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Howard, Spelman among HBCU campuses targeted in bomb threats

School administrators and authorities reported that no bombs were found at the universities.
Image: Founder's Library at Howard University to be renovated
The Founder's Library at Howard University in Washington, D.C.Evelyn Hockstein / The Washington Post via Getty Images

At least eight historically Black colleges, including Howard University in Washington and Spelman College in Atlanta, received bomb threats on Tuesday, prompting investigations by local police and the FBI.

Though authorities said they found no bombs, some students said they were still on edge, while others said they were not on campus at the time because of winter break. 

Other schools to report bomb threats were the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff; Florida Memorial University; Norfolk State University; North Carolina Central University; Prairie View A&M University in Texas; and Xavier University of Louisiana.

Howard spokesperson Frank Tramble confirmed to NBC News that the university had received a call from an anonymous individual who said two bombs had been placed in the administration building.

Howard’s Department of Public Safety and the Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department “secured the perimeter, evacuated the building, and deployed canines,” the school said in a statement. “Both departments searched the area. No active devices were found, and the area was cleared.” 

In a statement, Spelman College said the Atlanta Police Department (APD) responded to a potential bomb threat in the Manley College Center, which was empty at the time. 

“After a thorough search by both APD and Spelman Public Safety, no devices were found, and the building was secured. The Atlanta Police Department is continuing an active investigation,” Jazmyn Burton, a spokesperson for the school, said in a statement. 

Florida Memorial University said the campus was placed on lockdown on Tuesday evening but has since returned to normal operations after the threats were cleared. 

“Florida Memorial University takes matters of this nature seriously,” Sharee Gilbert, a spokesperson, said in a statement. “The safety of our students, faculty, staff, and visitors is the university’s main priority. Campus security will continue to work with all involved agencies as the investigation remains ongoing.” 

Brittany Goddard, a law student at Texas Southern University and a graduate of Howard University, said the threats “makes everybody nervous because we don’t know where it came from.”

As officers investigate the threats, Goddard said she believes the bombs were racially motivated.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that several HBCUs received a bomb threat on the same day,” Goddard, 22, said. “It just kind of goes to show you that regardless of some progress that we’re seeing, racism is still alive and present.” 

Ashleigh Fields, 20, a junior and editor-in-chief of Howard’s student newspaper, The Hilltop, said that notification of a bomb threat was scary but did not come as a surprise.

“I think that being in an HBCU in the nation’s capital puts us in an unusual position,” Fields said. She added that the Jan. 6 attack at the Capitol last year and other racist incidents makes the university even more vulnerable. Howard is one of two HBCUs "in the district, and so we do receive a lot of notifications about possible threats of violence.” 

In 2017, Howard faced a similar threat of an active shooter on campus, but those reports were unfounded, NBC Washington reported then. Following this week's threats and recent attacks on African Americans in the U.S., Goddard said she hopes historically Black colleges can increase safety precautions. 

“At what point are we going to take this seriously? At what point is something going to be done?” Goddard asked. “I hope that there are preventative measures taken because I would hate for this to come up as a vague threat now and then, somewhere later down the line, something actually happens.”

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CORRECTION (Jan. 6, 2022, 3:10 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated in a quote how many HBCUs there are in Washington, D.C. There are two: Howard University and the University of the District of Columbia. The quote, from Ashleigh Fields, a junior at Howard, has been adjusted.