Recent waves of bomb threats at dozens of the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have sparked unease and concern about the toll on their student communities. The institutions thus far have not uncovered any explosives, but the threats themselves have been disruptive and unsettling.
“For many students, HBCUs are more than learning institutions. They are havens. They are second families,” Theresa Vargas wrote in The Washington Post. “And the recent bomb threats have taken away the security that comes with having that space.”
“It’s communicating that you’re not safe as a Black person,” said Paulette Granberry Russell, the president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education. “You’re not safe in the hallowed halls of the academy, you’re not safe in your neighborhoods and in your communities.”
Hate crimes across dozens of HBCUs
At least nine HBCUs fielded bomb threats on Jan. 4, and at least six received them on Jan. 31. The third string of threats took place on Tuesday, Feb. 1—the first day of Black History Month—and affected at least 16 universities.
HBCUs locked down their campuses, and in some cases even evacuated and relocated students, as law enforcement officials conducted extensive searches. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is currently investigating the bomb threats as “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism and hate crimes.”
‘This is not new’
Black institutions for centuries have been targets of violent threats and racist intimidation. “My first initial thought is that this is not new,” Jelani M. Favors, a historian and professor at North Carolina A&T State University, told The Chronicle of Higher Education.
There’s a “long arc of racially motivated violence against Black folk in the United States in general and against Black educational institutions in particular,” Greg Carr, an associate professor of African American studies at Howard University and an adjunct professor at the university’s law school, said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed. It is important to recognize the “toll of this perpetual violence” on students, he added.
The bomb threats add a layer of stress on top of existing strain from the COVID-19 pandemic—which has disproportionately affected communities of color—and the racial reckonings of the past two years. Some observers noted that the bomb threats also come at a time when HBCUs have increasingly been making headlines, for attracting philanthropy and for the political accomplishments of their graduates.
Seeking to reassure their campus communities, HBCU leaders issued messages of ongoing strength, unity, and resilience. Some alumni, meanwhile, expressed their frustration that such statements are even needed. “It is tearing up my heart seeing all these bomb threats. Our HBCU family is resilient,” the author, professor, and HBCU graduate Ibram X. Kendi wrote in a Tweet. “But we shouldn’t have to be.”