HBCUs Will Receive Grant Money After Last Year's Bomb Threats

The Biden administration is distributing grant money to three HBCUs that were threatened. Dr. Dietra Trent talks to Parents about the need for mental and physical safety while on campus.

Spelman College sign on Campus
Photo: Marcus Ingram/Getty Images

Bomb threats targeted more than a dozen Historically Black Colleges and Universities in early 2022, including Howard University, Spelman College, and Hampton University. In November 2022, the FBI reported they believed one juvenile was responsible for most of the “racially motivated” threats. The Department of Justice worked with state prosecutors to hold the minor accountable for their actions, but the damage has been and continues to be done and we are reminded of a painful history

The list of targeted campuses contains at least 17 schools, most of which are concentrated in the southern United States, spanning schools like Xavier University of Louisiana and Edward Waters University in Jacksonville, Florida. At nearly all of the schools, classes had been canceled and students were told to shelter in place until they received an "all clear" from administrators. Students were understandably rattled.

Although no bombs were found, Jen Psaki, then White House press secretary, said the Biden administration took the threats seriously. And now, nearly a year later, the administration is trying to repair harm by providing half a million dollars in grants to three HBCUs that received threats. 

Dr. Dietra Trent is the recently installed executive director of the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity through HBCUs, a program created in direct response to the bomb threats and other issues. According to Dr. Trent, Project SERV had issued an estimated $1.4 million dollars to over eight HBCUs across the US. 

Today, she announced awards of $500,000 to Philander Smith College, North Carolina Central University, and Hampton University. 

“I spoke to students across these various HBCUs, and they expressed how traumatic an experience that was for them. So putting money towards mental health just makes a lot of sense.”

The universities have used the funds to address safety and security, as expected. Colleges like Southern University Law Center have used the funds to address the mental health implications of the bomb threat incidents. 

Dr. Trent believes that this move “makes sense.” She explains to Parents, “I spoke to students across these various HBCUs, and they expressed how traumatic an experience that was for them. So putting money towards mental health just makes a lot of sense.”  She went on to speak about the historic purpose of bomb threats, which are psychologically threatening, as well. 

 “They were designed actually to impart fear. They were deliberate attempts, I believe, to disrupt the mission and the teaching of our students. And, you know, unfortunately, HBCUs have a history of this. So when we think about it, what can we do to assist our students? It seems to me that where these universities are landing in terms of providing greater support around mental health, greater enhancing security personnel, greater support around training of our safety and security officers on campus.”

As for long-term solutions to address safety concerns, Dr. Trent referred to the March 16, 2022 White House announcement of additional resources. President Biden had tapped agencies and other government initiatives to not only help the HBCUs heal from the threats of last year but to also heal the 150-year history of being underfunded and ignored by the White House.

There's a long history of domestic terrorists using bombs to terrorize Black communities, with one of the most devastating incidents being the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing of 1963 when four Black girls were killed and 20 individuals were injured. Three years earlier, in 1960, English Avenue Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia, was bombed in response to efforts to integrate schools.

Wayne A. I. Frederick, president of Howard University, said in a statement that Black History is littered with targeted harassment like this. "The Black community is no stranger to these sorts of threats, both real and fabricated," Frederick says. "The institutions, dedicated to the education of people of color, have always been a source of fear and a target of violence for those who wish to undermine the pursuit of justice and enshrine the unequal status quo in our society."

Dr. Trent says that parents can rest assured that HBCUs are ensuring the safety of their college-aged kids while on the HBCU campus. She echoed the words of HBCU presidents a year ago.

“[HBCUs] have a history of fighting injustices while also remaining vigilant. We have been here before, and we will endure and be resilient through it all. We'll continue to do that. Our mission does not change. As an administration, we will work and are doing everything we possibly can to ensure that these campuses are safe and secure. This administration will not will not tolerate any threats to our students, or faculty or staff on HBCU campuses.”

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