Shootings at three different historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have claimed the life of a promising student and injured seven people, tainting what was supposed to be a week of community as they celebrated their homecomings.
Students at Morgan State University and Bowie State University, two schools just 35 miles apart were injured in separate shootings days apart from each other during homecoming festivities, raising concerns for safety at HBCUs.
The wall will encircle 90 percent of the HBCU campus and “eliminate unfettered access,” university President David Wilson said during a campus town hall. Other possible security upgrades include installing more metal detectors in campus buildings, exploring weapons detection technology, increasing police patrols, and building additional security guard booths.
In light of the shooting at Morgan, Bowie State invited Morgan students to join their homecoming but theirs was also marred by gun violence.
Just four days after the shooting at Morgan, two people were shot at Bowie during homecoming festivities.
That student was Jaylen Burns, an industrial technology major, student leader, and member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. from Chicago. According to his father, he was shot while trying to break up a fight at the University Pointe Apartment Complex.
“He wasn’t a violent kid, he didn’t know anything about guns or fighting or gangs, you know, anything about that,” Jaylen’s father, Jason Burns told WLS in Chicago.
This all comes about a month after a white supremacist who killed three people in a racially motivated mass shooting in Jacksonville, Florida was turned away from entering Edward Waters University prior to the attack.
As threats to HBCUs have increased nationwide, many HBCUs have strengthened security measures but gun violence on campus remains a prevalent issue.
According to Leslie Hall, Director of the HBCU Program for the Human Rights Campaign, many factors contribute to the rise of gun violence at HBCUs including, “systemic issues like economic disparities, limited educational opportunities, and scarce employment prospects disproportionately affect Black communities, creating an environment conducive to violence.” Hall said that the neighborhoods HBCUs are located in also contributes to the “cycle of violence” as many HBCUs are located impoverished areas.
“Furthermore, the easy availability of firearms in many urban areas exacerbates the problem. Research shows that areas with higher rates of gun ownership tend to have higher rates of gun violence,” Hall added.
Many are asking what can be done about gun violence on HBCU campuses. Hall says that HBCUs should strengthen campus security measures, implement violence prevention programs, and foster partnerships with local law enforcement agencies.
While many agree that security measures should be strengthened at HBCUs, some question how much security is too much.
A recent graduate from Morgan State, Raniya Holmes told the Washington Post that the issue is a “double-edged sword.”
“If you’re going to allow people to have guests over — because again, we’re college students; we’re not kids — … that freedom shouldn’t be taken away from us, but how can we do this smartly?” Holmes said. “I also know that police presence can be really intimidating for a lot of African Americans, so I’d really suggest if we are going to do that, make sure that we have police that are coming in that are competent.”
According to the Washington Post, Bowie State officials are considering new solutions such as facial recognition software or requiring visitors to register ahead of time for campus events. The news source said university leaders are also having conversations among themselves along with faculty, staff, and students about whether to limit access to the public campus.
“It’s a very challenging endeavor for any leader of a college campus,” Bowie State President, Aminta H. Breaux said. “The question we’re asking ourselves is, is there a better way that we can continue to respect and honor our tradition of homecoming, but then to recognize that we need to restrict in some way who comes onto our campus.”
Schools are continuing to navigate how to tackle safety concerns and gun violence. Still, Hall says HBCUs should first address the root cause suggesting that they collaborate with local governments, community organizations, and law enforcement to develop comprehensive solutions for violence prevention.
“By investing in community-based programs that provide educational and employment opportunities for at-risk individuals, HBCUs can help break the cycle of violence and provide alternatives for those most vulnerable,” said Hall.
Paul H. Dean, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrator echoed this statement in an interview with the Washington Post, saying that college leaders should work collaboratively with students, employees, local officials, and the communities surrounding the campus to find the right balance between safety and access.
“You have to have that human element,” Dean said. “You have to meet with your community. Your community has to be able to trust you.”
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