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Several historically Black colleges and universities received bomb threats

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Students at several historically Black colleges and universities are being asked to remain vigilant after their campuses were targeted this week with violent threats. Several campuses evacuated, and some students were forced to relocate until authorities said it was safe to return, as NPR's Sarah McCammon reports.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: George Cotton had just left campus last night when the alert went out warning students and staff to evacuate because of a bomb threat.

GEORGE COTTON: And literally within minutes, of course, was in contact with the rest of campus just to try and make sure that we were evacuating the campus community.

MCCAMMON: Cotton is vice chancellor for institutional advancement at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, one of about half a dozen historically Black colleges and universities to receive similar threats. He says some students were temporarily relocated off campus while several law enforcement agencies conducted a sweep. Cotton says many students fortunately had not yet returned from winter break, but the threats to multiple HBCUs are especially concerning.

COTTON: You know, so for us, this does point to the fact that this was certainly a coordinated effort, if you will. You know, whether it was a coordinated hoax or whether it was a very sick and coordinated attempt to scare, you know, the HBCU community, we don't know.

CHANG: Bomb threats also were reported at several other HBCU campuses, including Howard University in Washington, D.C., Norfolk State in Virginia and North Carolina Central University, all of which later issued an all-clear. In November, several Ivy League universities received bomb threats on the same day, prompting evacuations and closures. Professor Brian Levin is director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. He says threats to marginalized populations, such as students and staff at HBCUs, have to be taken especially seriously by investigators like the FBI.

BRIAN LEVIN: Because, A, it's moral to do so, B, because we want to make sure that people who do this kind of stuff know that there's going to be a big deterrent follow-up. And lastly, the community needs to be assured that we take this seriously and will follow this to the end.

CHANG: Levin notes that the threats to HBCUs come at a time of increasing reports of hate crimes around the country targeting groups including African Americans. Sarah McCammon, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIOHEAD'S "DAYDREAMING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.