Barnes Hall, Harris Hall honor Towson University’s first Black graduates

June 17, 2022

Campus student residence halls to carry alumnae names starting in fall 2022

barnes and harris
Marvis Barnes ’59 (seated) and Myra Harris ’59.

Towson University on Friday announced that two campus residence halls will be named for the first two Black graduates of the university, Marvis Barnes ’59 and Myra Harris ’59.

The University System of Maryland Board of Regents on Friday approved TU President Kim Schatzel’s request, supported by a Naming Committee inclusive of TU students, faculty, staff and alumni, to name Harris Hall and Barnes Hall in honor of the esteemed alumnae.

“Ms. Barnes and Ms. Harris paved the way for the thousands of students that follow in their footsteps still today,” President Kim Schatzel said in a message to campus Friday. “They continued to transform their communities through decades of service as teachers and administrators in Maryland’s public schools, further establishing their legacies as inspirational civic leaders in our region and state. I am truly honored to recognize their lifetime of achievement with such a fitting tribute to Ms. Barnes’ and Ms. Harris’ exceptional impact on the TU community.”

A formal dedication of the newly-named buildings is being planned for Fall 2022. West Village 1 will become Harris Hall, while West Village 2 will be named Barnes Hall, following Friday’s approval by the Board of Regents during their regular June meeting.

“We’re proud that the University System of Maryland is more diverse, more inclusive, than ever before,” said USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman. “That didn’t just ‘happen’; it happened because young women like Marvis Barnes and Myra Harris had the enormous courage to integrate our institutions and clear a path for the millions more students coming behind them. We owe Ms. Barnes and Ms. Harris a huge debt of gratitude—we all do—and naming these buildings for these women, indelibly a part of TU’s history, is a great way to start paying it off.”

Founded as the Maryland Normal School in 1866, TU was racially segregated as part of Maryland’s then-segregated educational system until the United States Supreme Court, with its 1954 decision in the case of Brown vs. The Board of Education, outlawed racial segregation in public schools. In 1959, Ms. Barnes and Ms. Harris changed the university forever as they earned their degrees and became TU’s first Black graduates.

“It really came as a surprise and really made my day,” Harris said of learning of TU’s plans for the residence halls. “I never dreamed something like this would happen.”

“It’s a legacy moment,” said Marvis Barnes’ son, Christopher. “This is an immense honor.  We really do appreciate the efforts of Towson University.”

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Barnes Hall (Nick Sibol / Towson University)

President Schatzel appointed a Naming Committee, at the formal request from the Student Government Association and in alignment with TU’s Policy on Naming of Facilities and Academic Programs, and Vernon Hurte, Vice President for Student Affairs, led the committee’s work.

“I’m grateful for the dedication of the committee in reaching a unanimous recommendation to the Board of Regents, and I’m appreciative of our Regents for accepting that recommendation today,” Hurte said.

“We believe current and future students will be inspired by their courage as the first Black graduates of TU, as well as their commitment to excellence as distinguished educators,” said Jordan Deveaux ‘22, who served as president of TU’s SGA and was a member of the Naming Committee.

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Harris Hall (Nick Sibol / Towson University)

“Over 20 years ago, ten Black TU alums were inspired by the legacy of Ms. Barnes and Ms. Harris, and established the Barnes-Harris Endowment at TU,” said Kenny Abrams ‘92, President of the Towson Black Alumni Alliance. “That endowment continues to provide assistance to incoming freshmen from metropolitan public high schools who demonstrate financial need. I’m elated that we can continue to celebrate their remarkable achievements through the naming of these two buildings that future TU alums will call home.

Under President Schatzel’s leadership, TU has become a nationally-recognized leader in inclusive excellence, prioritizing support for the increasingly diverse student population that pursues degrees from TU. Towson University continues to make great strides in this critical area and has been recognized by Insight into Diversity magazine with consecutive (2020 and 2021) Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) Awards. And in 2021, TU Athletics earned the NCAA/MOAA Diversity and Inclusion Award.

The approval by the USM Board of Regents comes as Towson University will observe Juneteenth on June 20 with a university holiday. Juneteenth, the day that commemorates the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States, is traditionally marked June 19. In 2020, TU began recognizing Juneteenth with a day of reflection.

“As the nation pauses to celebrate Juneteenth this weekend, I can think of no better time to honor Ms. Barnes and Ms. Harris, and reflect on our collective role in combating racial inequality and inequity,” President Schatzel wrote in the Friday message to campus. “I am so proud of our students, faculty, staff and countless members of the TU family for enacting this inspiring change for our community and honoring these two remarkable alumnae.”