‘Terror’ threats continue into 2022-23 at several universities, including Howard

Institutions should ensure their policies and procures in responding to bomb threats are updated.

Since the start of 2022, Howard University has endured eight bomb threats, including six that came during the previous academic year and now two more at its dormitories last week. Though he indicated his institution’s and community’s resolve is strong, President Wayne Frederick said more must be done to counteract the “terroristic acts.”

“This isn’t about resilience and grit,” Frederick said. “We require extra resources from all law enforcement agencies directed towards solving this ongoing threat and bringing those who perpetrate its negative effects to full justice under the law. I will be speaking to as many law enforcement agencies and elected federal officials as I can to ensure that the gravity of this situation is elevated and prioritized.”

Howard is among the scores of institutions that continue to deal with bomb threats. They range from Historically Black Colleges and Universities to the University of Utah, where a 19-year-old student last week was arrested after other students reported he posted a threat to one of its buildings on the smartphone app Yik Yak. Last month alone, several small colleges and universities in Virginia fielded bomb threats.

None of the dozens of threats have been carried out, but they have caused uneasiness throughout higher education. HBCUs have been prime targets, though Ivy League institutions also were in the crosshairs of those calls last fall and Michigan State University also had one disrupt a lecture during the summer. They have been on the rise across the nation since 2020, when more than 8,000 acts had been identified. That prompted the Biden Administration and House leaders to put together a bill called the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act in April that would give federal agencies more power to assess and remediate threats coming specifically from neo-Nazi and White supremacist groups. More than 60 organization with ties to higher ed also have called for more action from the federal government.

For now, however, it is up to the institutions and law enforcement to deal with both real threats and simply random ones like the one posted in Utah, where the student admitted he had no intention or the wherewithal to actually follow through on it. At Howard, students, staff and faculty came together in the center of campus to address the dangers and to show their unity. Frederick told faculty to be empathetic to students who may be experiencing anxiety.

“Let’s remember that our students need your understanding,” he said. “For some, it may mean taking a day to rest. For others, it means attending class to be surrounded by peers and having one’s mind occupied by the learning environment. Whatever it means to each student, let’s take a respite from business as usual and show solidarity in our united stand against fearmongers who cannot and will not prevail in disrupting the Howard mission.”

More from UB: Targets of bomb threats, HBCUs can get help, money from federal government

Still, Frederick again had to remind the community of the importance of vigilance and of adherence to protocols, such as “walking in groups, so that residence life personnel and public safety officers can more efficiently conduct head counts … and [to] venture solely to the designated evacuation location.” He also magnified the university’s counseling services to those who need help coping, including employees.

Colleges and universities should regularly assess their own policies to ensure that are up to date and that all stakeholders, including students, understand the importance of both reporting threats and then following through on safety plans. Security magazine offers several tips taken from federal guidance that are worth noting, including that publishing too much information on procedures can actually tip off potential aggressors as well as how to report incidents. Most institutions already have crisis response teams, but those that don’t should consider them or assessing whether they are trained in responding to bomb threats specifically.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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