Thomas Hudson, Jackson State University’s president, called for greater funding for historically Black colleges and universities during a congressional hearing examining violence against Black institutions, including recent bomb threats.
In his opening remarks to the House Homeland Security Committee Thursday, Hudson said a historical underfunding of resources put Jackson State in “a reactionary position” on Feb. 1, the first day of Black History Month, when all but one HBCU in Mississippi received bomb threats.
“We cannot sit idly by and wait for something to happen to these hallowed spaces,” Hudson said. “We cannot afford to be reactionary.”
He asked the committee: “What will it take for us to ensure the long-term protection of not only our students, faculty, staff and stakeholders, but the historical assets that are HBCUs?”
At Thursday’s hearing, Hudson was joined by Rev. Eric Manning from Emanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston and Janet Nelson, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Manning testified to the lingering trauma his church experiences almost seven years after nine parishioners were killed by a white supremacist during Bible study. Nelson underscored the role HBCUs play as safe havens for Black students and faculty and echoed Hudson’s call for greater funding and support from the federal government.
Due to historical underfunding, Nelson pointed out that HBCUs are more tuition-dependent than their predominantly white counterparts. The bomb threats can harm the financial security of HBCUs, Nelson said, by casting “a chilling effect on the desire of students to attend these institutions.”
Nelson also urged the House Homeland Security Committee to conduct a “parallel investigation” to the one the Federal Bureau of Investigations is pursuing. The committee is chaired by Bennie Thompson, Mississippi’s only Black member of Congress and an alumnus of two HBCUs.
Since the start of this year, at least 57 HBCUs across the country received bomb threats, all of which were unfounded. On Feb. 2, the FBI announced it was investigating the bomb threats as racially motivated hate crimes and had identified “six juveniles as persons of interest.”
More than a month later, students, faculty, and alumni have started to call on the FBI to release more information. In a separate House committee hearing on Thursday, Ryan Young, the FBI’s executive assistant director of intelligence, said the office has “the majority slotted down to one person and a small group” but has not made any arrests.
During the hearing, committee membersasked Hudson to detail the cost of Jackson State’s security needs.
To simply make the needed physical improvements at Jackson State, Hudson said, would cost around $10 million. That estimate doesn’t include ongoing, monthly costs to improve data storage, which Hudson said is crucial for monitoring security around campus, or training for campus police.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Education opened applications for “short-term, immediate funding” for the HBCUs that received bomb threats. HBCUs can use the grants, which will range from $50,000 to $150,000, to “target mental health resources or enhance security to restore the learning environment on their campuses,” according to a press release.
At most HBCUs, Hudson said the grant will help in “the training efforts you need to get you started.”
Hudson added that another way the federal government can support HBCUs is by making more grants need-based rather than competitive — that will make funding more accessible to institutions that lack “human capital” to fill out applications.
Jackson State, Hudson said, is eager to partner with Congress and the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Academic Engagement to address security on its campus.
“There’s only a finite pool of resources that are available to us,” Hudson said. “We obviously are going to prioritize our core mission which is the education, the teaching and learning of our students. … When you have a bomb threat, the ability to offer extra security, the ability to upgrade our data systems, those cost additional resources that are just often not available.”
“We have to remain vigilant, we’re going to do what’s necessary to make sure we always protect our students, but those funding sources have to come from somewhere and often they will be at the expense of our educational endeavors,” he added.
Molly Minta covers higher education for Mississippi Today, in partnership with Open Campus.