By Kate Anstett
UNITED STATES–In recent weeks, over a dozen Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the United States received multiple bomb threats, sending students into lockdown and creating a tense atmosphere.
The bomb threats towards HBCUS came between Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, the very beginning of Black History Month, which should be a time of empowerment, especially within HBCUs. Instead, students of color are left feeling fearful and anxious in spaces that are supposed to be their sanctuaries.
The FBI is treating these threats of violence as extremist hate crimes that are racially motivated. Over 20 of their field offices are on the case, stating that finding the perpetrators is the “highest priority.” They are taking “all threats with the utmost seriousness, and are committed to thoroughly and aggressively investigating these threats.” Though officials have made no arrests, they have identified six persons of interest. Agents searched the threatened universities and found no bombs, but the fear within schools is real. While HBCUs have experienced threats in the past, this is the first experience of a violent form of racism for many students.
“In California and the Bay Area [where I grew up], I wasn’t exposed to HBCUs and their history until recently; it took me aback more than it took the school,” said Sherese Eaglin, 18, of Spelman College. “It’s actually terrifying.”
Spelman, an all-women’s college, has received the most threats out of all the HBCUs this year. Early in January 2022, while students were still on winter break, school officials received an email containing a bomb threat. They forwarded this information to Spelman students, inciting panic. Many students feared returning to a school where their lives may be in danger.
The second threat occurred during Black History Month through a long phone call detailing when and where the instigators would detonate the bomb. “There was a voice behind what was happening,” stated Eaglin, a reminder that these are real human beings and a real threat to Black students’ safety. FBI agents filled the campus, and students packed bags if they needed to leave at a moment’s notice. “It was messy. I didn’t want to go to class. I didn’t want to walk around. But I didn’t want to stay in my dorm.”
The most recent threat was Feb 8. Eaglin detailed that she “was trying to study for math, doing homework, and all of a sudden its shelter-in-place. Just in the middle of the day.”
Similar situations are being mirrored in numerous HBCUs across the country, putting a pause on education and causing a profound mental burden on staff and students alike. “You get [frustrated] when you are trying to get an education…you’re trying to do better for this world and this country, and people are trying so hard to stop you from doing that,” Nina Giddens of Xavier University of Louisiana told PBS NewsHour. And the chaos and fear are not just within the school -it is in parents across the country. “I wouldn’t have known [about the bomb threats] if it wasn’t for [my mother],” said Nina. Eaglin also expressed that her parents were scared because they lived far from the campus. There would be no way for them to get to her in a short period of time.
“HBCUs have been targets, but I always thought this was something that happened in the 60s when it was at its peak. It came as a shock to me,” said Eaglin. “I can’t explain it, but the reality of the severity of racism hit me across the face. I never thought I would have to go through this.” The bomb threats are striking reminders that racism is still a genuine and tangible issue.
Meanwhile, colleges are providing spaces to discuss the mental toll these threats have had on students through counseling and class discussion. “They are disappointed. They are traumatized,” said Felecia Nave, president of Alcorn State University. But “they are resolved to continue to move forward and to make it known that we won’t be threatened.”
Kate Anstett is a writer for the Vanguard at Berkeley’s Social Justice Desk.