WMU renames college in honor of alumna who broke barriers

Kalamazoo County

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Western Michigan University is honoring one of its most accomplished graduates who overcame adversity and broke color barriers around the world.

WMU held a ceremony Friday night to officially rename University College to the Merze Tate College.

Merze Tate was the first Black woman to graduate from WMU in 1927 and went on to have a distinguished career as a scholar and educator.

Ed Martini, the dean of Merze Tate College, says it a great honor for the college to use her name. 

“We went through an extensive process to find the name, we had consultants, we had a naming contest, we had everything and then it really came back to internal staff suggestions,” Martini said.

An archived photo of Merze Tate.

Tate never had children of her own but was close to her family. Relatives Shirley Miles and Patrick Miles Jr. say the tribute fits with her devotion to education.       

“It is a tremendous honor for the family to have the college named after her. She certainly loved Western Michigan University because it gave her the opportunity to get a higher education,” Patrick Miles said.

Tate originally planned to attend the University of Michigan but was not allowed to enroll because of her race.

“Merze was always such a trailblazer. I think it’s just fitting that this college would be a trailblazer in naming it after her because it’s another first for her and she broke so many firsts,” Shirley Miles said.

Merze’s long list of accomplishments includes becoming the first African American woman to graduate from Oxford University, obtaining multiple degrees from Ivy league universities, publishing many books and becoming a millionaire through her skills investing in the stock market.

Sonya Hollins, who has extensively researched Tate’s life, says the naming of the college will inspire young people.

A photo of Merze Tate. (courtesy)

“It’s amazing for the younger generation to see, wow we’ve heard a lot about this lady, now we have to live that legacy and make her proud,” Hollins said.

Hollins was inspired by the travel club Tate had while teaching at a high school in Indianapolis and founded the Merze Tate Explorers, which gives girls the opportunity to learn and see the destinations around the world.

Deveta Gardner, the associate dean of Merze Tate College, says the name will help reflect the university’s diverse history.   

“Being a woman of color myself it speaks volumes to me on a daily basis when I think of Merze Tate when I think of her innovation her creation her desire for students to succeed and the challenges that she even went through,” Gardner said.

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