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Spelman students react to third bomb threat

Students react to the latest bomb threat at Spelman and hope a plan is being formed to help them feel safe on campus.

ATLANTA — A third bomb threat at Spelman College is leaving some students feeling anxious and angry. At least 17 HBCUs received bomb threats this year. But, after this third threat, some students question what’s being done to move forward.

Sanzia Pearman, a second-year theater and performance major said the recent threat felt different since students were on campus when they were made aware.

“I am now feeling a little bit of anxieties, and panic,” she said. “The whole street shut down, and the dogs are here and you really sit up and you're like, I just came here to learn. I just came here to get that iconic, Spelman HBCU education and now I'm like, leaving class midway for a bomb threat, like what is going on? And it's definitely scary.”

While leaving Spelman to head to Morehouse to held with voter registration with the NAACP, Junior Pamela Russel said she was forced to lock down on campus.

“It's kind of frustrating. It’s really building up, PTSD is building up. What if this happens today? What if I go to campus tomorrow, and we get another bomb threat? It’s a bit much for me.”

It’s easy to see how it can be a bit much for anyone. A four-hour lockdown, classes canceled, Atlanta Police working to thoroughly sweep the campus, the ongoing threats happening around Black History Month.

“I don't think it's a coincidence,” Russel said. “I think it's an attack on our heritage and most definitely attack on our people.”

“A lot of us go to HBCUs, for that sense of community and that sense of safety, so to be here and be concerned that because of our identity that people are out to attack us while we're just trying to get our education, it’s beyond frightening,” first-year English major Ysa Lopez said.

The very existence of HBCUs are based on protecting Black students and ensuring they have a safe environment for quality education. Senator Raphael Warnock, a Morehouse alumnus, told 11Alive the threats are bitterly ironic.

“HBCUs really were born out of a time when Black people experienced the kind of terror that we have yet to come to terms with,” the senator said.

What the students hope the outside world (city, state, and federal governments) comes to terms with is a plan to move forward.

“What do we like for further protection? And what can we do to stop this?” Pearman wondered.

“I don't think that we have an evacuation plan if something was to happen like that. At least, maybe that’s something security or faculty is aware of, but as far as the students, I’m not sure we know what to do,” Russel said. “We really need more officers on the ground on campus watching.”

For Lopez, who said there have been small security breaches in the past, it makes her wonder what happens if something larger takes place on campus.

“A bomb threat becomes much more concerning for me because if those (small) breaches happen, then how are you going to handle something as big as this?”

All three students praised how Spelman handled getting information about the threat to students, as well as the lockdown itself. The three also praised faculty for helping them.

“They did the best they could with what they had,” Pearman said. “And they remain calm through it all.”

But for Lopez it can be disconcerting to just return to life as normal when anxiety remains high.

“The last time there was a bomb threat, we went back to class as if there was no issue,” he said.

“Spelman is a high-performing school,” Pearman said. “So, our first thoughts really are ‘well, what about that homework?’ or ‘what about my GPA?’ But then, an hour or so later, it sinks in and you get into your groups of friends and think ‘what is actually happening?’ And some people are like, ‘Did I make the right choice? What I have been safer at a PWI’ (predominately white institution). A lot of thoughts are going around in different group chats. So, definitely mixed reactions.”

The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces said their investigation into the threats is “of the highest priority for the Bureau and involves more than 20 FBI field offices across the country.”

Senator Warnock added he made an additional request of the FBI and ATF to “get to the bottom of this.”

“I am continuing to make the case that we have to take this seriously,” Sen. Warnock said.

11Alive reached out to Spelman to see if additional security or police will be present on campus or if there was an evacuation plan that students were aware of. So far, we’ve yet to receive a response.

And while students understand that threats may not go beyond words, it’s something they said 18 to 21-year-olds trying to get an education should not have to hear in the first place.

“We shouldn’t be scared trying to get the same thing everyone else is trying to get,” Lopez said.

“A threat to one of us is a threat to all of us," Pearman said. "The biggest reason why people go to HBCUs is to feel safe, t to walk into a room and think about my education first, not think about the fact that I'm Black. People through a lot to have these types of institutions and those morals feel like it's being attacked upon.”

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