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Students, faculty share concerns about wave of HBCU bomb threats

The rising threats have forced several HBCUs into lockdowns and a state of anxiety

Officials are investigating bomb threats made against at least 13 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) on Tuesday, less than a day after six HBCUs were targeted by similar threats.

According to CNN, Tuesday’s targets were Alcorn State University, Coppin State, Morgan State, Jackson State, Fort Valley State, Mississippi Valley State, Kentucky State, Spelman College, Tougaloo College, Howard University, Xavier University, the University of the District of Columbia and Edward Waters University.

Washington’s Howard University, which reported bomb threats Monday morning, said it received a new threat just before 3 a.m. Tuesday that named “multiple areas” of its main campus, and asked anyone present to shelter for more than two hours while the Metropolitan Police Department assisted Howard campus police in searching for explosives. No explosives were found.

“Initially, when I got the alert, I was anxious and scared,” said Christine McWhorter, a journalism professor in Howard’s Cathy Hughes School of Communications, to The Undefeated. “I followed the alerts as they went along. Once I got the all-clear, I felt a little more at ease. I know that with the work that Howard does [for diversity and social justice], it is not odd that these types of things are happening because there are people who want to stop the good work that the university is doing. By the time they gave the all-clear, I personally felt OK coming to work.”

Morgan State, the largest of Maryland’s HBCUs, advised everyone on its Baltimore campus to remain where they were amid a bomb threat and moved all classes online for the day as emergency personnel assessed the situation.

“Due to a bomb threat made earlier this morning, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, @KyStateU is in lockdown status,” officials at Kentucky State in Frankfort, Kentucky, tweeted Tuesday. “The university is working with emergency personnel to evaluate the situation. University operations will be suspended until further notice & campus entry limited at this time.”

Coppin State, which received its threat shortly after 5 a.m. Tuesday, posted on its website that campus was closed, that classes will be held virtually and employees will be teleworking while Baltimore Police, campus police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation investigate the threat.

Nevertheless, a second all-clear in two days at Howard did not settle students’ fears about campus safety. Many took to social media to voice their frustration about the university’s decision not to cancel classes.

“Due to the recent bomb threats made to the main campus, I do not feel safe attending in-person classes. The handling of this situation is unsettling and does not create a safe environment for students or staff. Please understand my concerns and excuse this absence,” tweeted one Howard student who goes by the name @laymclovin.

On Monday, at least six HBCUs, including Howard, were subject to a series of similar threats, forcing campuswide lockdowns and the cancellation of classes.

Besides Howard, officials at Bowie State, Bethune-Cookman, Southern University, Delaware State and Albany State reported threats the day before the beginning of Black History Month, although it is unclear if there was any correlation. No explosive materials were found on any of the campuses that reported the threats. The Delaware State vs. Coppin State men’s basketball contest scheduled for Monday evening was postponed due to an emergency closure of the latter’s campus, although it is not clear if it had anything to do with the threats.

“Due to a bomb threat on campus, BSU will be closed temporarily today January 31, 2022,” Bowie State posted on its Twitter page. “Emergency personnel are evaluating the situation. All persons on campus are advised to shelter in place until further information is available. Employees will work virtually. Classes will be virtual. Please observe the BSU website for continual updates.”

According to Fox 5, officials at Bowie State said that the threat warned that explosives had been placed in a building on campus. Along with university authorities, Prince George’s County and Maryland State Police have launched an investigation into the threat.

“It doesn’t make me look at safety any differently,” Tamani Jemmott, a senior at Bowie State, told The Undefeated. “I think Bowie is handling this very well. Our RAs [resident assistants] went door to door checking on students, and everything was shut down immediately. I think the event is sad and unfortunate, especially so close to Black History Month.”

Similarly, Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, locked down its campus on Monday and canceled classes while authorities investigated.

“We are doing everything possible to ensure that our students and staff on campus are safe during this lockdown,” Southern president Ray L. Belton tweeted. “Law enforcement agencies continue to investigate this heinous threat.”

