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Harris-Stowe shuts down campus following bomb threats to it and other HBCUs

Harris Stowe State University’s administration building on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, in St. Louis, Mo. The historically Black college and university is one among 12 who received bomb threats on Tuesday.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Harris-Stowe State University’s administration building on Tuesday in St. Louis. Law enforcement agencies checked campus buildings after a threat was received.

Updated at 6:45 p.m. Feb. 1 with additional information

Harris-Stowe State University shut down Tuesday morning after receiving a bomb threat. The threat came on the first day of Black History Month and a day after several historically Black colleges and universities nationwide received similar threats.

University officials received notice of a bomb threat and contacted the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and the FBI to investigate and check all campus buildings.

The university closed campus by 10 a.m. and reopened it a few hours later but canceled all campus activities for the rest of the day.

With a winter storm approaching St. Louis, university officials have decided to hold classes remotely until Friday.

At least three other HBCUs received threats on Tuesday, including a second in two days at Howard University in the nation’s capital. On Monday, at least a half-dozen HBCUs ordered lockdowns or canceled classes after bomb threats.

Dr. LaTonia Collins Smith, interim president at Harris Stowe State University, speaks to the media on Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, in St. Louis, Mo. The historically Black college and university is one among at least 12 who received bomb threats on Tuesday.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
“Our community is better than this, and Harris-Stowe deserves better than this," said interim university President LaTonia Collins Smith on Tuesday at a press conference on campus.

LaTonia Collins Smith, interim president of Harris-Stowe, said during a press conference on campus that she believes the threat was associated with those that other HBCUs received Monday and Tuesday.

“Our community is better than this and Harris-Stowe deserves better than this,” Collins Smith said. “What we really should be focusing on is how we can work collaboratively together in order to improve our community here in St. Louis.”

The bomb threat at Harris-Stowe comes a day after St. Louis officials ordered people to evacuate City Hall after police received a call to investigate a bomb threat made against the building. Police later confirmed that City Hall was safe to reenter.

HBCUs were founded in the 1800s to educate Black students at a time when laws and public policy prohibited them from attending most colleges and universities.

Outsiders are often threatened by HBCUs, said Christopher Tinson, chair of the African American Studies program at St. Louis University.

“I think Black autonomous spaces always represent a threat to some segment of our population, even though those spaces were needed precisely because of the threat,” Tinson said.

He said the people or organizations behind such threats want to disrupt the mental, physical and emotional safety of Black people.

Many African American students attend HBCUs to connect with Black culture and use its campuses as safe spaces to commune with peers and faculty members without being judged by their ideas or the color of their skin.

The bomb threats against HBCUs bring back haunting memories of bombings in Black communities during the civil rights era, St. Louis County NAACP President John Bowman said.

“Many times it was one of the tactics used to oppress Black people,” Bowman said. “Unfortunately, these threats and actions seem to be really heightened due to the rhetoric and divisiveness of some of our previous leaders, and they have continued to work to create this division among racial lines.”

Officials at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, also an HBCU, said it did not receive any threats.

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.