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More than a dozen HBCUs received bomb threats on the 1st day of Black History Month

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

At least 13 historically Black colleges received bomb threats yesterday, and half a dozen others heard threats the day before. That's led to anxiety on campus. But as NPR's Laurel Wamsley reports, students and administrators say they will not be deterred.

LAUREL WAMSLEY, BYLINE: Howard University in Washington, D.C., has seen three bomb threats in the last month, one in early January and two days in a row this week. Kiara Wright (ph) is a first-year student from Michigan. She said the first one in January was shocking.

KIARA WRIGHT: And then the second one was like, OK, what's happening? The third one was like, wow.

WAMSLEY: A wave of threats were made on Monday and Tuesday. They affected at least 18 colleges across Mississippi, Maryland, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Florida, Delaware and D.C. The anonymous threats sowed confusion and anxiety, and Wright says it's hard to know exactly what to make of them.

WRIGHT: It comes to a point like, OK, you're making all these bomb threats. But then you also have in the back of your head, which one will be the real one?

WAMSLEY: Solliana Kinefergibh, a junior at Howard from Denver, echoed that.

SOLLIANA KINEFERGIBH: It's kind of stressful knowing that, like, oh, we just saw an insurrection at the Capitol, like, a year ago. This could definitely happen if someone meant it. And that's a scary thought.

WAMSLEY: But she also figures that someone is targeting HBCUs because they just want to intimidate them.

KINEFERGIBH: Part of me is scared to come to class, and part of me is like, I'm not going to stop getting my education because someone wants to call in a threat at 2:00 a.m. in the morning. So I'll be here for my 8:00 a.m.

WAMSLEY: The FBI is investigating the case. Patrice Bell is the vice president and chief of staff at Xavier University in Louisiana. She wouldn't speculate about the motives behind the threats, but she does have questions.

PATRICE BELL: It does make one wonder, have we truly overcome in this country? How much do we need to work on reconciliatory activities across aisles, across ethnicities, across religions so that we can, in fact, achieve that community that is just and humane?

WAMSLEY: Anthony Jenkins, the president of Coppin State University in Baltimore, was informed of the threat on his campus by staff in the early hours Tuesday morning.

ANTHONY JENKINS: It was not a welcoming phone call to, you know, say the least.

WAMSLEY: A shelter-in-place alert was sent while the campus was searched for explosives, and classes were held virtually instead of in person. Jenkins says it was another disruption for a campus community already stressed by two years of a pandemic. While the motive behind the bomb threats isn't precisely known, students and administrators say that HBCUs are likely targeted because they are institutions of Black power and community, and Jenkins says they will not be deterred.

JENKINS: This only hardens our resolve. So many people fought and died for people of color to have the opportunity to a quality education. And we also know that there are people throughout history who have fought for us not to have these opportunities, and so it's this constant tug of war.

WAMSLEY: Wayne Frederick, the president of Howard University, says his message to students in this time of turmoil is that they are the solution to the problem.

WAYNE FREDERICK: Some of them have become lawyers and put laws on the books that hopefully will kind of dictate us. Some of them are going to be social workers who are going to help people who have mental health issues. Their very presence, which is being challenged, is what must continue in order for us to get on the other side of this.

WAMSLEY: In the meantime, he says, Howard's campus will take Friday off as a mental health day. Laurel Wamsley, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOYGENIUS SONG, "SOUVENIR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.