White House steps up support for HBCUs after bomb threats with funding for mental health services, security training

EXCLUSIVE: Vice President Kamala Harris, along with department officials, announced that “Project Serve Grants” will provide up to $150,000 per school.

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The Biden-Harris administration is leaning in on addressing the countless bomb threats made against Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other minority and religious institutions this year. In response to the threats of violence, the White House held an event on Wednesday to announce federal inter-agency efforts to protect those who have been targeted, particularly HBCU students, faculty and staff.

Vice President Kamala Harris
Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks making communities safer, including the campuses of HBCUs. (Photo: White House)

At an event held in the South Court Auditorium on the White House campus, Vice President Kamala Harris, along with Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Attorney General Merrick Garland, and Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Deputy John Tien, unveiled new measures the federal government is particularly taking to address the rise of threats against HBCUs.

“Our administration is sending a very clear message this intimidation will not stand and we will not be intimidated. We will do everything in our power to protect all our communities from violence and from hate. We are all in this together and we must stand together,” said Vice President Harris.

“Every American should be able to learn, work, worship and gather without fear. It is our duty to do everything we can to protect all our communities from harm against any one of our communities. This is a harm against all of us.”

On behalf of the Biden administration, Harris announced short-term grants that will be available for HBCUs campuses that “received threats that significantly disrupt the learning environment.” The “Project Serve Grants” provides up to $150,000 per school that can be used by schools to hire mental health professionals, enhance campus security and provide specialized training to their security staff. The Department of Education is working with the impacted schools to determine the need. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland revealed that 31 FBI field offices are investigating the HBCU bomb threats that began in January and picked up in February during Black History Month.

The vice president, a graduate of Howard University, noted that “80 anonymous threats have been made against sanctuaries, schools and other places of peace including HBCUs.”

The issue was apparently so important that Vice President Harris made the announcement of protecting HBCUs her only public event Wednesday as her husband, Doug Emhoff, recovered from a recent COVID-19 diagnosis. The second gentleman is said to have mild COVID symptoms.  

The White House was sure to emphasize that the vice president followed COVID protocols during the event.

Morgan State University President Dr. David Kwabena Wilson told theGrio that he was pleased with the Biden administration’s all-of-government effort to address safety and mental health on HBCU campuses. 

Morgan State University is a public historically black research university in Baltimore. (Photo by Jonathan Newton /The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“I’m very pleased to see this connective tissue between the Justice Department, the FBI, Homeland Security all working together, and they have been doing this since day one. They have reached out to us, have provided us with resources in terms of programmatic resources that we could draw upon to help us respond in a timely fashion to what we were seeing,” said Dr. Wilson.

He added, “The White House is now saying that institutions like Morgan and other HBCU schools that have been threatened in this space where we have had to draw upon our own operating resources – parsimonious as they are – to enable us to hire more counselors to hire more security guards and to create, if you will, another kind of protective layer on our campus that we can now apply to get some federal support to enable us to do that.

President Wilson said during the last bomb threat at Morgan State (which has received several) about two weeks ago, the Secretary of the Army happened to be on the campus at the time for a day-long focus on research the university is conducting that can benefit the United States Army. That day, Wilson said he decided to keep the Baltimore City campus open. 

Last month, as previously reported by theGrio, Dr. Wilson was invited to participate in a hearing held by a House Judiciary subcommittee. 

“It is unthinkable that we could have an individual or individuals out there who are rooted in so much hate that they would target institutions that have simply, always been about doing the right thing. These are institutions that came into existence because they wanted to taste the magic of the ideals embedded in our constitution, that everyone was created equal,” said Wilson, who is seeing record numbers in enrollment this year at Morgan State and an 8-10% increase in the number of applications for the next academic year. 

Federal officials have identified teenagers as the alleged culprits of the bomb threats to the HBCUs, however, the investigation is still underway and university presidents have been asked not to share any information about the threats. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland announces a lawsuit to block the enforcement of new Texas law that bans most abortions at the Justice Department in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York, who is the head of the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, was in attendance for Wednesday’s White House announcement. Maloney is chairing a hearing Thursday to get to the root causes of why these bomb threats have continued to occur. Maloney says students and educators are going to be part of the conversation on seeking solutions during the hearing. 

Meanwhile, with the heightened attention on HBCUs, law enforcement officials are concerned that there may be copycat incidents. In an exclusive interview with theGrio, Education Secretary Cardona said, “we know that copycats always look for an opportunity but what they should be seeing now is that the full support of the federal government here behind our HBCUs, that we’re not going to spare any expense to get to those folks that are disrupting our schools and that we’re not going to spare any expense when it comes to making sure that our campuses are safe. 

He added, “HBCUs, as I said in my remarks, do so much for our country, we need to show that we’re supporting them not only in talk, but also by providing the resources that they need to get the job done.”

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