David Thomas, the 12th president of Morehouse College, got a firsthand look at the undergraduate experience in an unusual way. He moved into a room in Graves Hall, the oldest building on campus, for two days to get a sense what life is like for first-year students at the HBCU, reports the Associated Press.
The president did not have a roommate, but he did share the floor with students. “It will give me some perspective on what college is like for students and what is on their minds,” Thomas told the Associated Press.
Thomas, the first president in 50 years who isn’t an alumnus, comes to Morehouse with three decades of experience in higher education, including a 20-year career at Harvard University. Thomas became Morehouse’s president in January, but his relationship with the school spans over four decades, Maria Saporta reported for the Atlanta Business Chronicle in 2017.
“My parents instilled in me that I needed to go to college—neither of them had gone to college,” Thomas told Saporta. “I was a star-struck young kid during the Civil Rights movement, and I had read that Martin Luther King Jr. had gone to Morehouse.”
So in 1974, Thomas applied to two schools: Morehouse and Yale University. “I got into both, but Yale had a special scholarship for young men that paid my entire tuition plus room and board,” said Thomas. “My father said, ‘I know you love Morehouse, but you can add.'”
Although he chose Yale, he never lost admiration for Morehouse. “I always had Morehouse as my icon for producing the kind of men I respected and admired in my youth,” Thomas said. “That continues to be true when you look at the amazing men Morehouse has produced—amazing men.” Morehouse’s notable alumni include the late Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, filmmaker Spike Lee, and the late Civil Rights legend Julian Bond, writes Saporta.
“I start with the notion that being a Morehouse man is more than being an alum of Morehouse,” Thomas said. “I meet the criteria of what it means to be a Morehouse man without being a Morehouse alum. I really feel like there’s an alignment between what I value and what I’ve done in my life.”
As president of Morehouse, Thomas plans to improve fundraising, increase enrollment, modernize the school’s infrastructure, and increase funds for student scholarships, writes Saporta (AP/New York Times, 8/7; Saporta, Atlanta Business Chronicle, 10/16/2017).