The Collegian
Saturday, May 30, 2020

Office of Multicultural Affairs email from a student worker violates students' privacy

<p>The Office of Multicultural Affairs is located on the third floor of the Tyler Haynes Commons.</p>

The Office of Multicultural Affairs is located on the third floor of the Tyler Haynes Commons.

An email sent on Nov. 5 to a group of Asian and Asian-American students at the University of Richmond from a student employee in the Office of Multicultural Affairs caused confusion among its recipients.

The student who sent the email, which was obtained by The Collegian, wrote he was a freshman working in the office who wanted to reach out to all Asians on campus about an initiative to create a GroupMe for events and programming. 

If students were interested in joining the GroupMe, they could respond to the email with their name and phone number, Senior Alex Kohnert said.  

Kohnert received the email and contacted the Office of Multicultural Affairs to express her frustration with the message that was communicated to students.

“I love the idea of it," Kohnert said. "I think it’s such a good way for them to create inclusivity, but the way they went about it was terrible.”

Kohnert said the way her confidential information had been accessed by a student directly violated FERPA privacy rights

Sophomore Tommy Na agreed that the initiative was good, but the way it was communicated to students could have been more effective and thoughtful. 

“It’s a good initiative and it shows that the campus is moving towards inclusion,” Na said. “I think it could use a little more cohesion.”

Although the idea of the GroupMe was positive, people were confused by the lack of prior communication about the idea, Na said. 

Tinina Cade, director for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, responded to student concerns about their data being compromised. 

"I want to underscore that the privacy of student data at the University of Richmond is something that is rigorously protected," Cade said in an email. "Unfortunately, a mistake was made and a student worker was provided access to a small set of student demographic data from which an email invite list was created."

Cade said the email invitation for the GroupMe was not authorized by the Office of Multicultural Affairs. The idea of the GroupMe was not intended to be marketed by the office in this manner, Cade added. 

Enjoy what you're reading?
Signup for our newsletter

"While the content of the invite was benign, and no harm was intended, it should not have been sent using the email list," Cade wrote. "We regret this incident and our office has taken steps to ensure that this error will not happen again."

Recipients of the email were not able to see who else received the email, Kohnert said. 

“My problem isn’t the fact that other people didn’t see it,” Kohnert said about her email address. “Regardless of what the information was, that’s confidential.”

Kohnert added that the nature of the email made her feel singled-out as a minority because she had been contacted based on her ethnicity, which was information she had included on her Common Application form. 

If the intention of the GroupMe was to support cultural inclusion, Kohnert said it should be open to anyone.

"If it is supposed to be a cultural thing then people who aren't under that ethnicity or race could still have the opportunity to join that if it's something they're interested in," Kohnert said. "You can't just assume that just because someone puts [their ethnicity] on their application that that's something they want to be defined as." 

Contact news writer Morgan Howland at morgan.howland@richmond.edu.

Support independent student media

You can make a tax-deductible donation by clicking the button below, which takes you to our secure PayPal account. The page is set up to receive contributions in whatever amount you designate. We look forward to using the money we raise to further our mission of providing honest and accurate information to students, faculty, staff, alumni and others in the general public.

Donate Now