Two residence halls now under construction on North Campus will be named after four trailblazers who played important roles in diversifying the University of Maryland campus, President Darryll J. Pines announced today.
The recognition of Hiram Whittle, Elaine Johnson Coates, Pyon Su and Chunjen Constant Chen is the first time since 1914 that residence halls will be named for individuals.
“All four of these pioneers contributed to the rich diversity and culture that defines our campus today,” said Pines. “Each exemplifies Terrapin grit, desire and determination to succeed against all odds. Their stories serve as valuable examples for the University of Maryland students of today and in the future, as we continue to celebrate and advance diversity in our university community.”
Johnson-Whittle Hall will honor Whittle, the first African American man admitted to the university, in 1951; and Johnson Coates, the first African American woman to graduate with an undergraduate degree, in 1959. Whittle, an engineering major, enrolled at a time when the university was still segregated. Johnson Coates attended the university on a full scholarship and earned a B.A. in education. Both received honorary degrees at UMD’s Spring 2020 commencement ceremony.
“This is a University of Maryland honor that signifies perseverance, hope and change,” said Whittle. “I thank the university for honoring my journey. My hope is that my story will continue to inspire the campus community to move forward and follow their dreams.”
Johnson Coates said she was humbled and grateful to be honored by her alma mater. “I had no idea when I walked on to the campus of University of Maryland in 1955, that 65 years later, you would still be speaking of me. I’m thankful to the university for honoring me, for letting me know that my journey mattered, and now letting my journey become my legacy.”
Pyon-Chen Hall will honor Pyon, the first Korean student to receive a degree from any American college or university, and Chen, the first Chinese student to enroll at the Maryland Agricultural College (now the University of Maryland). Pyon was the first Korean diplomat envoy to visit the United States in 1883, before emigrating to the United States for political reasons. He enrolled in the Maryland Agricultural College in 1887, where he earned a B.S. degree in 1891. Chen entered the university in 1915 and completed three years of study before transferring to Cornell, where he earned a B.A. He returned to College Park, earning an M.S. in agriculture in 1920. He later taught Chinese on campus from 1956 to 1967. Both Pyon and Chen have since died, and Pines has been in communication with their families to inform them of the recognition.
Residence halls at the University of Maryland are named after Maryland county seats, with the exception of Calvert Hall, which is named for UMD founder Charles Benedict Calvert. The decision to name the residence halls after Whittle, Johnson Coates, Chen and Pyon is one of several initiatives and recommendations Pines outlined on July 1, his first day as president, to build a more diverse and welcoming campus community. In November, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents approved the name request.
The Johnson-Whittle and Pyon-Chen residence halls will house about 900 first- and second-year students in single and double rooms, and a new dining facility in that complex will seat about 1,000. The new facilities, under construction on the field adjacent to Ellicott Hall and across Farm Drive, are slated to open during the 2021-22 academic year.