On April 22, 1998, an icon of the American Civil Rights Movement joined Troy University officials for a historic groundbreaking ceremony in Montgomery. University officials, joined by Mrs. Rosa Parks, broke ground on a library and museum for the Montgomery Campus that would honor her accomplishments.
At that dedication ceremony, Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., Chancellor, said the honoring of Mrs. Parks serves “as a shining example of how far we’ve come and how much better we can be if we step beyond the shackles of the past.”
A decade later, the Rosa Parks Library and Museum has attracted more than 200,000 visitors from around the world. A Children’s Wing was added in 2006 and it has quickly become one of the more popular features of the museum.
Coincidentally, the decade since that dedication ceremony has been one of unprecedented progress in the area of racial diversity for Troy University. The numbers tell the story:
- Since 1998, Troy University has increased the number of African-American students it serves worldwide from 4,545 to 11,511, a 153 percent increase;
- In 1997-98, Troy University worldwide awarded 1,031 degrees to African-American students; in 2006-2007 that number was 2,106, representing a 104 percent increase. Today, Troy University worldwide leads all Alabama universities—even the historically black colleges and universities— in the awarding of degrees to African-Americans.
- The percentage of full-time faculty who are African-Americans has increased 55 percent over the last decade and the percentage of African-American professional staff has increased 40 percent.
The faculty growth has been fueled in part by an African-American Fellowship Program that encourages current faculty members to earn terminal degrees. However, the increase in the number of African-American students served is not a result of a designed minority recruitment strategy, according to Dr. John Schmidt, who served as Senior Vice Chancellor for Student Services during most of the past decade.
“We did not do anything extraordinary to reach out to black students, such as targeted recruitment goals or a specified office to support black students,” Dr Schmidt said. “We delivered on our promise to create a student-centered environment for all students, regardless of race or gender.”
Dr. Schmidt said the student-friendly culture at TROY most likely has led to word-of-mouth testimonials—from both current students and their parents—that resulted in increased black student enrollment. He did add that the University’s internationalization efforts over the past 15 years have created a more diverse campus, which in turn may make the traditional campus in Troy more attractive to African-Americans.
“Walking across the Troy Campus today is similar to walking through a shopping mall or a large supermarket in practically any city in Alabama or the Southeast, where you are apt to see a diversity of people going about their business,” Dr. Schmidt said. “Our black student enrollment on the Troy Campus, for example, stands at 25 percent, which mirrors the state population as a whole.”
TROY’s racial diversity has been noticed by campus visitors, such as retired Marine Corps Gen. Gary Cooper, a Mobile banker who in 1967 became the first African-American officer in the Marine Corps to lead an infantry company into combat. Gen. Cooper visited the Troy Campus for fall commencement exercises. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would be proud,” Gen. Cooper said, speaking of the diverse graduating class.
At that 1998 dedication ceremony in Montgomery, Mrs. Rosa Parks said, “The students of the future . . . will benefit from the opportunity Troy State University is providing.” Although Mrs. Parks was referring specifically to the Library and Museum that bears her name, her words have proven prophetic in many other ways.
Davis is director of university relations.