Six months later, there have been no arrests. No suspects have been named, there have been no public statements about what triggered the threats, and no clarity has been given as to whether the incidents were connected.
“I’m beyond frustrated,” said Carmen Walters, president of Tougaloo College in Mississippi, at a meeting of HBCU presidents at the Charlie Palmer Steakhouse in DC in August. “I am very angry that no one has been brought to justice, but there has been no conversation about the investigation.”
For school leaders, it seems the incidents that rocked their campuses have been forgotten. They say the threats that triggered the shutdowns and evacuations, and shuttered classrooms, placed a financial burden on their institutions that they did not expect as they implemented heightened security measures. They want more money to improve security – and they want to see those responsible brought to justice.
The FBI said no explosive device was found, but HBCU leaders say the lack of public arrests has created an uneasy atmosphere at their schools. The calls for vitriol, they say, had a huge impact on the mental health of students and their families, who were also under duress from the pandemic.
The bomb threats took away their sense of safety on a campus “that has always been a safe haven for them,” said Dwaun Warmack, president of Claflin University in South Carolina. The calls, which are all recorded, he said were full of “hate” and “disgust” for their institutions and the students they serve.
“If you could hear the recording,” he said, “how many times was the word n—-r mentioned in that call? ‘You n —-rs gonna die today.’ And having to replay that… It’s always difficult, and again, no one has been brought to justice.
The FBI said in a statement that the bureau was working with 34 FBI field offices and “still investigating a series of bomb threats targeting community colleges, colleges and universities across the country.”
“Although at this time no explosive devices have been found at any of the sites, the FBI takes all threats seriously,” the FBI said.
The Biden administration has opened an application process for schools to receive grants to support student mental health and campus safety. But only one HBCU, the Southern University Law Center in Louisiana, received a grant. The award was announced on Monday, nearly seven months after the school received the threat.
“The Biden-Harris administration strongly condemns threats against historically black colleges and universities in our country,” a spokesperson for the Department of Education said in a statement.
The FBI has held a few calls with campus leaders, according to Lodriguez Murray, senior vice president of public policy and government affairs for the United Negro College Fund. But the FBI did not accept their March request for a classified briefing for an update on the ongoing investigation. The group again pressed the FBI for a briefing in July.
“In the year 2022, when we see all sorts of other crimes solved systematically and seriously, the fact that this one has not been solved, which sets the tone and the tenor, it is not taken seriously, it’s unfathomable for this community,” said UNCF’s Murray, who represents Claflin University, Tougaloo College and other private HBCUs.
Criticisms of the Biden administration’s response
Since February, HBCU advocacy groups have been urging Congress and the Education Department to bolster funding for the more than 100 institutions to bolster public safety.
The Biden administration took action in March by allowing HBCUs to apply for emergency grants after bomb threats. The grants announced by HBCU graduate Vice President Kamala Harris range from $50,000 to $150,000 per school and come from the Project School Emergency Response to Violence fund.
They are intended to help schools recover from a violent or traumatic event and can be used to improve campus public safety and mental health support for students.
“We will continue to work closely with our federal partners to ensure HBCU leaders have access to all available federal resources to respond to threats of violence, enhance campus security, and provide students with safe learning environments. and stimulants that have defined HBCUs,” a Department of Education spokesperson said.
HBCU leaders said they are grateful for the administration’s support, but the process for getting help is cumbersome.
“Why do we have to apply for a grant when you know I had a bomb threat? You know I had all these expenses,” Walters said. “You say to me, ‘OK, you have to reinforce your buildings. You need a new PA system, a new alarm system, to do all those things – and there’s no money to do it.
“I think it’s a complete joke,” she said. “I think the grant process was just a way of saying, ‘OK, here’s a bone. Stop crying. Stop complaining.'”
The Southern University Law Center received a grant of $133,200. The Department of Education said five other institutions have applied for SERV Project grants and are working with the institutions to provide technical assistance to complete the grant application process.
HBCU leaders also challenged an assessment from the Department of Education’s Federal Office of Student Aid that they were required to complete. The Department of Education said it uses the form to review the measures taken by the school to keep campus safe.
The assessment, college presidents said, was onerous and focused on the Clery Act and campus security systems.
“The most disappointing piece for me was the three to five page review they asked for – like we had done something to deserve a bomb threat,” Warmack said. “As if it was our fault that we received a bomb threat. So I didn’t fill it out. »
Additionally, a meeting between Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and more than 40 HBCU presidents in January to discuss campus safety and security left some leaders from the HBCU confused and inaudible.
“While the administration is good on most HBCU matters… The handling of this situation felt sloppy,” Murray said, adding that the call from the joint secretary who was billed for the threats ended up relate to what the administration has done to support the schools and the historical character of the appeal.
“While we are grateful for all of this, the institutions and their leaders are frustrated and need more support, especially from the law enforcement side,” Murray said.
The Department of Education spokesperson said the FBI and Department of Homeland Security have held briefings “with relevant university leaders and security officials to hear from them directly and share information, and we’ve provided more funding to HBCUs than any other jurisdiction – with additional funds on the way.”
After asking the Biden administration for the federal response to the threats, HBCU and Claflin University advocates were asked by the Education Department to send POLITICO additional comments about their relationship with the administration before the date the story was published, school officials and advocates said.
The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, which represents HBCUs and predominantly black institutions, sent POLITICO an unsolicited statement that “his experience working with this administration has been different than of some of our colleagues”. They went on to say, “We have discovered that there is a team at the Department of Education that understands the central role of HBCUs in American progress.”
Ryan T. Young, the FBI’s executive assistant director of intelligence, told the House Oversight Committee in March that the agency’s investigation had led to “one person and a small group.” No arrests have been made, he told lawmakers, adding that there had been “attribution issues” because “some of the [the threats] come from encrypted platforms. The bureau has only been investigating bomb threats since Jan. 31.
Institutions are still under threat today, Murray said. Since the bomb threats, some campuses have been degraded and others have suffered cyberattacks. An institution has been threatened after it was considered to be a polling station in the upcoming elections.
“I heard about the seriousness of the threats. I heard students, faculty, staff, administrators called by name, derogatory terminology,” Murray said.
For these colleges, resolution via arrest is essential to ensure that others who seek to terrorize their institutions are deterred from making similar threats.
When asked if the federal government would have responded differently if the colleges had been majority white, the president of Tougaloo immediately answered yes, while the leader of Claflin hesitated.
“I just know we weren’t treated well,” Warmack said of Claflin.
“Look, I went to a white school,” Walters of Tougaloo replied. “I can promise you, baby, it would have been different.”