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Howard University bomb threats: “It’s very frightening”

A Howard University student details the experience of Black students attending an HBCU during a time where radicalized individuals have repeatedly threatened the safety of college students around the country.

By Caroline Cliona Boyle

Photo by Jeffrey Greenberg

In the spate of bomb threats made toward Howard University in February, “I don’t want to say we’re living in fear, but it’s very frightening,” said Rohan, 21, a junior at Howard University.

The Howard University bomb threats were among more 16 HBCUs that received bomb threats in February, including two others in the metro area – the University of D.C. and Morgan State University.

Given the severity of the recent threats and to maintain safety, Rohan requested his surname not be included. Throughout February, Howard University received three bomb threats, resulting in increased security, the creation of bomb shelters on the college’s main campus, and the emergency suspension of classes to support students’ mental health.

The aftermath the threats left students including Rohan anxious. “Others are very panicky and scared over the threats” he said. “We all receive this in different ways.”

The intent of HBCUs is to provide a safe and nurturing educational space for Black students looking to foster scholastic excellence and academic success, according to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Historically, Black spaces are attacked during times of racial progress and tension.

“I want to do what I can to not think about this.” said Rohan. “If anything, I want to enjoy time with people more to live in the moment.”

The bomb threats against Howard are part of a larger emerging trend of rising youth radicalization said Kesa White, a research associate at American University’s Polarization and Extremism Innovation Lab (PERIL). White researches far-right speech, technology and social media.

The primary danger of youth radicalization, is that young people who engage with far-right material often conflate extremist ideologies, said White. A 16-year-old from Southeast Washington was charged and arrestedfor one of the bomb threats made towards Howard University. That arrest is proof of increased youth radicalization, White said.

Social media echo chambers exacerbate youth radicalization because

“there's nobody else to create counterpoints and to essentially discredit whatever ideology or narrative that they're all sharing amongst one another,” White said.

Akosua Ali, president of the Washington NAACP, said that the recent threats made toward HBCUs are a tactic used to destabilize Black students’ opportunity to access a safe and quality education space.

These bomb threats cause emotional trauma for students, teachers, parents and the community. They also “create additional barriers that threaten access to quality education and future achievements,” Ali said.

The responsibility to keep HBCU students safe should not fall on Howard, Ali said. Rather, “it’s important that we as a community take ownership and accountability.”

This will include donations to HBCUs, and drafting legislation to ensure that HBCUs receive adequate funding to safeguard POC students’ access to quality education.

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