Answering the Call: Marquette Celebrates 50 Years of Educational Opportunity

By Lynn Griffith, Senior Director of University Communication, Marquette University

Students gather in protest outside O’Hara Hall in 1969 (photo by Marquette University)

Students gather in protest outside O’Hara Hall in 1969 (photo by Marquette University)

In his 1967 “Interracial Apostolate,” Rev. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., former Superior General of the Society of Jesus, wrote: “The racial crisis involves, before all else, a direct challenge to our sincerity in professing a Christian concept of man. Upon our response and that of like-minded men to this challenge will depend the extent to which the solution of the crisis will bear a Christian character. And this in turn will determine whether the crisis will develop into a great human achievement or a great human failure.”

In the years to come, Jesuit colleges and universities across the country would heed this call, each in their own way. But for Marquette University, it started in the early 1960s.

When the neighborhoods near Marquette’s campus in Milwaukee grew more racially diverse, the faculty and student community began to examine the University’s actions and policies. Mirroring what was happening with Civil Rights protests in the South, students and faculty organized marches on campus, with 700 students and faculty gathering in front of a residence hall in March 1964 on their way to join marchers from other local universities who were gathering at the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

“It is a matter of public record that Marquette has a long history of involvement in Milwaukee’s inner city,” said then-Marquette President Rev. John P. Raynor, S.J. “Literally hundreds of our faculty and students have worked and are working with the disadvantaged. While we are proud of what has been accomplished, we are well aware that more must be done.”

As a step forward, Marquette introduced a course on African American history taught by Arnold Mitchem, Ph.D., who, decades later, would found the Washington, D.C.-based Council for Opportunity in Education.

During the 1967-68 academic year, Marquette students became more vocal following the “long, hot summer of 1967,” when more than 160 race riots erupted across the country. In March 1968, a Marquette student group, Students United for Racial Equality (SURE), marched to O’Hara Hall, which at that time housed the president and senior leaders, and presented a 12-point petition calling for more scholarships for African American students, more classes on African American culture, and additional outreach programs in the neighborhoods surrounding Marquette.

To underscore their seriousness, SURE students began a Lenten fast and ate only bread, water and tea. Maureen Hoyler was among the students who organized the Marquette contingent. Decades later, she became the second president of the Council for Opportunity in Education – a role she holds today.

In response, Marquette established six scholarships for underprivileged residents of the Milwaukee community, in honor of Rev. John P. Markoe, S.J., a Jesuit priest who had long served as a champion for civil rights.

But weeks after the 1968 March, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and the student’s demands took on a whole new meaning. Two days after his death, more than 800 students attended a memorial Mass at the Church of the Gesu on Marquette’s campus. That same day, the University announced an anonymous gift of $180,000 to provide expenses for 20 African American students to secure a four-year college education at Marquette.

“The turning point was the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Hoyler said. “After Dr. King was killed, we held another demonstration and instead of 50 people showing up, 1,000 people showed up.”

In May 1968, 200 students barricaded the doors of the campus union, preventing hundreds of faculty and staff from attending an annual faculty dinner. Rallies continued daily and the protesters adopted a new name, “Respond.”

Students gather in the EOP Student Lounge at Marquette (photo by Marquette University)

Students gather in the EOP Student Lounge at Marquette (photo by Marquette University)

“The people of color on campus felt that Marquette wasn’t doing enough to get people with scholarships in and diversify the campus. Nothing was happening,” said George Thompson, a former NBA and Marquette men’s basketball player. He and several other Marquette basketball players threatened to quit school if the student protestors’ demands for racial equality were not met.

President Raynor authorized a Special Committee on Scholarship Programs and Courses in Black and Minority Cultures to address the Respond group’s concerns. Sparked by the student protests and based on recommendations from the Special Committee, Marquette formed a program in late 1968 to serve underrepresented students. That program would quickly evolve into Marquette’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). Out of 42 candidates, Mitchem was tapped to serve as the first EOP director in 1969.

“I took the job and told Marquette I’d give them five semesters, and five semesters turned out to be a lifetime,” said Mitchem, who received an honorary doctor of letters degree from Marquette in 2003 for his historic work to found and lead EOP for more than 15 years.

Marquette’s EOP started with just 40 students and one staff member and flourished into what became the model program for other Educational Opportunity Programs and the United States Department of Education’s federally funded TRiO programs, which are located at college campuses throughout the country.

“Marquette’s history is rooted in increasing access to higher education,” said Michael R. Lovell, Ph.D., current president of Marquette. “Marquette was founded in 1881 as a place for children of Catholic immigrants who often were not welcomed into other universities. In 1909, Marquette further delivered on its promise of educational access when we became the first Catholic university in the world to admit women to study alongside men. The development of EOP in 1969 helped ensure educational access for students who were — and still are — underrepresented at Marquette and in higher education overall.”

Since then, Marquette’s EOP has served thousands of students by providing services such as tutoring, academic advising, and graduate school preparation to assist underrepresented and first-generation students in their transition into Marquette and ultimately graduation.

Today, Marquette’s EOP is comprised of five programs: Student Support Services and McNair Scholars are programs for current Marquette students, while Upward Bound, Upward Bound Math and Science, and Educational Talent Search offer pre-college services to Milwaukee-area high school students in partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools.

In his January 2019 Presidential Address, Lovell charged a university-wide steering committee with putting together a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of EOP during the 2019-20 academic year. A series of events are being planned throughout the year, including symposia, speaker panels and celebrations of first-generation students — both on Marquette’s campus, throughout the community and in Washington, D.C.

“Marquette is marking this important anniversary by commemorating the past, celebrating the present and imagining the future,” said William Welburn, Ph.D., vice president for inclusive excellence at Marquette. “Events will highlight EOP’s long and distinguished past, the work that the program does today, and invite opportunities for reflection and discussion of educational access and what might happen in the future.”

The Marquette Forum, a yearlong series of events centered on a different theme each year, is focused on the topic of “pathways to educational access and opportunity” for the 2019-20 academic year, and is offering $500 grants to faculty and staff, departments, academic units or student organizations planning events associated with educational access and opportunity.

Lovell said, “In the spirit of our founding, Marquette continues to strive to be a welcoming, inclusive place that is open to women and men from all backgrounds, faiths and viewpoints.”

Click here to learn more about the history of EOP in “Answering the Call,” a video documentary produced for the 45th anniversary of the program in 2014.