In HBCU circles, the thinking is that students seek education to improve themselves and their communities. And while not all HBCU students come from hardscrabble backgrounds, for many, implicit in the college environment is (the expectation of) insulation from certain trappings and trap antics. Recent shootings at and around HBCU campuses brought into question safety, gun violence and race debates on these campuses.
Gun violence is an American problem, crossing racial, class and geographic lines. Edward Waters College President Nathaniel Glover told HBCU Digest that extremists, and people who are mentally or emotionally unstable, often have access to “resources to carry out their agenda.”
This access to guns, according to the president, coupled with personal problems and motivations can lead to the shootings dominating news headlines. With access, a domestic fixation with guns, and moves to make standing one’s ground even easier in states like Florida, it is reasonable to infer that –without intervention– shooting incidents will continue.
At Tennessee State University, one person was killed and three students were injured in a shooting which allegedly stemmed from a dice game. At Texas Southern University, a student was shot and killed. Another person was injured.
A shooting near North Carolina A&T University involved police and a civilian, but did not occur at an official university function. At Winston-Salem University, a student was shot and killed near dorms. Another student was injured.
In unfiltered current event circles, many said campus shootings were the purview of white males or, at least, non-black males. But gun violence touches broad swaths of humanity.
Two HBCU students also shared their perspectives on gun violence and campus safety with HBCU Digest.
Howard University doctoral student Kim Monroe, a Lake Charles, Louisiana native, said she “always feels safe” at Howard. Monroe also pragmatically added, “I’m always on alert.”
The history student routinely takes the shuttle to and from campus and tries to be aware of her surroundings, but does not believe a specific factor caused the recent string of violence at and around black institutions. She said she thought the locations of some HBCUs, poverty and distinctions between locals and students could be issues, but that more research needs to be done before conclusions are reached about the shooting incidents.
At Howard, Monroe said, police are on constant duty at every dorm and security guards check IDs and survey the dorms 24 hours a day.
Edward Waters College mass communication senior Kabreel Campbell, an Atlanta native, asserted that many shooting incidents at and around HBCUs are unfairly connected to the schools. “A lot of the crime … happens from people outside of the institution itself.”
Campbell added that many institutions require IDs for entry; however, others do not. Campbell said he visited another Florida HBCU which did not require any proof of identification or sign-in for visitors.
Edward Waters College (EWC) in Jacksonville, Florida is uniquely situated. Glover is a former elected sheriff and was the first African American sheriff elected in Jacksonville in more than 100 years. The president’s professional experience has facilitated connections between EWC students and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
Both President Glover and Campbell spoke highly of the police substation on EWC’s campus. The president shared that criminal justice students work alongside the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and have classes in the substation.
Campbell connected the substation with diminished crime on and near the college.
“We don’t see much crime,” Campbell said.
Campbell shared that EWC has emergency call buttons all over campus. “It’s a loud intercom,” he said before explaining that everybody in campus can see whatever occurred to elicit the button push.
Further, if a student has a weapon, EWC officials take immediate and definitive action, the president stated.
Having campus shooting discussions in this transparent and critical Black Lives Matter era without honestly addressing race is disingenuous. Too often, white people perceive brown and black skin as inherently criminal and dangerous. Some believe black people plus weapons equals gangsters. Conversely, many black people believe many white people are a bad day away from killing with impunity.
Campus shooting conversations are complicated when black leaders perpetuate colonized ideas. That is what makes ex-councilman Jerry Maynard’s nickname for Tennessee State, “Thug State University,” particularly dangerous. Does the school’s composition compromise the sensitivity brought to challenges?
HBCUs, which generally already do a lot to make students think and act with safety as a priority, can shift community pride into increased productivity. Programs like EWC’s partnership with Jacksonville police can not only teach students substantive and practical information from people who live law enforcement, but also provide a chance for experienced police officers to learn from students who can provide contemporary practical knowledge to the conversation.
HBCUs can also expand mental health services, as students at the University of Missouri did during protests. HBCUs can continue supporting and creating legitimate community business ventures. Much like terrorists recruit people who are unable to access meaningful opportunities for money and productivity, campus shooters probably did not believe in and/or have enough purposeful engagement to make firing less attractive.
HBCUs are not one-size-fits-all. The institutions are different, serve varied demographics and do not have a homogenous approach to issues. Even so, we know stereotypes and majoritarian group-think can commingle with gun violence in black spaces to set too many of us back.
As Monroe said, “I just really hope these violent acts don’t spread throughout HBCUs.”