Student record

HBCU student leaders gather for congressional hearing on bomb threats

On Thursday, black student leaders testified emotionally before Congress about a spate of bomb threats that recently hit historically black colleges and universities.

An FBI official told Thursday’s hearing authorities had ‘trimmed down’ a list of people of interest – and believe a minor is responsible for most of the threats – but black students still feel concerned about their safety.

“We always have to be proactive,” insisted Thomas K. Hudson of Jackson State University.

Three student representatives from schools targeted by the bomb threats addressed the House Oversight Committee, detailing the cultural pride they have in their HBCUs. But they have been discouraged by the events of the past year, most notably Black History Month 2022, which has seen a notable increase in threats against academic institutions.

“When bigoted and cowardly actors began issuing violent bomb threats against Howard University and dozens of other HBCUs in early 2022, it was clear that their intentions were to dismantle the sacred pentacles of excellence black,” said Kylie Burke, president of the Howard University Student Association. legislators. “Unquestionably, the highest concentration of these threats came on the first day of Black History Month.”

Emmanuel Ukot, president of the Student Government Association at Xavier University of Louisiana, said the threats were “particularly painful” because HBCU students are “growing to have positive impacts in our communities for the long term.”

“Racial violence against HBCUs is a multi-generational event that has a profound impact on the black community. My family and I are examples of this multi-generational trauma,” Devan M. Vilfrard, Associate Chief Justice of the Florida A&M University Student Supreme Court, told the panel. “Historically, black colleges and universities have been long-standing symbols of support and a pathway to success for black communities in our country for generations and will continue to provide it for generations to come.”

FBI Intelligence Branch Executive Assistant Director Ryan Young sought to assure students that investigating bomb threats remains one of the agency’s highest priorities.

Young acknowledged that the FBI has reduced its lists of suspects, indicating that the person believed to be responsible for most of the incidents is a minor. But it wouldn’t give more information about the location and motive of the person, and whether or not they were acting alone.

“The FBI recognizes that hate crimes remain a concern for communities across the country and is collecting mandatory reports from federal law enforcement agencies,” Young said. “Reporting remains voluntary for state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies. The FBI has statistics on hate crimes. …Additionally, the FBI created a Multicultural Engagement Council comprised of ethnic, religious, and minority leaders to better understand and design solutions for these communities.

When asked by several lawmakers about the exact numbers for how often hate crimes are dealt with at HBCUs compared to other educational institutions, Young could not answer.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), chair of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, said there was a 50% increase in hate crimes against black Americans from 2019 to 2020. He said also noted that 36 HBCUs had received more than 50 threats since the start of 2022. One such incident included a 20-minute phone call to Bethune-Cookman College in Florida from a man who claimed to be part of a neo-Nazi organization .

While most of the members of Congress present at the hearing focused on the safety of HBCUs, a few Republican lawmakers took the opportunity to rail against supporters of the “Defund the Police” campaigns.

Rep. Fred Keller (R-PA) began his speech by addressing the current crisis in Ukraine, saying the United States “cannot advocate for peace internationally without also addressing violence at home. our own borders”.

“Violence at all levels is unacceptable,” he said.

Then he went off in another direction.

“What effect do you think defunding the police would have on already high crime rates?” he asked Young.

After Young said the FBI does not have accurate and consistent data from local governments, which impacts relationships and how resources are used within those communities, Keller suggested that most supporters of police funding are black.

Keller was not alone in his feelings.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) spoke about her own college experience and how she received threats when she was the first woman to graduate from the Citadel. After finishing her spiel, she asked about campus safety and the reaction of federal authorities, and indicated that black communities would suffer the most from police funding.

Despite these mild political distractions and the threatening threats they endured, the students remained optimistic about their future in HBCUs and the celebration of black culture.

“We’ve always celebrated Black History Month,” Ukot later said in an interview with The Daily Beast. “I also think it’s ignited a fire again among students about why it’s so important to recognize the importance of HBCUs and our contribution to society.”

“I’ve never had a conversation or seen a conversation where [the threats] encouraged students to leave the HBCU community,” Burke said. “If anything, I think it connected us and united us because we were all facing the same circumstances.”