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Big Ten's First Black Student Body President to be Celebrated at Indiana U. Weekend Event


Thomas Atkins, IU's first African American student body president, being celebrated this weekend

Events also will mark 15th anniversary of the Atkins Living Learning Center

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Atkins Living Learning Center Memorial Weekend will take place at Indiana University Bloomington this Friday through Sunday (Nov. 6-8). As part of the weekend, 37 elementary school students from the Bloomingdale School, a public school in Manhattan, will visit IU.


Thomas I. Atkins
 Print-Quality Photo

The public is invited to the Thomas I. Atkins Celebration of Life and the Atkins Living Learning Center's 15th anniversary from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday in the Willkie Auditorium, 150 N. Rose Ave., on the IU Bloomington campus.

Thomas I. Atkins, born March 2, 1939, in Elkhart, Ind., became IU's first African American student body president in 1960 and also was the first African American student body president in the Big Ten.

A member of Phi Beta Kappa, Atkins graduated from IU in 1961 with a bachelor's degree in political science. He went on to Harvard where he received a master's in Middle Eastern studies in 1963 and a law degree in 1969. While in Harvard Law School, Atkins was elected to the Boston City Council, where he served two terms.

Atkins, who overcame childhood polio, spent his life as a nationally recognized civil rights attorney. He received the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's highest legal award, the William Ming Legal Advocacy Award. He received IU's Distinguished Alumni Service Award and was named a distinguished alumnus by IU's College of Arts and Sciences. After a battle with Lou Gehrig's Disease, Atkins died on June 27, 2008.

The Atkins Living Learning Center, a supportive living environment where students serve others, study African American culture and history and succeed academically, opened in August 1994.

During the celebration of his life, Atkins will be commemorated by noted speakers and with music by students from the Atkins Living Learning Center and the Bloomingdale School. A portrait of Atkins by local artist Joel Washington will be presented to the student community.

Bloomingdale School students, ages 9 to 11, will experience residence hall life, eat at Greenleaf Dining Hall, visit Foster Global Village (another of IU's living learning centers), tour the IU Bloomington campus, go to Hoosier Village for a pregame tailgate, watch the Hoosiers take on Wisconsin in football and meet the football team and Head Coach Bill Lynch.

The students also will visit a buffalo farm and a pre-Civil War African-American cemetery during their stay.

"This visit is all about helping the kids understand what college is really about and what it requires," says Britney McTush, an Atkins Living Learning Center resident and chairwoman of the memorial weekend. "We want to show them that a collegiate education is possible, and it can be fun."

For the past eight years, Atkins Living Learning Center students have visited and mentored Bloomingdale School students in Manhattan over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. This weekend is the first time the elementary school students have come to IU.

"Most of the Bloomingdale students have never been out of Manhattan," says Nancy Lorenz, assistant director for development with IU's Residential Programs and Services. "This alliance between their school and IU shows them that college can be an opportunity."

Lorenz and her sister, Barbara McKay White, a teacher at the Bloomingdale School, developed the mentoring alliance between the elementary school and IU. The Atkins Living Learning Center Memorial Weekend and the Bloomingdale Elementary School visit are sponsored by the Atkins Living Learning Center, IU Athletics, the IU Foundation, Residence Halls Alumni Association, Residential Programs and Services, Sugar and Spice and the IU Alumni Association.

The Indiana University Alumni Association is dedicated to serving the university and its diverse alumni, students and friends. As one of the nation's largest alumni organizations, serving more than 530,000 graduates worldwide, the IUAA provides many programs and services to its members, nonmember alumni and the university. For information, visit or call 800-824-3044.

Media Contacts

Nancy Lorenz
IU Residential Programs and Services 

Rachael Jones Crouch
IU Alumni Association 

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