More than a dozen historically Black colleges and universities closed down their campuses on the first day of Black History Month Tuesday after HBCUs across the country faced a rash of bomb threats for a second consecutive day.
The string of threats has prompted one US senator to push federal law enforcement agencies to investigate, and educators are calling the threats “shameless” and “despicable” attempts to spark fear at HBCUs.
At least 13 universities shut down their campuses Tuesday morning after receiving the threats. Although some universities resumed in-person classes after law enforcement officials gave an “all clear,” most of them directed students to virtual classes or canceled instruction altogether.
It was the second consecutive day HBCUs across the country faced bomb threats and follows another series of threats earlier in January. At least six historically Black colleges and universities were forced to lock down Monday morning.
Jackson State University, Coppin State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Morgan State University, Alcorn State University, Tougaloo College, Kentucky State University, Fort Valley State University, Xavier University of Louisiana, University of the District of Columbia, Spelman College, and Edward Waters University all confirmed they received bomb threats Tuesday.
Howard University was also forced to cancel classes for the second day in a row after receiving threats Monday and Tuesday.
Albany State University, Bethune–Cookman University, Bowie State University, Southern University and A&M College, and Delaware State University also received the threats, according to statements and social media posts by the schools.
“The recent threats to HBCUs across the country are a shameless attempt to dampen our sense of safety and freedom by attacking locations traditionally considered a haven for all pursuing an education in a nurturing environment,” Thomas K. Hudson, president of Jackson State University, said in a statement. “However, we will not be deterred in our pursuit of the promise of the American dream.”
About half a dozen schools also reported threats in January, including Spelman College.
“These threats are despicable,” Spelman College President Mary Schmidt said in a statement. “They are designed to make us feel fearful and vulnerable.”
Several universities said they would be limiting access to buildings Tuesday, requiring staff and students to carry school IDs, and asking local authorities for increased police presence as a precaution.
Albany State University in Georgia issued an alert to students Monday morning, briefly canceling classes and all campus operations while law enforcement officials conducted an investigation into the threat.
“Rest assured that we are working with the proper authorities to thoroughly investigate this threat,” the university said in a statement.
The bomb threat prompted university officials to shut down all operations, including dining halls.
By Monday afternoon, the campus had been cleared and deemed safe, but students and employees were still required to show identification cards before being allowed into buildings.
Southern University and A&M College in Louisiana also received a similar bomb threat Monday, canceling classes and locking down students.
Despite getting an “all clear,” the campus remained closed and classes were not to resume until Tuesday, the university said in a statement.
“This isn’t the first time,” Rayln Wyche, a sophomore at the university, told BuzzFeed News. “The university has been threatened before. It’s almost like any other day, but it is tragic that someone sends another threat to us.”
Students were told to stay in their dorm rooms Monday morning, and although residents were allowed to visit friends in neighboring rooms, they were not allowed to leave their buildings.
Wyche said he stayed in listening to music. Most students were not worried about the threat, he said, although it was unnerving to hear that other HBCUs had also faced similar situations on Monday.
“It makes us think that maybe this isn’t just a stupid prank,” he said. “I don’t know what kind of point it would make to threaten HBCUs and the students that go there. We’re here to learn.”
Law enforcement officials have not said whether there is a direct link between the threats, but the timing and correlation has put students and educators on edge.
Jada Nelson, a sophomore at Bethune–Cookman University in Florida, first saw messages about the threat at her school from classmates early Monday morning.
“I thought, This is a prank,” she said. Then she saw news reports that five other HBCUs had been put on lockdown as well. “Then I thought, Oh, this is really serious, it’s not just one but multiple.”
Officials have not said whether the threats were linked, and all schools that went into a temporary lockdown Monday and Tuesday stated they did not find any suspicious items before reopening their campuses. But the timing has put some students on edge.
After Bethune–Cookman put out its alert, Nelson said her parents texted her and asked if she wanted to come home, just in case.
“My mom, she was really worried,” she said.
Even after police cleared the Bethune–Cookman University campus later on Monday, senior Jordan Moore told BuzzFeed News she was thinking of skipping classes Tuesday as a precaution. At least one of her professors has already canceled Tuesday’s class to give students a break from the stress of the threats, she said.
“They understand how scary it could be,” she said.
The rise in racist violence and white supremacist groups, Moore said, makes her take incidents like Monday’s threat a bit more seriously.
The threats have also prompted Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia to reach out to federal law enforcement agencies so they would “prioritize” their investigation into the threats.
“These recent threats are terrifying for Georgians,” Warnock said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “It is painful to see, particularly on the first day of Black History Month, our Historically Black College and University students being terrorized by threats of violence. I will not stop until these hateful threats are fully investigated and Georgians at our HBCUs feel safe.”
Federal law enforcement has joined local agencies in the investigation.
“The FBI is aware of the series of bomb threats around the country and we are working with our law enforcement partners to address any potential threats,” the department said in a statement Monday. “As always, we would like to remind members of the public that if they observe anything suspicious to report it to law enforcement.”
On Jan. 5, seven HBCUs went on lockdown after similar threats were received by Howard University, Norfolk State University, the University of Arkansas, Florida Memorial University, North Carolina Central University, Xavier University, and Prairie View A&M University, Yahoo News reported.
On Monday, Marcus Lyles, chief of police at Howard University in Washington, DC, acknowledged the wave of bomb threats in a letter to students Monday.
“Fortunately, these threats have not yielded any credible danger to our, or any other community,” he wrote. “But they have become a drain on institutional and municipal resources and an unnecessary mental burden on individuals trying to learn and work on campus.”