At Hearing, Bipartisan Members Demand Action Against Threats to Historically Black Colleges and Universities

HBCU Student Leaders Share Their Stories, Stress Importance of HBCUs

March 17, 2022

Washington, D.C. (March 17, 2022)—Today, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, held a bipartisan hearing to examine ways the federal government can support Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the face of threats to student safety on HBCU campuses.

“HBCUs matter, and every HBCU student matters.  That is why we must do everything possible to support them, especially when they are threatened or attacked,” said Chairwoman Maloney in her opening statement.

“The perpetrators behind these acts obviously targeted Black colleges and universities, seeking to disrupt and terrorize the students and their families, the faculty and their families, and the staff and their families,” said Subcommittee Chairman Raskin in his opening statement.  “No other colleges or universities have been targeted and disrupted in the same fashion as HBCUs were on that day.”

The Committee heard testimony from current HBCU students Ms. Kylie Burke, President of the Student Association at Howard University; Mr. Emmanuel Ukot, President of the Student Government Association at Xavier University of Louisiana; and Mr. Devan M. Vilfrard, Associate Chief Justice of the Student Supreme Court at Florida A&M University.

The Committee also heard testimony about the Biden Administration’s multi-agency response from Dr. Michelle Asha Cooper, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Higher Education Programs at the Department of Education; Mr. Sean Haglund, Associate Director of the Office for Bombing Prevention at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS); and Mr. Ryan T. Young, Executive Assistant Director of the Intelligence Branch at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Members demanded the federal government ensure a robust and coordinated response to address threats of violence and acts of intimidation affecting HBCUs.

  • In response to Rep. Raskin, Mr. Young from the FBI provided new information about the investigation into bomb threats at HBCUs, stating:  “We believe we have the majority [of the bomb threats] selected down to one person and a small group.  Our concern after that is [that] some may be copycats.” 
  • Dr. Cooper highlighted the Department of Education’s multifaceted support for HBCUs, including the Administration’s recent announcement to allow threatened HBCUs to use Project SERV grants to “help to restore the learning environment.”
  • Mr. Haglund said that DHS’ response to these threats is a “DHS-wide effort” and committed that DHS will ensure that “security officials from each HBCU have access to the latest threat information through our suite of information sharing platforms.”

Members and witnesses emphasized the critical role that HBCUs play in advancing equity in economic and educational opportunities for Black Americans.

  • Ms. Burke highlighted the importance of supporting HBCUs, which she explained is “supporting a better future, one where young Black students know there is a safeguarded, intellectual, and cultural community waiting for them that is protected.”
  • Dr. Cooper highlighted HBCUs’ influence, stating:  “HBCUs represent a small part of our higher education system, yet they have an outsized impact and punch above their weight. … So it’s very important for us to be responsive to these bomb threats and to take them very seriously because these institutions have a very important role in contributing to the economic workforce and the solvency of America and our future.”

Witnesses shared how bomb threats have negatively impacted the welfare of HBCU students.

  • Ms. Burke shared that “added stress and in some cases paranoia students, faculty, and staff have subsequently experienced cannot be understated.”
  • Mr. Ukot described the impact these threats have on students, saying that some students “were too nervous and paranoid to attend classes for the remainder of the week,” and sought out the University’s counseling and wellness services.

Members agreed that Congress must pass the IGNITE HBCU Excellence Act and the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act to restore a sense of safety on HBCU campuses.

  • Rep. Pressley called for Congress to pass the IGNITE HBCU Excellence Act, to support “HBCUs who have been under resourced but who have been outsized in their contributions for generations.” 
  • Rep. Bush stated, “Congress must make strides to reverse the decades-long trend of underinvestment, of neglect, and of violence against HBCUs.”  Rep. Bush also stressed the need for “consistent federal support to retain campus staff for mental health and counseling services that provide trauma-informed care to students on campus.”
  • Members highlighted legislation that would enhance efforts to combat domestic terrorism.  Chairwoman Maloney explained that the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act would “enhance the government’s ability to counter terrorism.”