On Monday, Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach, Florida, lifted its lockdown by 9 a.m., but the school canceled classes for the remainder of the day. Daytona Beach Police said any signs of a bomb threat had been cleared, but they were still asking people to stay away from campus.

“We will have a heavy police presence on campus for the remainder of the day,” the Daytona Beach Police Department said on Twitter. “We will also be restricting any movement on the Bethune-Cookman campus. Officers will be staged at entry/exit points on the campus.”

The Metropolitan Police Department and Howard’s campus police issued an alert via social media at 4:35 a.m. Monday, warning students, staff and faculty of a bomb threat, naming the area near the Mordecai Wyatt Johnson Administration Building. No threats were found. The university issued a final all-clear at 6:22 a.m., around two hours after the threat was made, and decided to keep campus open.

“Make no mistake: We have remained on alert on campus since the very first threat and have not stopped our work of assessment and scaled surveillance for suspicious activity, in partnership with local and federal law enforcement. We are committed to, and confident in, the work of our on-campus police force and partnerships with regional agencies in ensuring safety and stability for our campus community,” the university said in a campus email.

However, after a semester in which the university was forced to temporarily cancel all of its online and hybrid undergraduate classes because of a ransomware attack, and was confronted with a monthlong protest by students over poor housing conditions, the mood on Howard’s campus was one of fear and frustration. Despite being told that it was safe to return to campus, The Yard, the school’s primary gathering spot for students on the main campus, was nearly empty on both Monday and Tuesday, as were many classrooms.

“I don’t feel safe, especially with this being the third time this year that Howard has had a bomb threat,” said senior Laniyah Collins. “Once again, I feel like Howard isn’t taking all the proper precautions that they could to ensure our safety from multiple dangers. The least they could’ve done was canceled classes today.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday afternoon that President Joe Biden was aware of the threats received at HBCUs.

“I will say that these are certainly disturbing and the White House is in touch with interagency partners, including federal law enforcement leadership on this,” Psaki said during a White House press briefing on Monday.

Additionally, the acting deputy director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Thomas Chittum, told ABC News that agents from the bureau were responding to the threats. “We can confirm that ATF has responded,” Chittum said. “Of course, it is a federal crime to use interstate facilities to make a bomb threat, and so ATF will provide our investigative expertise and support to that investigation, but obviously, the facts are preliminary and unfolding.”

On Jan. 5, at least eight schools, including Howard, received similar threats, which also prompted lockdowns and evacuations. By the next day all threats had been cleared, however, the Black cultural center at the University of Utah received a bomb threat the following week, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Officers have yet to identify a source or reason for the threats, but some speculate that they are racially driven.

“I think HBCUs are absolutely being targeted,” said Howard senior DaShawn Simon. “These threats are becoming a real hazard and are concerning to the student body. I hope we find out where this is coming from so authorities can put a stop to it.”

UPDATE — According to the Associated Press, at least six “persons of interest” have been identified in connection with Monday and Tuesday’s threats. A caller who threatened to blow up Bethune-Cookman described an elaborate plot involving seven bombs hidden in duffel bags and backpacks around the school’s perimeter, Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young said at a news conference on Wednesday.

In a 20-minute phone call, the caller said the bombs containing C-4 explosives would be detonated at the university on Monday, Young said. The caller, who claimed to be part of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division (AWD), said a gunman would open fire on the campus around lunchtime the same day. No explosives or gunmen were found. So far, AWD has not released any statements claiming responsibility for the threats.

The Anti-Defamation League, an anti-hate organization, describes AWD as a small neo-Nazi group that became active in 2016. Since then, its members have been involved in white supremacist events and linked to violence, and several of its leaders have been convicted of federal crimes.

A senior broadcast journalism major from Orange County, Calif., Sarah Jones-Smith writes for The Hilltop, Howard University’s student newspaper, and her writing has been published by The Los Angeles Wave, and more.