University of Utah police investigate bomb threat against Black Cultural Center

The threat comes after a series of other racist incidents at the Salt Lake City school.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) People walking through the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. A bomb threat was made against the campus Black Cultural Center the following day.

A bomb threat made against the Black Cultural Center at the University of Utah on Tuesday is deepening concerns at the school after a series of other recent racist acts on campus.

The threat was investigated by the U.’s police force after receiving a call, based in California, that a bomb was placed in the center, which is located at Fort Douglas on campus. The caller said he was a 17-year-old Neo-Nazi, according to a statement from the U.

Officers searched the building at 4:25 a.m. with bomb-sniffing dogs. No device was found, according to police, and the building was secured. No one was inside at the time.

In a statement, campus police said they are continuing to investigate “deliberately, but also with urgency” to determine who made the threat and “hold them accountable.” They have also involved the FBI.

An alert was sent out to all students and staff Tuesday afternoon after investigators determined no one was in immediate danger.

It stated: “The University of Utah is not a haven for this kind of hateful and biased thinking and attacks. … This assault on the security of our Black students, faculty and staff requires sensitivity, compassion and timely action.”

The threat at the U. follows similar bomb threats across the country last week at eight historically Black colleges and universities — including Howard University in Washington, D.C., and Xavier University of Louisiana. Those triggered evacuations and lockdowns. No explosions occurred.

The caller to the University of Utah on Tuesday said he planted bombs at other schools, the U. said.

The U.’s Black Cultural Center did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. The bomb threat came as staff there and across the university have been planning events to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day next week.

The school added in a statement: “Although there were no explosive devices found, bomb threats themselves can cause trauma, make folx fear for their safety, and recall a history of racist bombings in this country.”

The statement encouraged students to reach out to the campus counseling center if they need support.

U. President Taylor Randall also released a video statement Tuesday evening, adding that the community needs to circle around and protect Black members on campus and find a way forward together. “This is our family,” he said.

Randall said he is concerned that such incidents keep occurring at the U.

“I think what’s frustrating here is this is the third or fourth statement we’ve had to make,” he said.

Campus police said they have alerted the school’s Racist & Bias Incident Response Team, which was created to investigate reports of racism.

That notification comes after the university acknowledged that it previously failed to involve the team with its responses to other racist incidents in the past few months — responses that Randall said the school should have been handled better.

Those incidents included a Black student finding a substance that appeared to be excrement smeared on their dorm-room door in early September, and a second incident from a month later, when a group of men reportedly walked into a dorm dressed like the KKK, wearing white hooded robes.

In the first case, the U.’s housing office reviewed footage around the day and couldn’t see anyone approaching or at the door. A school spokesperson later noted that the cameras might not have covered the specific area.

Officials have not publicly identified which dorm the student lived in. The student was immediately moved to new housing.

In the second case, which happened on Oct. 1, a resident assistant reported overhearing students in the same dorm building talking about seeing men in the residence hall dressed in KKK attire, trying to recruit students to a white supremacist group. The U. again looked through three days of surveillance footage but did not find anything fitting that description, the spokesperson said.

After that RA’s report, another student’s report from the same day was added to the same file. That student reported finding a substance they also thought was feces smeared on their door. The spokesperson initially thought it might be a car door, but later said they were not sure.

The incidents drew attention after a student at the Salt Lake City university posted about them on Instagram, questioning why they still had not been adequately addressed months after they occurred.

Randall responded last month, apologizing for how the cases were handled.

“We regret that our process for addressing racist and biased incidents on our campus did not work as we would want it to and accept responsibility for this shortcoming,” he said.

Randall also pledged to conduct a comprehensive audit of racist incidents that have been reported on campus over the last year — reviewing and analyzing how each was responded to and how students were informed. He anticipates the results of that audit will be released in March 2022 and that the school will implement any recommended changes.

In addition to the latest incidents, the university also opened a case in September after two students allegedly shouted a racist slur at a contract worker as the worker made a delivery to a dorm loading dock. The students then reportedly threw sunflower seeds and coffee pods at the worker.

The worker reported the interaction to university officials, who were able to identify the students responsible “and hold them accountable through the conduct process,” according to an earlier statement from the U.

Prior to that, in January 2020, a car was marked with the N-word on campus — also shortly before that year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations.

University officials said the graffitied racial slur was done by someone pressing their finger into the frost of the car’s windshield and was not permanent. They identified multiple individuals involved, according to a statement from the school, and took “appropriate actions.”

At the school — as well as others in Utah — white supremacist groups have recently come to campus, hanging up posters and stickers and trying to recruit new members. That came to a head in February 2019 when Identity Evropa, which is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, hiked the hill to the concrete block “U” above the university and laid down a banner that declared, “End immigration!”

The U. condemned the group’s actions at the time, calling it “an insidious ideology that has no place on our campus or in our community.”