/Mississippi’s oldest HBCU responds to bomb threats

Mississippi’s oldest HBCU responds to bomb threats

Mississippi News Ivy Taylor, a non-profit organization, was in Jackson Tuesday, February 1, just three hours from Rust College in Holly Springs, where she is the president. She woke up at 5:45 AM to get ready for the Mississippi Association of Independent Colleges and Universities meeting. She washed her hair and brushed her teeth. She got the call. Her chief of staff informed her that the campus safety officer had been threatened with a bomb attack hours earlier. The anonymous caller said that a device was on campus and would go off at noon. He also made a disparaging comment about Black people. Already college security had swept the campus. Taylor’s chief staff stated that the next step was to notify students and faculty about their need to shelter-in place. Taylor thought, at first, that she wasn’t there. Then, Taylor asked her chief of staff, “Does the local law enforcement have the ability to detect if it’s a threat?” Taylor called the FBI in Jackson, while her staff searched for a nearby jurisdiction with the technology to detect explosives. Soon bomb-sniffing dogs began to crawl under cars and in bushes around campus. More than two dozen HBCUs have received threats of bomb attacks since January. This has led to campus lockdowns and cancelled classes. All threats received so far have not been proven and the FBI is currently investigating them as hate crimes motivated by racism. The empty threats have been widely perceived by students and faculty of HBCUs as an attempt to intimidate them. READ MORE: Mississippi’s HBCUs get bomb threats on the first day of Black History Month. The threats were made to Rust College’s 600 students, according to Zachary Wilson, SGA vice president. He said that the university’s quick response to the threat and the daily steps it takes to make students feel safe was the reason they felt secure. Rust College students were back on campus by late afternoon, enjoying a time in the student centre and laughing in the plaza. Wilson stated that it felt like campus had returned to normal. Wilson stated that “Their mission is to deter our mission of Black excellence and Black unity within the United States of America.” They failed. We are not deterred. Wilson stated that many students felt this way because they believed the administration would support them. Many were shocked to hear that Taylor and her chief of staff had sent an alert. Students could see the police cars approaching the school from their dormitories. Jamila Branch, a senior biology major said that she felt calm while she was sheltered in her dorm. She stated that Rust College is like a family to herself, and she felt secure helping others feel safe when she received the alert about the bomb threat. She immediately contacted her network on Tuesday morning. She sent the texts to her group chats as well as to her fellow resident assistants at the girl’s hostel. Branch stated that she made sure they were aware they could contact her if they needed to talk. Branch stated that no one accepted her offer because there were many students discussing the threat in the hallway. Branch stated that they were trying to find out what motivated the callers. Branch said that students used the shelter to catch up on homework and spend hours in hiding. Branch, a native from Osceola (Ark.), said, “We’re all a family so we leaned upon each other.” Taylor, who was elected president in 2020, stated that she does not know if Rust College had been subject to bomb threats like this in the past. The college’s role in housing Freedom Riders has been under attack by another type of threat, especially during the civil rights movement. The Mississippi Sovereignty Commission in the 1960s targeted Rust College, a state agency charged with upholding racism. It wrote a report calling it “a place for instructors, homosexuals, and racial activists.” Taylor said that she tries to keep that history alive as president by not giving credence to unfounded threats. She said, “That’s what terroristism is all about.” “Manipulating you mind and emotions so that it’s fearful of continuing with your daily activities, or the things you’re trying to do to advance a cause,” she said. Instead, she is focused on Rust College’s mission. She stated that “that is still a danger to some people for Black folks to be equipped, inspired for excellence, to educate Black people, to be leaders.” She wants her students understand the “power of education”.