History made: Merze Tate College, Black women leaders honor Tate's legacy

Contact: Bonnie Pfingst
Merze Tate

Trailblazing alumna Merze Tate whose legacy will be celebrated at Western on Tuesday, Feb. 6.

Dr. Staci Perryman-Clark

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—As part of celebrating Black History Month, Merze Tate College at Western Michigan University will host an event Tuesday, Feb. 6, to commemorate Merze Tate’s birthday and pay tribute to her legacy as a trailblazer. In 1927, Tate became the first Black student to earn a bachelor’s degree from Western, and she went on to become a scholar, world traveler, journalist, author and advisor to world leaders. In September 2021, WMU named one of its academic units after her—one of the few Black women to have an academic college named after her at a predominantly white institution.

Dr. Deveta Gardner

And now, just like its namesake, Merze Tate College has carved out a place in the University’s history for yet another reason. For the first time, WMU academic affairs has a college led by three Black women—Dr. Staci Perryman-Clark, interim dean; Dr. Deveta Gardner, associate dean; and Tomika Griffin-Brown, assistant dean. The trio of leaders is responsible for overseeing a college that is an alliance of services, units and departments that empower students to reach their highest potential. 

Tate is recognized as an exemplar of excellence for students, and the college's leadership is directing student success services designed to assist WMU with meeting student retention and graduation goals.

Tomika Griffin-Brown

“At a time when Black women’s leadership has been called into question, I am honored to serve in ways that celebrate Black women,” says Perryman-Clark. “I take Merze Tate’s legacy seriously and will honor her in any and everything we do on behalf of Merze Tate College.”

Merze Tate College invites the campus to the Merze Tate Day celebration and host of activities at the WMU Student Center Gathering Stairs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 6. In addition, alumna Sonya Hollins, Merze Tate author, historian and journalist, will speak on Tate’s legacy at 6 p.m. in the student center ballroom.

About Merze Tate College Leaders

Perryman-Clark, a professor of English and African American Studies and diversity advocate and a nationally recognized scholar in rhetoric, has served as a faculty member since 2010. Since 2020, she has facilitated the Dream Fellowship Program, a program for aspiring leaders who are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion. She previously served as the chair of the Conference of College Composition and Communication, the world’s largest organization devoted to the study of writing. 

Gardner serves as the founding associate dean of Merze Tate College at WMU. With oversight of five units within the college, Gardner spends most of her time focused on strategically aligning best practices for students through programming within MTC. Gardner has a solid student affairs background and has taught in both the College of Education and Haworth College of Business. With strong ties to the community Gardner represents WMU as a member of the Empowering Futures Steering Committee, MI-ACE Women’s Network and the Kalamazoo Literacy Council. She has a passion for mentoring and has utilized her voice and positions to advocate for students. 

Griffin-Brown, the first assistant dean of academic advising at Western, has over 15 years of higher education experience with 13 of those years focused in academic advising. She played an integral role in the creation of the Student Success Hub as a functional lead on the project. Additionally, she has led the charge to create a culture shift in academic advising with the transition to a functional centralized advising model. Griffin-Brown also served as the lead liaison for the Excellence in Academic Advising (EAA) project. The EAA project evaluated the advising practices and developed recommendations to improve the advising experience for WMU students and advisors. Griffin-Brown also champions the needs of WMU students and the advising community by leveraging data. She provides leadership to the University Advising and Success Council (UA&SC). 

About Merze Tate College

Merze Tate College has developed several new initiatives to celebrate its namesake, including a redesign of Merze Tate College spaces that include visual and historical facts about Tate, Merze Tate-sponsored events that celebrate her legacy as connected to student success, fundraising initiatives that support study abroad for Merze Tate College students, as aligned with her interests in travel and international relations, and storytelling, that connects Tate’s history and legacy to overcome access and inequitable barriers to achieve academic success.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.