HBCU Bomb Threats Aren’t Isolated Incidents — As History Shows

HBCUs have long been a safe haven for Black students that lead to new, if unequal, opportunities. Yet, the recent bombings — and history — show many view HBCUs as a threat.

February 10, 2022 · Updated on February 11, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
HBCU Bomb Threats Aren’t Isolated Incidents — As History Shows
Opinion & Analysis
Photo by Drew Angerer / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images

Black History Month started with bomb threats targeting 16 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) — the latest sign that the advancement of Black Americans will always be a threat to white supremacy.

As we push forward to celebrate the contributions of Black Americans to this country, we must remember that HBCUs are a marker of Black liberation and resilience. Even with the persistent threats, these institutions must continue to thrive and progress.

Though the Feb. 1 threats garnered national headlines for their scope and timing, it wasn’t the first time this year that HBCUs have been threatened. A day earlier, six HBCUs received bomb threats, and eight HBCUs reported bomb threats on Jan. 5.

The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces are investigating the threats as hate crimes, according to a Feb. 2 statement. NBC News reported later that day that law enforcement had identified as persons of interest in the investigation six "tech savvy" juveniles who appeared to have racist motivations.

It is imperative that we do not look at these bomb threats as a mere isolated incident.

Our nation was founded on the exclusion and discrimination of Black Americans. These threats are evidence that colorblindness is a fallacy — we are not beyond race — and racism is indeed endemic to our society.

For students of color, HBCUs are a safe haven. They have often shielded Black students from the pervasive racism that can be found at predominately white institutions.

Whiteness is upheld and sustained by power, privilege, and institutional control. White people have been regarded as the standard and expectation for economic and social progress. Therefore, to many, the success of HBCUs threatens the very foundation of white supremacy.

In fact, though HBCUs make up about 3% of our nation’s colleges and universities, they play a critical role in educating more African American STEM graduates, retaining Black staff, faculty, and students, and cultivating social activism and pride in Black culture.

For students of color, HBCUs are a safe haven. They have often shielded Black students from the pervasive racism that can be found at predominately white institutions.

Slavery denied and ignored the humanity of Black people — it barred them from access to traditional education.

HBCUs were established due to the continued exclusion of Black students from colleges and universities during the early 18th century. The first historically Black college and university, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, was established in 1837.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Black colleges thrived.

When segregation was rampant, HBCUs became the hub for educating and producing Black doctors, lawyers, teachers, and other professionals. HBCUs became the impetus for Black liberation, cultivating the Black elite and alleviating the opportunity and achievement gap between Black and white students.

While Black students have increasingly more college options, HBCUs are still popular today.

Many Black students credit HBCUs as their college of choice due to their focus on Black cultural heritage. Also, they feel they have freedom to take on their academic and co-curricular pursuits without fear of racial discrimination or retaliation from the white majority.

HBCUs have been a symbol of the power — and the collective social and economic impact — of Black people.

The mere existence of HBCUs is a contradiction to a nation built on racism and the subjugation of Black Americans.

In a world that has denied Black people agency, and stalled their social and economic mobility and progress, the mere existence of HBCUs is a contradiction to a nation built on racism and the subjugation of Black Americans.

The elevation and ascension of people of color into the middle class or in positions of success threaten the pervasive belief that Black people are inferior and undeserving of educational and economic advancement.

We can point to several instances in our nation's history where the Black population has been disenfranchised due to their perceived ability to challenge white supremacy — from continued voter suppression, gerrymandering, and mandatory minimum sentencing.

Our country has continuously demonstrated that Black progress cannot supersede white supremacy.

When Black progress and mobility threaten white supremacy, many white people feel as if their existence suffers.

This was most evident during the Charlottesville rally in 2017 when white nationalists hit the streets screaming, "You will not replace us."

This sentiment makes clear the reality and fragility that white nationalists felt as a result of the changing racial demographics of our country. As the United States becomes more of a racial and cultural melting pot, there is a belief among white nationalists that whiteness will cease to exist.

Even though HBCUs have existed for some time, HBCUs are still perceived, by many, to be educationally inferior when compared to other institutional types.

George Washington University economist Walter Williams said, "One of the problems with Black universities is that, in general, they don't have the academic standing and rigor of predominantly white schools."

HBCUs have — historically and presently — been regarded as second-class institutions. This is reinforced by the continued lack of federal and state funding for HBCUs.

HBCUs have — historically and presently — been regarded as second-class institutions. This is reinforced by the continued lack of federal and state funding for HBCUs.

The financial fate of HBCUs has always been in question and produced much controversy.

The American Council of Education reported that HBCUs saw declines in federal funding per full-time equivalent student between 2003 and 2015, as compared to non-HBCUs. The disinvestment in HBCUs throughout history has created poor infrastructure and a lack of funding for new capital projects, degree programs, and athletics, which, in many ways, severely impacts the quality of the student experience.

While the Biden administration has shown a renewed commitment to HBCUs, we cannot ignore the long and pervasive underfunding of HBCUs throughout our nation's history.

Much of the perceived educational inferiority of HBCUs has also been a part of popular cultural discourse.

On social media, one could easily find debates between the effectiveness of HBCUs, in comparison to predominantly white institutions (PWIs). The divisive debate HBCU vs. PWI continues to persist on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. PWI attendees not only believe they are getting a superior education, but they are also gaining access to more scholarship opportunities to fund their education.

In many ways, the ongoing bomb threats are a mere reflection of how society has perceived HBCUs — educationally inferior and undeserving of any notoriety, attention, or large state or federal investment.

The bomb threats signal that HBCUs are viewed by many in our society as having little educational, cultural, or economic value, and thus should cease to exist.

The bomb threats call for racial reckoning in America — a reckoning that forces us to understand that racism is still very much a part of our society. We must also understand the pivotal role that HBCUs play in advancing racial and social justice, educating diverse students, and alleviating the achievement gap between students of color and white students. They are more than deserving of increased state and federal investment.