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For Black College Students, AUC Was Their Safe Space. Now That’s Threatened, Too.

After threats of violence against HBCUs nationwide, undergrads at local campuses speak up about the emotional and mental toll.

Spelman College entrance
Students at Spelman and the Atlanta University Center are concerned for their safety amidst a string of bomb threats at 13 historically black colleges and universities nationwide. (Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

When Mikayla Sharrieff got her acceptance letter from Spelman College two years ago, she was extremely emotional. “I just remember feeling so proud to call myself a Spelmanite,” she said. “I even cried because I felt like all of my hard work paid off.”

The junior engineering major chose Spelman because she wanted to experience the sisterhood and security of being around other Black scholars. 

“Like many HBCU students, I, myself, view our campuses as safe spaces for achieving excellence and being your pure, authentic selves,” she said. “I wanted to be surrounded with people who look like me who also want to make an impact on the world.”

Sharrieff’s hope turned to anxiety when she, along with her fellow classmates, received an email in the early morning hours of Feb. 1, about a bomb threat. The Washington, D.C., native said she was afraid. 

Spelman was one of three HBCUs in Georgia that received the threat; the other two were Albany State University and Fort Valley State University. Students of the Atlanta University Center who spoke to Capital B Atlanta said they have concerns about their safety amidst ongoing threats nationwide. It was the second bomb threat for Spelman in a month. 

Spelman is the latest in a growing list of HBCU campuses nationwide to receive bomb threats in the days leading up to Black History Month.

At least 12 HBCUs were subjects of the threats, with none yielding any credible evidence of a bomb on Feb. 1. Several schools temporarily canceled classes, but according to Sharrieff, Spelman was not one of them. 

In a statement sent to faculty, staff, and students Tuesday, Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell called the threats, “despicable” and “designed to make us feel fearful and vulnerable.”

The statement also confirmed that law enforcement did not find any explosives on campus, and a joint investigation between campus police, the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, and the FBI is underway. Campbell also stated that Atlanta city government officials have agreed to increase the frequency of police patrol at the AUC.

Still, the threats have left the student community on edge. 

“Honestly, it’s pretty scary knowing that someone would want to cause harm to our community,” Sharrieff said, adding that whoever is targeting the school underestimates the resolve of the students. 

Schuyler Dennis II, a junior majoring in finance at Morehouse College, said he was shocked when he received news about the bomb threats. 

“It was just weird because we usually get some notification when anything happens in the AUC,” Dennis said. “It definitely hits home because I was on my way to campus to meet a friend when I found out. I honestly think I am safe, but with this recent bomb threat, I’m not so certain anymore.”

Woomy Michel, a junior majoring in mathematics at Clark Atlanta University, echoed Dennis’ concern, saying that students did not receive any formal communication about the situation at Spelman. Typically, safety notifications regarding any of the three AUC campuses are sent to all students, but that didn’t happen. 

Michel has concerns about her safety at the AUC following the threats, and doesn’t think that more police on campus will solve the problem. “I’d honestly love to just have more transparency from the university because some decisions being made about adding more police are concerning,” she said. 

Spelman Student Government Association President Jillian Jackson and Vice President Grace Hall released a statement indicating they will not allow outside forces to instill fear in their communities. 

“We support our peers and encourage them to do what they deem safest, whether that is attending in-person classes or communicating with their professors regarding an intended absence,” they said in the statement. “After these last two years of uncertainty as college students, we now have a renewed understanding of what it means to support each other while dealing with threatening outside sources.” 

As for Dennis, he’s not surprised by the threats. 

“This isn’t anything new that we are experiencing,” he said. “We need to be more prepared for these threats because there is a chance one day that it will be more than just an empty threat. We are still in America.”