Over a dozen Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the country were targeted by bomb threats on Tuesday, Feb. 1, the first day of Black History Month.
Howard University, Spelman College, Xavier University of Louisiana, Jackson State University and Kentucky State University were among the at least 13 HBCUs to receive simultaneous bomb threats.
“We do know that [the bomb threats are] motivated by hate which is exactly the antithesis of why these institutions are here and certainly why Howard University was founded,” said Wayne Frederick, Howard University President, in a statement issued on CNN on Feb. 1.
HBCUs were founded in the United States in the early 19th century to provide higher education to black people who were prevented from attending existing colleges and universities due to racial discrimination.
“These threats are being investigated as racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism and hate crimes,” said the FBI in a statement put out on Feb. 2. They added that they “will continue [their] work to make sure all races and religions feel safe in their communities, schools, and places of worship.”
This recent wave of bomb threats caused many of the affected universities to issue shelter-in-place and lockdown orders. After authorities swept the campuses, no explosives were found at any of the institutions.
“For me, it was sad, scary and very motivating because people don’t threaten things that they are comfortable with,” said Dr. Thomas Witherspoon, UT’s Chief Diversity Officer, at the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. He added, “It reignites the fact that we need to push this understanding of education for black communities and in black communities.”
Courtney Simmons is a senior multimedia journalism major at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (A&T) State University. Although her HBCU didn’t receive any bomb threats, they are still being precautious.
“When I decided to go to an HBCU, it did occur to me that there could be some racial threats or actions against us because the most dangerous thing that black people can be is smart and entrepreneurial,” said Simmons.
However, the string of bomb threats at various HBCUs has not led Simmons to feel unsafe at North Carolina A&T State University. “I can’t let these threats stop me from pursuing my education because if I do, then the people who are against us win,” said Simmons.
At The University of Tampa, hate crimes that occur on campus are dealt with in the court system if charged and prosecuted. However, they are first addressed by the Bias Education Resource Team (BERT), a group of UT employees who provide support and resources for those who have been impacted or targeted by an act of bias.
When asked about how he works with BERT to handle hate crimes at UT, Dr. Witherspoon said, “I have to be vigilant to make sure that they are handled through our judicial process and then, if it is legal, that we elevate it to the right places.”
In an effort to create a space for education and dialogue during Black History Month the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is hosting a Lunch and Learn Series on the state of Black and Indignois people of color (BIPOC) in education on Feb. 22.
UT’s Black Student Union (BSU) has also organized a series of events that will take place from Feb. 20 – Feb. 26 to celebrate Black History Month which is an annual celebration that takes place throughout the month of February to recognize the prominent contributions that African Americans have made to U.S history.
“There’s still learning to be done,” said Toni-Lee Brown, political science senior and president of UT’s BSU. “We’re still experiencing the same things that happened during the civil rights movement.”
Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post