“We hope that you take this time to focus on the things you need to,” he wrote. “We encourage you to continue to reach out to your friends and loved ones as we navigate the changes we have been experiencing.”

But then last week, SG Senate was “Zoom bombed” in the beginning of the meeting when multiple unknown hackers joined the publicized virtual meeting and began drawing swastikas, writing racial slurs and referring to senators as sexual slurs. One flashed the camera. After a hacker displayed pornographic images, the meeting suddenly ended and was not rescheduled.

After the Zoom Bomb at the SG Senate meeting, UF updated its policies on Zoom sessions. The university encouraged users to only allow authenticated members in and to use the password feature when setting up classes and meetings. 

SG Senate also did not meet Tuesday night. UF spokesperson Steve Orlando wrote in an email to The Alligator Monday that the Senate is evaluating ways to conduct a public meeting securely.

“Student Government is currently evaluating Zoom Webinar as an option to keep meetings open and secure and hopes to have it in place for next Tuesday's meeting,” he wrote.

“Zoom bombings” have occurred in other parts of campus and in meetings, which have continued despite the hacking. 

A session hosted by the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute about the data science behind COVID-19 was interrupted by hackers who typed vulgar comments in the chatbox. The meeting had almost 500 people in attendance. The session’s chat feature was quickly disabled, and the hackers were not able to join in through video. 

Garner did not provide an explanation to The Alligator when a reporter asked why this week’s meeting was canceled and did not respond to questions about how or when SG Senate plans to meet again.He did not say  if it is evaluating ways to continue other than the webinar or if there are concerns about the Senate’s productivity and how the transition online is interrupting Senate meetings.

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Contact Chasity Maynard at Follow her on Twitter @chasitymaynard0. 

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