Trailblazers Honored at Dedication of Johnson-Whittle Hall

Namesakes Elaine Johnson Coates, Hiram Whittle Broke Barriers at UMD
JohnsonCoates at Johnson Whittle Hall Dedication

The University of Maryland today dedicated Johnson-Whittle Hall, named for two pioneers who forged a path for Black and African-American Terps for generations to come.

The residence hall, which opened this semester, honors College of Education alumna Elaine Johnson Coates ’59, the first African American woman to earn an undergraduate degree at UMD; and Hiram Whittle, the first African American man admitted to the university, in 1951. Whittle, an engineering major, enrolled at a time when the university was still segregated. Johnson Coates attended on a full scholarship and completed a B.A. in education. Both received honorary doctorate degrees at UMD’s Spring 2020 commencement ceremony.

“Our newest residence hall will bear the names of Ms. Elaine Johnson Coates and Mr. Hiram Whittle, making them a permanent part of our campus and acting as a reminder to the entire Terrapin community about diverse excellence,” UMD President Darryll J. Pines said at today’s ceremony. "It is our privilege to honor trailblazers here at the University of Maryland, and we thank them for the doors they have opened and the lives they have inspired."

Johnson Coates speaking

“I am thrilled to be a part of the university’s honor, recognition and promotion of diversity and inclusion,” Johnson Coates said at today's dedication.

The six-story, state-of-the-art residence hall is one of three buildings in the new Heritage Community. It is accompanied by the Pyon-Chen residence hall, honoring alums Pyon Su and Chunjen Constant Chen, and Yanhentamitsi Dining Hall, named in honor of the Piscataway People. Johnson-Whittle Hall is home to 450 first- and second-year students, including members of the University Honors living-learning program.

“I am thrilled to be a part of the university’s honor, recognition and promotion of diversity and inclusion,” Johnson Coates said. “Current and future Terrapins will continue to soar to even greater heights—with fewer obstacles, and with boundless opportunities.”

“On behalf of the entire Whittle family far and near, close or distant, blood or otherwise, I thank Dr. Darryll Pines, his staff and the University of Maryland overall, for such a major, major recognition of my uncle, Hiram Whittle,” said Glenise Whittle. “This dedication assures the current generation and generations to come, that hard work and belief in one’s self can reap unimaginable benefits and rewards. That will encourage others to follow paths to their own successes.”

The hall maximizes natural light and features central lounges and enclosed study spaces on each floor to help students connect with one another and focus on their academic work. Each floor also includes laundry facilities and clusters of private communal accessible bathrooms. The bathroom configuration provides increased privacy and accessibility. There is one handicapped-accessible room with a private bathroom on every floor; the other rooms are single- and double-occupancy.

“Johnson-Whittle Hall was designed to inspire and facilitate teaching and learning, community building and inclusion among our students,” said Patty Perillo, UMD’s vice president for student affairs. “We are proud to open this space that supports the university’s academic mission and our Student Affairs vision to ensure that every student thrives.”

The honorary namings in the Heritage Community are one of the initiatives Pines announced on his first day in office. They directly reflect the university’s TerrapinSTRONG values to celebrate UMD traditions, advance diversity and inclusion, honor trailblazers and communities, and acknowledge the role the university has played throughout its history in denying access and full participation.

This story first appeared in Maryland Today.