Following a White House briefing, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security John Tien and Ronald Mason Jr., president of the University of the District of Columbia, discuss resources for HBCUs threatened with violence. (Brenda C. Siler/The Washington Informer)
Following a White House briefing, Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security John Tien and Ronald Mason Jr., president of the University of the District of Columbia, discuss resources for HBCUs threatened with violence. (Brenda C. Siler/The Washington Informer)

Thirty-six historically Black colleges and universities [HBCUs] who have received bomb threats since February 1 recently became eligible for grant funding under the Project School Emergency Response to Violence [Project SERV] program from the Department of Education [ED]. 

The program will enhance campus security and provide mental health resources. 

Vice President Kamala Harris made the announcement during a briefing on March 16 with Attorney General Merrick Garland, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security John Tien.

Cardona said his department’s listening intently to those affected. 

“In my conversations with HBCU presidents, I’ve heard an urgent need for more resources,” Cardona said. “Install more security cameras, improve emergency response plans, train personnel on proper procedures for handling bomb threats and provide students with mental health services. Likewise, students are speaking out about the trauma they have experienced and the safety they deserve.”

While none of the threatened HBCUs found explosive devices, significant and lasting damage from threats has endangered students, faculty, staff, safety and security at the institutions. HBCU students have already experienced negative impacts from the pandemic, such as lingering effects of illness, trauma and basic needs insecurities. The bomb threats have further burdened campuses with additional stress and anxiety that negatively affect academic success.

ED will work with HBCUs that have received recent bomb threats to determine if Project SERV can provide funds to their campuses for immediate needs. A jointly-developed resource guide from ED, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice now remains available to help HBCUs with long-term improvements to campus mental health programs, campus safety and emergency management planning and response. The resource guide represents a centralized source on grant programs and technical assistance activities across federal agencies. Awards typically range from $50,000 to $150,000 per school.

Ronald Mason, Jr., president of the University of the District of Columbia [UDC] and whose university received a bomb threat, attended the White House briefing with more than 40 HBCU presidents. 

“Some of the HBCU campuses had real time lost to learning,” Mason said. “We were fortunate because our learning was not disrupted as much as on some other HBCU campuses because we are in the District of Columbia. We have relationships with some federal agencies, so we have resources that other HBCUs might not have. The Biden-Harris administration has made great efforts to put more resources into HBCUs that have really saved most HBCUs.”

In addition to threats against HBCUs, Harris commented on a significant spike in incidences of violence and hate against Jewish, Asian-American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander and LGBTQ+ communities.

“We are reminded of the terrible cost of violence and hate. Every American should be able to learn, work, worship and gather without fear,” Harris said. “It is our duty to do everything we can to protect all of our communities. Harm against any one of our communities is a harm against all of us.”

A video of the briefing is available at https://youtu.be/DjW_SZelatU.

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Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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