TU’s first Black graduates, founding members of NPHC receive physical tributes on campus
At Towson University, Homecoming weekend gives so many Tigers a chance to not only honor and celebrate its past, but to reaffirm campus as “home” for all.
TU honored several distinguished alumni who have provided profound leadership to advance diversity and inclusion on its campus and beyond.
Saturday morning, TU officially named two residence halls in West Village in honor of Ms. Marvis Barnes ’59 and Ms. Myra Harris ‘59, the university’s first Black graduates. This recognition celebrated their commitment to education and groundbreaking achievements.
This dedication was followed by the unveiling of the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) Tribute walkway, featuring a series of pillars on Chapman Quad representing TU’s nine historically Black fraternities and sororities.
As campus was filled with loud cheers, hugs and even some tears, it was truly a historic day for Towson University alumni to return home.
“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,” says Towson University President Kim Schatzel. “We are incredibly proud to celebrate their impact and honor their legacies every single day.”
On a brisk and sunny October morning, Ms. Myra Harris ‘59 looked out over the audience gathered in between the residence halls in West Village.
With over 300 people in attendance, she couldn’t help but reminisce about her time, in 1955, as one of the first Black students on Towson University’s campus. Little did that young woman know, she would have a building on campus named for her.
“I would never have dreamed that this would happen to me,” Harris said. “As one of the first trailblazers, I wish much happiness and success to the students who are following my footsteps today.”
The names of Harris Hall and Barnes Hall were approved by the University System of Maryland in June after a year-long process.
Saturday wasn’t the first time that TU has honored the legacy of Barnes and Harris, who were long-time educators and K-12 administrators in the Baltimore area.
The Barnes-Harris Endowment, created in 1993 by members of Granting Opportunity for Learning and Development (G.O.L.D.) Associates, supports Towson University students with a strong allegiance to African-American culture.
Monica Taylor ’87, ‘94, a co-founder of G.O.L.D. Associates and president of the Barnes-Harris Scholarship Fund, spoke at Saturday’s event to thank Barnes and Harris for providing the inspiration to create this scholarship and endowment, which is now valued at over $160,000.
“There was group of us, who had the same rambunctious feeling of we needed to do something,” Taylor says. “And we not only shared this vision for greater representation of African-American students, but we also wanted African-American students to matriculate at TU and not be stopped by financial shortcomings.”
The event also featured remarks from current Towson University Student Government Association President Jordan Colquitt ‘23, who promised that he and his fellow students will continue to follow in the footsteps of true Towson University trailblazers.
“Today we thank you Ms. Barnes, and we thank you Ms. Harris for your courage to travel past the uncharted…and set the example for Black students that come after you,” Colquitt said. “I, and thousands of my peers, would not be where we are without your courage. Thanks to you, this is my TU, and this is our TU.”
Colquitt went on to say, “This is a TU that recognizes its diversity and pairs that recognition with intentional efforts to ensure diversity does not exist without equity and inclusion.”
The cheers were loud and proud outside on Chapman Quad, as members of Towson University’s nine historically Black fraternities and sororities celebrated a moment years in the making.
The sororities and fraternities of the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) were honored with a physical tribute on Saturday morning, with over 600 people in attendance.
It’s also a historical moment for Maryland, as TU becomes the first university with a physical tribute that recognizes the NPHC organizations.
“Welcome home,” said Patricia Bradley, Towson University’s vice president of Inclusion and Institutional Equity. “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.”
The walkway was announced at last year’s Homecoming during an event that dedicated a new space on campus to Dr. Julius Chapman, TU’s first dean of minority affairs. A year later, the walkway was complete thanks to the joint fundraising efforts of TU’s nine NPHC organizations.
With the help of over 581 donors, the project surpassed its goal of raising $75,000 raising more than $100,000.
“The NPHC community is strong, proud and unified,” said Towson University’s Vice President of Advancement Brian DeFilippis during his opening statements.
Behind the bust of Dean Chapman, the tribute features a brick walkway lined with nine brick pillars. These pillars are topped with plaques featuring full-color crests, mottos and founding dates for each of the NPHC sororities and fraternities. And on the front of each pillar is a plaque listing each chapter’s charter members.
The event concluded with a special ribbon cutting that saw a charter member of each organization, along with a current student member, cut a ribbon for each plaque representing the organization. The walkway officially opened with a ribbon cutting with President Schatzel and Dean Chapman doing the honors.
With this walkway, Towson University’s NPHC organizations now have a physical presence on campus that not only honors its legacy, but also helps inspire the future.
“We are here to celebrate the 89 individuals who took a leap of faith to start these chapters,” said Paul-Sean Gray, a 1988 TU alumni and member of Omega Psi Phi. “These plaques, with their names, serve as our expression of gratitude for bringing those organizations to TU in an uncertain climate.”
“Your legacies are now visible to the entire Towson University community,” Gray added. “This is an outward symbol of the university’s recognition that the Divine Nine community has been a vital and valuable component of Towson University and its growth. Finally, we have a permanent presence on our campus.”
With so much happening to the honor the past over Homecoming weekend, Towson University also looked to inspire the future.
Members of Towson University's chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity worked with the Pikesville Wildcats Youth Football team, providing them with 40 tickets for players, coaches and parents to attend Saturday's game.
The dedication of 40 tickets was to honor Kappa Alpha Psi's 40th anniversary on TU's campus. Along with the Kappa's, the Towson-Catonsville alumni chapter contributed to the purchase and donation of the tickets.