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HBCU bomb threats, sex trafficking, other concerns highlighted at first White House student leader’s summit

With less than a week before the midterm elections, HBCU student leaders met with White House officials to raise concerns about future and past threats against their campuses as well as other key issues.

The White House Initiative on HBCUs launched its first Student Leader Town Hall series, where students and alumni across the country gathered virtually with government officials who largely impact the future of these institutions.

“We believe that providing our HBCU students and our recent alumni with a seat at the table with senior leaders and government officials will help to decrease the opportunity gap between HBCUs and other institutions of higher education,” said Elyse Jones, outreach and engagement coordinator of the White House Initiative on HBCUs.

HBCUs are often seen as a monolith, but their student bodies, communities and challenges vary from school to school. SGA President of Fayetteville State University, Maya Martin expressed concern about human sex trafficking near her campus.

“We are unique in that we are about a 15 - 20 minute drive from a military base, so a lot of our students are concerned about sex trafficking, especially when it comes to the military population. So, what advice do you have for us centered around programming or things we can do with campus police to ensure that our military students and that our campus residents are safe?” asked Martin.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Blue Campaign, an awareness effort educating communities on human sex trafficking stated that Martin’s campus could utilize resources from the Blue Campaign like posters to hang around campus educating students on how to recognize and appropriately respond to cases of sex trafficking.

The conversation about campus safety continued when students and alumni asked about the bomb threats targeting HBCUs from January to May earlier this year.

A wave of violent threats were made against HBCUs, including Bowie State University and Morgan State University in Maryland and Albany State University, Fort Valley State University and Spelman College in Georgia. Other schools targeted were Bethune-Cookman University in Florida, Howard University, Delaware State University, Mississippi Valley State University and Kentucky State University.

The FBI opened a hate crime and violent extremism investigation into the threats. No explosives were found on any of the campuses, but several HBCUs temporarily closed for student safety before gradually reopening.

Katherine McLaughlin, a supervisory special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation responded by informing folks about the Campus Safety Program, which provides counter-terrorism assistance to agencies that are responsible for campus security.

McLaughlin said that the safety practices put into place will depend on a number of factors, including whether the campus has sworn or unsworn safety officers or an independent police department. “They know the campus the best, so they are going to take the measures they think are appropriate for the situation and their campus, the FBI is a supportive role in that capacity,” said McLaughlin.

Another student, who was not identified because questions were submitted in advance, asked about officer training currently underway or in development.

“Every campus has a campus liaison agent and that specific agent works with the universities in their area of responsibility. Whether there be an HBCU or any other university – junior college or trade university (apart from K-12) those campus liaison agents are the first point of contact to work with the university police staff,” William Siffley, a supervisory special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation stated.

Another student noted in their question that HBCUs have historically been underfunded compared to predominantly white institutions even though HBCUs have been targeted with extremist violence. The student asked whether the FBI has allocated or reserved resources to monitor potential threats against HBCUs.

“One thing the FBI has done recently is our deputy director and assistant director of the counter-terrorism division met with presidents, chancellors, police departments and police chiefs of HBCUs to specifically talk about bomb threats that have and have not occurred. They shared what they could about those investigations with your chancellors and they are continuing to communicate on the issue,” said McLaughlin.

The next Student Leader Town Hall series is expected to take place in Spring 2023.

Alexis Wray

Alexis Wray | awray@reckonmedia.com

I report on HBCUs and Blackness, working to introduce voices and perspectives of students, alumni and community members that amplify the experiences of Black life on and off campus.

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