The FBI is broadening its outreach to historically Black colleges and universities at the same time the agency’s director announced that one minor will be charged with making dozens of racist threats earlier this year against more than 50 HBCUs across the country.
“We have worked with state prosecutors to ensure that that individual is charged under various other state offenses,” FBI Director Christopher Wray told the House committee on Homeland Security Tuesday, noting that the accused minor won’t be charged federally because of limitations for juveniles.
The juvenile is believed to be responsible for a majority of the threats, the agency said in a statement.
Threats against HBCUs peaked in January and February when at least 57 colleges received bomb threats via phone calls, e-mails, instant messages and anonymous online posts, according to the FBI.
More than a dozen schools had to lock down or postpone classes on the first day of Black History Month in February after at least 18 HBCUs received bomb threats.
Senior FBI officials held a conference call for student journalists at HBCUs Monday where they explained how law enforcement agencies nationwide have worked to stem the threats and pinpoint the culprits.
During the call, Deputy Director Paul Abbate told the students that the agency is committed to ensuring the safety of all Americans.
“The type of threats that we’ve seen here, that have victimized you and your institutions,undermine the most basic expectations of safety and security that every American,” according to a transcript of the call obtained by CNN.
“Threatening a religious or academic institution is among the most serious and despicable of criminal offenses, especially when your communities have been victimized, historically targeted by hate speech and violence,” Abbate said. “The fear and disruption these threats cause within your communities is completely unacceptable and our work in investigating these threats is of the very highest priority.”
He also said “the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division has worked to coordinate efforts across the organization, as these crimes are being investigated in numerous jurisdictions across the country.”
Following the series of threats, the Biden administration launched an FBI investigation in early February. At the time, the FBI said the threats would be investigated “as racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism and hate crimes.”
In March, the US Department of Education announced that several HBCUs that received bomb threats would be eligible for federal grants aimed at improving mental health resources and campus security.
HBCUs are eligible to apply for funding under the Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV) program, which provides grants ranging from $50,000 to $150,000 per school, according to the Education Department.
“The recent bomb threats experienced by HBCUs have shaken students and fractured their sense of safety and belonging, which are critical to their academic success and wellbeing,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a March statement.
In August, Southern University Law Center in Louisiana announced they were the first HBCU to receive a grant from Project SERV. A spokesperson for the university told CNN the grant was $133,200 and would go toward conducting a series of questionnaires to assess the mental health consequences related to the bomb threat.
The FBI is also increasing its efforts to recruit diverse candidates, as the agency’s first-ever chief diversity officer visited 10 historically Black colleges in the past several weeks.
“We know that diverse communities oftentimes may not consider the FBI as a place to work,” said FBI Chief Diversity Officer Scott McMillion in a statement provided to CNN.
He said the FBI is engaged in efforts to “highlight and provide information about FBI career opportunities in the hope that students would consider us as an employer of choice.”
“We are trying to be intentional about bringing people with diverse backgrounds into the Bureau,” he said. “These students will bring new ideas, innovation, creativity, and passion that will help us be a better organization now and into the future.”
The agency unveiled the newly created position of chief diversity officer last year to tackle its decades-old diversity problem.
McMillion embarked on a tour of several HBCUs this fall including Virginia State University, Norfolk State University, Johnson C. Smith University, Albany State University, Alabama State University, Talladega College, Miles College, Morgan State University, Howard University, and Jackson State University.
CNN’s Holmes Lybrand contributed to this report.