Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
At least eight historically Black colleges and universities received bomb threats Tuesday afternoon and evening. No suspicious packages or explosives were found as of Wednesday.
Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Xavier University in Louisiana reported bomb threats Tuesday afternoon. More threat reports followed around 5 p.m. at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Prairie View A&M University in Texas and North Carolina Central University, and Florida Memorial University reported a bomb threat around 7:30 p.m., according to university emails and statements shared on Twitter. Norfolk State University in Virginia received a threat in the evening but did not specify a time.
Spelman College tweeted Wednesday that the campus Department of Public Safety and the Atlanta Police Department responded to a bomb threat to one of its buildings, the Manley College Center, on Tuesday, making it the eighth HBCU affected by the rash of threats.
“After a thorough search, no devices were found and the building was secured,” the tweet read.
Officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation say they are aware of the incidents.
“The FBI is aware of bomb threats received by some Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” said a statement from the FBI in response to an inquiry from Inside Higher Ed. “The FBI takes all potential threats seriously and we regularly work with our law enforcement partners to determine their credibility. As always, we would like to remind members of the public that if they observe anything suspicious to report it to law enforcement immediately.”
Mt. San Antonio College, a Hispanic, Asian American, Native American and Pacific Islander–serving institution in California, also received a bomb threat Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported. In-person classes were canceled and the campus was evacuated, but an investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department didn’t find anything.
Students and alumni from the affected HBCUs have been expressing concern on social media that multiple college were targeted.
GeColby Youngblood, a second-year master’s student at North Carolina Central, said he was on his way to campus to return library books when he received an emergency alert on his phone. He returned to where he lives, about 10 minutes from the Durham campus, and saw on social media that other HBCUs were experiencing similar threats.
He described the bomb threat as “very triggering” for Black students, staff and faculty members, because it echoes violence Black communities have experienced in the past.
“The spaces that we think are safe havens aren’t,” he said. “It’s terrifying, because we know it’s possible. It really could happen. We have faculty members who grew up in that era where you’re in church and someone calls in a bomb threat.”
Melissa Harris-Perry, a professor at Wake Forest University and host of the National Public Radio program The Takeaway, similarly noted the history evoked by the bomb threats, which was fresh in many minds after the death Sunday of Maxine McNair, the last surviving parent of one of the four girls killed in the 1963 Birmingham, Ala., church bombing.
“The list of targeted HBCUs made my blood run cold,” Harris-Perry, the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair in the departments of politics and international affairs, women’s and gender studies, and program in environment and sustainability, said on her program Wednesday. “We’re grateful and relieved that there were no acts of physical violence, but I just want to point out that these threats themselves, they recall a history of racist bombings in the U.S. South aimed at Black churches and schools.”
Texas Southern University, which confirmed to Inside Higher Ed on Wednesday that it also received a bomb threat on Tuesday, sent students a “reminder to stay alert and aware of your surroundings” in an email shared on Twitter, informing students that “several HBCUs received phone calls regarding potential threats to their campus,” which were ultimately deemed unfounded by law enforcement at the campuses.
Todd Simmons, associate vice chancellor for university relations at North Carolina A&T State University, an HBCU that was not affected by the bomb threats, said the threats are especially “jarring” because Black students often attend HBCUs for a sense of security. A study published last year by the Stanford University Center for Education Policy Analysis suggested that upticks in hate crimes at the state level are linked to a 20 percent increase in Black students’ first-time enrollment at HBCUs within those states.
“So many African American students come to these campuses for safety, for security, for a feeling of community and protection, so to have the sanctity of that environment threatened through bomb threats such as this, it’s deeply disturbing,” Simmons said. “It’s very jarring for a great number of students, faculty and staff members and certainly alumni around the country.”
He and others noted that the incidents occurring so close to Jan. 6, the one-year anniversary of the riot at the U.S. Capitol, feels especially “troubling,” even if they’re not connected.
“We are being reminded through news coverage of everything that happened a year ago that shook the entire nation, and to see on the anniversary date of that additional threats around some of our campuses is just appalling,” he said.
University leaders at the threatened institutions responded with campus lockdowns, building evacuations and police searches on their campuses, which yielded all-clear notices from all the institutions by early Wednesday, The Washington Post reported.
A statement from Howard University said campus police were informed of a potential bomb threat by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.
“The MPD dispatch center reportedly received a call from an anonymous individual who said two bombs had been placed in the Administration building on Howard’s campus,” the statement said. “Upon arriving at the scene, [the Howard Department of Public Safety] and MPD secured the perimeter, evacuated the building, and deployed canines. Both departments searched the area. No active devices were found, and the area was cleared.”
Norfolk State police chief Brian Covington said in a press release that students, faculty and staff members were moved to a “safe location” as a precaution. The Norfolk FBI office and the Norfolk Police Department are assisting campus police in the investigation, according to the release. University leaders also emphasized that campus counseling center staff are available to students, faculty and staff affected by the incident.
Students stayed in a hotel Tuesday night, and the dorms were closed until 8 a.m. Wednesday, according to a tweet from the university. The campus police department issued an all-clear notice.
At the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, students on campus were also relocated overnight until the campus reopened Wednesday morning, though not all students had returned for the upcoming semester, according to an announcement from the university shared on Twitter.
“Although the threat was unfounded, we ask that everyone remains vigilant,” the announcement read.
Florida Memorial University similarly shared on Twitter that a “thorough search” of campus was conducted and no suspicious packages were found after the Miami Gardens Police Department reported a threat. The campus has returned to normal operations, but the “investigation remains ongoing.”
“Florida Memorial University takes matters of this nature seriously,” the tweet read. “The safety of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors is the university’s main priority.”
An update from North Carolina Central said the campus was placed on lockdown following the threat. A group of law enforcement agencies—the Durham Police Department; the Durham County Sheriff’s Office; the Durham Fire Department; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Durham City/County Emergency Management; and the North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Police Departments—worked with North Carolina Central University police “to ensure that all buildings were cleared for the safe return of students, faculty and staff.”
“Students that were temporarily relocated off campus were transported back to their residence halls,” according to the update.
Youngblood said many students were not directly affected because they had yet to return from winter break, but he feels bad for faculty and staff members on campus.
He chose not to go back to campus for at least a day “because I don’t know, maybe someone will try it again,” he said. “I know I need to turn those books in, but I don’t know if I’ll go today or tomorrow.”