Towson University honored its first Black graduates and several alumni who were founding members of the campus’ National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) during its homecoming weekend in October.
The university said in a news release that it was celebrating “several distinguished alumni who have provided profound leadership to advance diversity and inclusion on TU’s campus and within its surrounding communities.”
Marvis Barnes and Myra Harris were the university’s first Black graduates. The women enrolled when the university, which had been a whites-only school and was named Towson State College, desegregated after the Supreme Court’s historic Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954. At the time, Towson was the state’s largest teacher’s college and both women wanted to be teachers.
After their graduation in 1959, Barnes and Harris went on to have careers as educators and administrators in Maryland public schools.
Two residence halls in West Village were officially named in their honor to celebrate their achievements. The names of Harris Hall and Barnes Hall were approved by the University System of Maryland in June after a year-long process. A dedication ceremony was held on Oct. 22, which both Barnes and Harris attended.
“I would never have dreamed that this would happen to me,” Harris said in a statement. “As one of the first trailblazers, I wish much happiness and success to the students who are following my footsteps today.”
The dormitories, formerly referred to as West Village 1 and West Village 2, were previously named Paca House and Carroll Hall after William Paca and Charles Carroll, both elected officials and Declaration of Independence signers who enslaved hundreds of people. The university removed the dormitory names in 2021 after years of pressure from students and approval from the board of regents to rename school buildings.
Later in the day, the university unveiled the National Pan-Hellenic Council tribute walkway featuring a series of pillars representing the nine historically Black fraternities and sororities that are of Towson University’s Greek life. Each pillar is inscribed with the names of the charter members of each of the nine NPHC organizations.
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The walkway is located in Chapman Quad and was entirely funded through donations — a total of $97,000 was raised by more than 570 alumni and friends.
“The history of the NPHC organizations on TU’s campus and today’s tribute is reflective of our commitment to ensure that we preserve that sense of belonging for our students and our commitment to community and service for all mankind,” said Patricia Bradley, Towson University’s vice president of Inclusion and Institutional Equity, in a news release.
The walkway was announced at last year’s homecoming during an event that dedicated a new space on campus to Julius Chapman, Towson University’s first dean of minority affairs. With the joint fundraising efforts of the campus’ nine NPHC organizations, the walkway was completed a year later.
“Ms. Barnes, Ms. Harris and every member of the National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations have truly paved the way for inclusive excellence at Towson University,” said Towson University President Kim Schatzel in a news release. “We are incredibly proud to celebrate their impact and honor their legacies every single day.”
Additionally, members of Towson University’s chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, a member of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, and the Towson-Catonsville alumni chapter provided the Pikesville Wildcats Youth Football team with 40 tickets for players, coaches and parents to attend the homecoming game to honor Kappa Alpha Psi’s 40th anniversary on the Towson campus.
Towson University enrolls more Black students and has the largest percentage of Latinx students than any public university in the University System of Maryland, according to a news release from the school. Over the past five years, Towson University has contributed 68% of the University System of Maryland’s minority enrollment growth, the school said.
Towson University is also the only university in Maryland, and one of a handful of institutions in the country, to have a zero completion gap, according to the news release. Meaning, Black, Latinx and Pell-eligible students all graduate at the same rate as the overall student population. That rate is 73% and is the second-highest in the University System of Maryland, the school said.