FSU Bomb Threat Underscores Communication Problems
On Wednesday, February 16, 2022, Fayetteville State University (FSU) became just the latest HBCU to receive a bomb threat. It joins over 50 HBCUs in facing the disruptive experience of dealing with the threat of violence. These threats are clearly grounded in racism, and make no mistake, they are a form of terror. They seek to create fear and to disrupt the educational mission of our higher education institutions. For these reasonsAs a matter of fact, the American Council on Education (ACE), along with 64 other organizations, called on Congress to take action following bomb threats against HBCUs, calling the threats “acts of terror fueled by racist motivations.”
The threats also link to the long history of violence and threats of violence against HBCUs. One need only recall the Orangeburg Massacre that took place on the campus of South Carolina State University when South Carolina police officers opened fire on approximately 200 unarmed students, killing three protesters and wounding 28 others. It is thought-provoking that the Orangeburg Massacre occurred in February 1968 and here we are experiencing an act of terror 54 years later at FSU. Nevertheless, in the face of racist attempts to intimidate students, faculty, and staff, these institutions have continued to be resilient.
That being said, the disruptive nature of Wednesday’s bomb threat against FSU was compounded by a lack of clear communication about the threat. For many faculty members, details about the threat to campus safety were shared through text messages and phone calls rather than through the campus alert system. Sometime around 12:20 PM, reports began circulating on campus that police were checking cars driving onto campus, but at that point there was no official communication from the university.
We received a campus-wide alert message an hour and a half after an initial email about the bomb threat that told us classes were suspended and to shelter in place — and that the university had moved the scheduled basketball game across town.
You read that right. The first university-wide notification came AFTER they took the time to move the basketball game to a gymnasium elsewhere. At least one parent whose child is in the on-campus daycare only received a call after the university-wide notification went out.
In other cases, faculty received mixed messages. One professor reported that when she contacted police to confirm the threat and ask for instructions for her classroom full of students, she was told there was no emergency only to be told by a faculty member two minutes later to evacuate.
And the Bronco Alert warning system was not engaged until about an hour and a half later. These signs suggest that FSU did not take the threat seriously or put safety and security first.
Once again, the university relied on its 19th century style of communication where administrators relay news to subordinates and it trickles down at whatever pace people check their email messages. This inert and inefficient method of communication is not a sustainable strategy. Thus, the primary mode of communication became people pounding on doors of colleagues’ offices and classrooms to warn them of danger. Clear communication with faculty, staff, and students is paramount, especially in a potential emergency. We did not have that during Wednesday’s bomb threat. We need communication policies that will keep all members of the campus community in the loop rather than leaving us in a fog of uncertainty and doubt.