Part of its larger diversity and inclusion efforts, UMD marks first time in a century that residence halls will be named after individuals
COLLEGE PARK, Md.--The University of Maryland announced today that two of its new residence halls will be named after four trailblazers who played an important role in diversifying its campus: Hiram Whittle, Elaine Johnson Coates, Pyon Su, and Chunjen Constant Chen. This 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 University of Maryland President 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.”
The Whittle-Johnson Hall will honor Whittle, the first African American male to be admitted to the university in 1951, and Johnson Coates, the first African American female to graduate with an undergraduate degree in 1959. Whittle was an engineering major and enrolled as an undergraduate student at a time when the university was still segregated. Johnson Coates attended the university on a full scholarship and graduated with a B.A. in education. Both Whittle and Johnson Coates received an honorary degree from the university at the spring 2020 commencement.
“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.”
“I am always humbled and so grateful to be honored by my alma mater,” said Johnson Coates. “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.”
The 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 spent several years as a diplomat in Korea and was the first Korean diplomat envoy to visit the United States in1883, before emigrating to the United States for political reasons. He eventually 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 passed away, and President Pines has been in communication with their families to inform them of the recognition and share the significance of this milestone.
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 his first day as president aimed at helping to build a more diverse and welcoming campus community. This effort included submitting a request to name the two residence halls after Whittle, Johnson Coates, Chen and Pyon to the University System of Maryland. In November 2020, the University System of Maryland Board of Regents approved the name request.
The Whittle-Johnson and Pyon-Chen residence halls are being constructed as part of the University’s On-Campus Housing Strategic Plan. The two new residence halls will house about 900 first- and second-year students in single and double rooms and the dining facility will seat about 1,000 once complete. The new facilities are being constructed on the field adjacent to Ellicott Hall and across Farm Drive. Construction on the new Whittle-Johnson and Pyon-Chen residence halls began in 2019 and are slated to open during the 2021-2022 academic year.