Southern Poverty Law Center, HBCU leaders and DOE official discuss response, concerns related to recent bomb threats
By Anitra D. Brown
The New Orleans Tribune
Calling recent bomb threats targeted at HBCUs across the country attempts to disrupt activity, Dillard University President Dr. Walter Kimbrough says students, parents, and the larger community cannot let the threats hinder recruitment.
“If people say ‘well. now I am not going to one of these schools because of the bomb threats,’ then (the terrorists) win. You can’t run from everything. We’re going to have to weather this storm like we have so many others,” said Kimbrough, who on Tuesday (Feb. 8) joined Dr. Anne McCall, Xavier University’s senior vice president of academic affairs and provost; Dr. A. Zachary Faison, Jr., president and CEO of Edward Waters College; and Alcorn State University President Dr. Felecia Nave in a Zoom call with Southern Poverty Law Center chief of staff Lecia Brooks and Dr. Michelle Asha Cooper, the U.S. Department of Education’s deputy assistant secretary for Higher Education Programs.
The call took place just hours after classes were suspended at Spelman College because of a Tuesday morning bomb threat aimed at the campus–marking the fourth day this year that HBCU campuses were targeted by such threats. Since Jan. 5, the first day of recorded threats against historically Black colleges and universities, 20 schools in eight states and the District of Columbia, including Xavier University in New Orleans and Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, have received bomb threats. In addition to Jan. 5 and Feb. 8, bomb threats targeting HBCUs were reported on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1.
And while the rash of threats has HBCU campuses across the nation on heightened alert, Edward Waters’ Dr. Faison wanted to make clear that if the goal of terrorists was to instill fear in HBCU students, it is failing.
“Our students now are emboldened,” he said. “They now have even more resolve around their identity as students at an HBCU.”
Dillard’s Kimbrough echoed the sentiment.
“We are leaning into who we are as an institution,” Kimbrough said. “This has been a wake-up call. We have to show that we are not afraid. We have to show courage, support, and unity.”
SPLC’s Lecia Brooks referred to media reports about the FBI identifying six tech-savvy juveniles as the source behind the threats, asking whether the HBCU leaders were concerned if identifying the perpetrators as minors signaled to them that law enforcement was “softening” its response to the threats. Brooks also referred to reports of the juveniles being connected to the Atomwaffen Division or AWD, which she described as a particularly violent Neo-Nazi terroristic organization known for its use of young people.
The school leaders said they were disappointed, but not surprised to learn that juveniles were a possible source of the threats, adding that while there may have been some initial concerns about what that would mean for the investigation, they are assured that authorities are taking the matter seriously, particularly in the wake of conversations and consistent communication with federal officials.
Kimbrough said not only has communication between the schools and the federal agencies and authorities been robust but the HBCU school leaders and their umbrella institutions such as the United Negro College Fund and the Thurgood Marshall Fund have been actively working with each other to coordinate their response to the crisis.
“I think that’s been really good,” he said. “There has been active communication and we want that to continue.”
The possibility that minors are behind these threats only means that the investigation must be deeper and wider, said Xavier’s Dr. McCall.
“These individuals need to be prosecuted, but it can’t stop there,” she said. “We have to get the networks behind them, above them, and around them.”
Speaking on behalf of the Department of Education, Dr. Cooper assured the HBCU leaders and others on the call that federal officials were working diligently to get to the bottom of the series of bomb threats at the schools.
“These acts of intimidation and threats of violence will not be tolerated in places of learning and are being taken seriously,” said Cooper, adding that the Department of Education is working with Homeland Security and the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, which is leading the investigation into the threats.
No additional updates regarding the investigation were provided.
Alcorn’s Dr. Cooper added that as a part of the federal response to the threats, she hopes to see HBCUs get the resources they need to improve cybersecurity.