Each Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Mississippi was targeted by bomb threats back in February. Jackson State University was amongst that group. On Thurs., Mar. 17, 2022, JSU President Thomas Hudson testified at a public hearing in Washington, DC called by Congressman Bennie Thompson and the House Homeland Security Committee to discuss safety at historically Black institutions. Hudson said the recent attacks make a mockery of how far we’ve come as a nation.
“There is always a group of individuals who will attempt to drag us back to the time when terrorizing our communities were frequent occurrences – often without admonishment,” he said. “The threat we received in February was an attempt once again to incite mass anxiety and fear reminiscent of yesteryear. The targeting of Black schools and sacred institutions has taken place in this country since their inception.”
Also testifying was Rev. Eric S.C. Manning of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine members of his congregation were slain six years ago by white supremacist Dylan Roof. He says his congregation is still reeling after that attack. Janet Nelson, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, also testified. She underscored the role HBCUs play as safe havens for Black students and faculty.
“Due to historical underfunding, HBCUs are more tuition-dependent than their predominantly white counterparts,” she said. “The bomb threats can harm the financial security of HBCUs by casting a chilling effect on the desire of students to attend these institutions.”
Hudson told the committee it would cost about $12 million to complete physical and technological improvements to increase campus safety at Jackson State. Vice President Kamala Harris announced last week that HBCUs targeted in this year’s bomb threats are now eligible for immediate grant funding from the Department of Education to upgrade campus security and provide mental health resources. Hudson says the short answer to making campuses more safe is money.
“Holistically, you’re looking at more training for your campus security and campus police,” he stated. “You’re looking at better data science capabilities, increasing your bandwidth, increasing your ability to store the type of data you need so you can do your threat assessments and go back and provide the historical analysis. You’re talking about the overall infrastructure of the campus.”
Hudson added that while JSU shared similarities with other colleges and universities, the truth is, HBCUs have been routinely underfunded for years, which has led to deferred maintenance and deficiencies in infrastructure.
“This long-term underfunding has consequences. It limits our ability to pivot in an emergency,” he said. “This frequently puts HBCUs in a reactionary position due to our historical and persistent under-resourcing.”
Hudson added that another way the federal government can support HBCUs is by making more grants need-based rather than competitive. This will make funding more accessible to institutions that lack the personnel available to devote time to filling out applications.
“There’s only a finite pool of resources that are available to us. We obviously are going to prioritize our core mission which is the education, the teaching, and learning of our students,” he said. “When you have a bomb threat, the ability to offer extra security, the ability to upgrade our data systems, those cost additional resources that are just often not available.”
Hudson said JSU is eager to partner with Congress and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Academic Engagement to address security on its campus. Additionally, on March 22, the university named a new chief of police for Jackson State University’s Department of Public Safety. Herman Horton’s “duties include developing the vision and mission of the department and oversight of the functions and services of Campus Police,” a recent press release from the university stated. Horton was most recently the police chief for Hinds Community College – Utica campus and was a former director of training for the Jackson Police Department.
There have been 57 HBCUs to receive bomb threats this year. The FBI said it was investigating the bomb threats as racially-motivated hate crimes. In February, they identified “six juveniles as persons of interest.”