With Racial Violence Rising How Vulnerable Are Our HBCUs?

Opinion: Racism and poor finances endanger Black college students at these historic institutions.

Far too often in the last year – and even as the new school semester approached – have our Historically Black Colleges and Universities made the news for unpleasant reasons not involving actual education.

On Aug. 26, Ryan Palmeter, 21, entered a Dollar General in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Jacksonville, Fla. and shot three Black people to death using a gun emblazoned with a swastika before killing himself.

The incident occurred down the road from Edward Waters University, an HBCU with about 1,000 students. Palmeter was spotted on the campus and allegedly asked to leave by campus security officer Antonio Bailey after refusing to identify himself.

Like many others, university president Zachary Faison Jr. is convinced that Palmeter could have easily directed his racist ire toward the student body given the opportunity.

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“It’s not just on a whim that he chose to come to Florida’s first historically Black college or university,” said Faison.

Just 12 days before the shooting, a brawl at Howard University resulted in at least one student being stabbed. That incident doesn’t appear to have been racially motivated but was perpetuated by an alleged “fight club” of young locals roaming the city looking for trouble.

On Aug. 28, Clark Atlanta University received a bomb threat that temporarily closed down the campus and resulted in a shelter-in-place order at the university’s Oglethorpe Hall; the incident was a callback to 2022, when more than 50 HBCUs across the country received bomb threats that were apparently attributed to a troubled minor.

It’s a sobering run of headlines for schools established to allow Black students a shot at higher education during an era in which the country made that difficult. They also come during a time in which there’s a renewed sense of urgency for the existence of HBCUs: The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to ban race-based admissions will likely lead to a boost in HBCU enrollment across the board.

But are the students safe when they attend HBCUs? The query involves two American mainstay issues: Capitalism and racism.

Walk through the campuses of many HBCUs and the disparity of resources are visually on display in the edifices and grounds. Primarily White Institutions (PWIs) with similar enrollments but far more money to throw around have a different aesthetic, as well as a different level of security.

The endowment disparity between HBCUs and many PWIs is pronounced: A 2023 report revealed a steady decrease of foundational support for HBCUs since 2022, and that the average Ivy League institution received 178 times more funding from foundations than HBCUs.

To put this in perspective, Howard’s endowment still sits below $1 billion. In contrast, Princeton University, which has about 2,000 fewer students, has a $35.8 billion endowment.

As endowment money is earmarked, in part, for structural and security upgrades, the discrepancies at HBCUs are brought into context: From my understanding, the non-dormitory buildings on Howard’s campus are still easily accessible to the public, while many universities moved toward making all of their buildings keycard accessible following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Howard’s campus, in particular, still blends in with D.C., it needs to make good on its promise to increase security following the attack, as it runs the threat of more students getting hurt and considering legal action.

Of course, HBCUs are ripe targets for good old-fashioned racism in a country in which hate crimes are at an all-time high according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. For my money, the shift happened shortly after Donald Trump was elected in 2016 and angry White incels saw fit to buy out all the tiki torches from Home Depot to show their behinds in Charlottesville, Va.

The demagoguery fomented by Trump paved the way for people like Florida Gov. (and resident Voldemort) Ron DeSantis to steamroll decency and humanity with a spate of awful legislation that makes things harder for ethnic minorities simply seeking an education. (The irony of DeSantis pledging $1.1 million to bolster campus safety at Edward Waters and telling media “We are not going to allow our HBCUs to be targets for hateful scumbags” is lost on precisely no one.)

Palmeter was one of countless disaffected white supremacists who spend time and energy pounding keys on the internet about the “eventual” racist uprising, but also one of very few who felt emboldened to act on it.

There are others like him looking to make a name for themselves, and Palmeter just became their martyr. When it happens again, how protected are our HBCUs…?

Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at

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