Tougaloo College will get nearly half a million dollars from the federal government to shore-up campus security and mental health care in the wake of this year’s nationwide bomb threats targeting historically Black colleges and universities. 

The funding will come from a U.S. Department of Education initiative called Project SERV, or “School Emergency Response to Violence,” that provides short-term support to educational entities that have experienced a traumatic event. 

When the department opened applications in March, it said grants would range from $50,000 to $150,000, but Tougaloo will receive much more than that – $420,000 – for a year’s worth of additional staff. 

Schenika Harrison, a special projects director who applied for the grant, said the funds will cover two trauma therapists to help students whose mental health was affected by the threats, three security officers to better patrol the 500 wooded acres of campus and about 20 adjuncts, which will make it easier for faculty to take mental health days. 

Carmen J. Walters answers questions from the audience and media after it was announced that she has been named Tougaloo College’s new president during a press conference at the Tougaloo’s Woodworth Chapel Monday, March 18, 2019. Credit: Eric J. Shelton, Mississippi Today/Report For America

Carmen Walters, Tougaloo’s president, said that seven months later, many people on campus still struggle with “the shock and trauma of dealing with bomb threats at 4 o’clock in the morning, being awaken out of your sleep, not being able to walk the buildings freely and having everyone say, ‘look for any packages that look unfamiliar.’” 

“That’s a lot of trauma for our kids that they shouldn’t have to deal with,” she added. 

More than one-third of the country’s 101 HBCUs received bomb threats earlier this year, including every HBCU in Mississippi except Coahoma Community College

So far, Tougaloo is the only HBCU in Mississippi that has received the funding. Rust College did not apply, a spokesperson told Mississippi Today. Jackson State University’s spokesperson said the school is still working on its application with the goal of using the funds to create an “emergency central hub” on campus. 

Alcorn State University did not return Mississippi Today’s request for comment. 

Mississippi Valley State University’s director of communications, Donell Maxie, told Mississippi Today that a reporter’s inquiry was the first time the university had heard of the program. 

“They will be looking into it,” Maxie wrote in an email.  

The FBI has yet to announce any arrests related to the bomb threats despite identifying six “tech savvy” juveniles as persons of interests in February. 

POLITICO reported that the FBI told the House Oversight Committee in March no arrests have been made due to “‘challenges with attribution’ because ‘some of [the threats] come from encrypted platforms.’” 

READ MORE: JSU president calls for more HBCU funding in testimony about bomb threats

In recent weeks, several HBCU leaders, including Walters, have publicly criticized the pace of the investigation. She said she was “beyond frustrated” with the lack of updates from the bureau at a dinner for HBCU presidents in Washington., D.C. in August, POLITICO reported. 

“I’m very angry that no one has been brought to justice,” Walters said, “but there’s been no conversation about the investigation at all.”

Though Project SERV provides much-needed funding, Walters also took issue with the application process, calling it a ‘complete joke,” POLITICO reported. 

Since POLITICO published its story, Walters said the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice held a national call to update HBCU leaders on the investigation. 

“I won’t repeat it, because it’s their update, but I will say that we were on the call feeling connected and that this is a priority and that they’re taking it seriously and that’s what we wanted,” she told Mississippi Today. 

Walters said that the Department of Education has provided “phenomenal” support to HBCUs this year. She added that she was frustrated with the grant application process for Project SERV because it seemed needlessly competitive.

“When you say, ‘a grant process,’ it makes me feel that it’s competitive, that I’m competing against my colleagues,” she said. 

Tougaloo is also in the process of applying for grants to replace keyhole locks in the campus dorms with scan-and-swipe technology. 


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Molly Minta, a Florida native, covers higher education for Mississippi Today. She works in partnership with Open Campus, a nonprofit news organization focused on higher education. Prior to joining Mississippi Today, Molly worked for The Nation, The Appeal, and Mother Jones.