WASHINGTON – After the back-to-back shootings in October at Morgan State University and Bowie State University, advocates for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) say that underfunding is leading to lack of proper safety and security resources on their campuses.
Their concerns have drawn support from Capitol Hill.
Rep. Alma Adams, D-North Carolina, and the founder of the Congressional HBCU Caucus, sent letters to President Joe Biden, Education Secretary Dr. Miguel Cardona and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, saying there needs to be a “concerted effort to provide funding to HBCUs for them to protect their student body and faculty from violence.”
She added that safety and security on HBCU campuses must be a “top priority” and requested that her office meet regularly with the Biden administration to discuss funding and safety concerns.
On Oct. 3, five people were injured after a shooting on Morgan State’s campus during homecoming festivities. Just four days later, two people were injured after a shooting on Bowie State’s campus, also during homecoming.
Ryan Coleman, president of the Randallstown NAACP, was on Bowie State’s campus visiting family when the shooting happened. The police presence on campus that night was not sufficient, he said.
“You saw some police…but it became really obvious that they weren’t walking around the campus…they weren’t patrolling like that,” he said. “There were multiple events on the campus with multiple people. And there just wasn’t any police presence at those individual events.”
Coleman described the scene during the shooting as “chaos.” While sheltering in a dorm with his family, he said he saw people running and trying to get off campus, and that the police didn’t start evacuating campus until about an hour later.
“The Bowie State University Police were over their heads, it was obvious they did not have the police resources to handle this,” Coleman said. “If there was an active shooter who actually wanted to do harm to students, I have no faith that that person would’ve been stopped at all.”
After the shooting, Bowie State President Aminta Breaux said the school would revisit the idea of adding metal detectors to campus, but emphasized that “no one person has the solution to all the challenges the university faces.”
Bowie State University did not respond to a request for comment about the police presence during the shooting there.
At Morgan State, President David K. Wilson announced his plan to extend a fence barrier around campus, saying it will help limit “unfettered pedestrian access.”
The school also said it plans to hire more police officers, implement more security cameras around campus and add metal detectors at entrances. The measures will cost millions of dollars and the school said it hopes to receive additional state and federal funding.
After watching the shooting unfold at Morgan State, Coleman wrote a letter to the president of Howard University, where his daughter is enrolled, urging the school to take action during its homecoming celebration in October, including increasing police presence and adding metal detectors at entrances to events, among other precautions.
At its homecoming celebration, Howard officials said that safety was their “main priority” ahead of the events, and the school had its campus police and Metro police patrolling campus.
On Monday, college officials across Maryland gathered behind closed doors to discuss campus safety in the wake of the Morgan State shooting. They discussed prevention technology on campus, and the importance of doing checks on existing security measures, like security cameras, according to WBAL in Baltimore.
Campus officials also emphasized the importance of community policing, and that schools should partner with surrounding police departments.
Coleman said that when he has visited the University of Maryland or other non-HBCUs in Maryland, those institutions seem to have the resources they need, whether it’s funding, programming or security on campus.
Maryland HBCU Advocates spokeswoman Sharon Blake echoed Coleman, saying that underfunding at the institutions is widespread, whether it is in programming, scholarships or security.
“When you don’t have enough money, you cut corners wherever you can. And that, of course, does include public safety, and that’s unfortunate,” Blake said.
In Congress, Adams has passed many bills that supporting HBCUs. Last year, in the wake of bomb threats against HBCU campuses across the country, Adams passed a resolution that condemned violence at HBCUs and reaffirmed Congress’s support for these schools.
In 2019, Adams also passed legislation that established two fiscal years’ worth of mandatory funding for minority-serving institutions.
Earlier this year, the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) proposed legislation that would direct $100 million each year from FEMA’s non-profit grants security program to go towards safety initiatives on HBCU campuses. Adams’ office said she is “strongly in favor” of this proposal.
In terms of federal funding, the Biden-Harris administration has invested over $7 million in the nation’s HBCUs, and has directed money in the 2022 and 2023 spending packages, specifically supporting scholarships and grants, as well as institutional development.
While the administration has not specifically increased funding for campus safety in reference to shootings, the Department of Education did secure over $2 million in grants to help schools recover after violent events, such as bomb threats.
Additionally, in September, the Biden administration sent letters to the governors of 16 states, including Maryland, asking them to direct more money for their land-grant HBCUs.
In the letters, Cardona and Agriculture Secretary Thomas Vilsack said they found that the states’ land-grant HBCUs received a collective $13 billion less than they should have in the last few decades, according to an analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics.
Maryland’s land-grant HBCU is the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, which the analysis found to have a $321 million funding gap in state appropriations in the last 30 years, compared to the predominantly white land-grant universities in the state, including the University of Maryland College Park.
“The longstanding and ongoing underinvestment in University of Maryland Eastern Shore disadvantages the students, faculty, and community that the institution serves,” the two secretaries wrote. “It is our hope that we can work together to make this institution whole after decades of being underfunded.”
The letter also acknowledges that the state government has been making steps toward addressing the funding gap in recent years.
In 2021, then-Gov. Larry Hogan approved legislation giving $577 million to Maryland HBCUs over a decade, which Moore has said he will uphold, according to his office.
Moore allocated $422 million for all four schools in his first budget, and in February approved $3 million in grants to three schools, including Morgan State and Bowie State. Since Moore took office, funding for Maryland HBCUs has increased over 20%, according to his office.
Moore’s office said that he “firmly believes that every student deserves to feel safe on campus and that everyone involved needs to work hard to ensure that these tragedies no longer take place in Maryland.”
But even the increased funding and support still does not rectify decades of underfunding, Coleman said.
“Even if (HBCUs) are given some money…they’ve been underfunded for 30 or 40 years, and they’re not really being brought to a whole,” he said.