Alumni Voices

A Meaningful Gift

OU Alumni Give Back to Create Black Alumni History Project

A group of students sitting around on couches, tables and chairs in front of a sign that reads, "association of black students"


icon of a calendarDecember 10, 2021

icon of a pencilBy Catherine Ticer

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Oakland University alumni are well known for their steadfast commitment to their alma mater and the students who are proudly following in their footsteps.

One group of alumni is particularly dedicated to giving back to the university in a meaningful way. The Black Alumni Chapter of the Oakland University Alumni Association (OUAA) has joined forces with Oakland University Libraries to create the Black Alumni History Project – an initiative to preserve the stories of Black students and alumni at OU.

The Black Alumni History Project is an ongoing effort to archive a special collection of items that document the experiences of Black students since Oakland University first opened its doors in 1959. The full collection is available digitally, and many items are carefully displayed at alumni events.

OU alumni Eleanor Reynolds (SEHS ’74) and Robert Thornton (CAS ’77) have dedicated countless hours to spearheading this important initiative and were eager to partner with the OUAA and OU Libraries to build this collection. A special focus has been placed on documenting the start of the Black Alumni Association, now the Black Alumni Chapter, and creating an archive of stories and memories that will hold a lasting place in the future of the university.

“The project got started during a board meeting of the Black Alumni Association,” says Reynolds. “We realized that we did not have a good place to document the history of the organization which goes back to 1974. History is important to preserve as it can serve as a foundation for how we go forward.”

She hopes the project will continue to grow and inspire other alumni to get involved with the Black Alumni Chapter. “The Black Alumni Chapter includes several engaged alumni, many of whom live in metro Detroit, who actively work to network and maintain connections between alumni and OU,” continues Reynolds.

The Black Alumni Chapter was founded by Dr. Manuel Pierson to encourage personal and professional networking, advise on alumni events and initiatives and serve as a resource for both alumni and students.

For Reynolds, the Black Alumni Chapter is just one way she has maintained her connection with OU since graduation. After graduating with a degree in elementary education, she returned to OU in 1982 to serve as director of housing and food services. She would later serve as administrative vice president for admissions until her retirement in 2014. “When I attended OU, there were 8,000 students,” she says. “Since that time, enrollment has grown to as high as 20,000 students, but there is still a special closeness on campus. When you walk through the Oakland Center and other buildings, people still smile and say ‘hello.’ I hope that never changes.”

Robert Thornton has also stayed connected to his alma mater since first stepping foot on campus in 1972. Next year will mark his 50-year anniversary with the university. “I have met and shaken hands with every OU president and many other senior leaders, countless staff and hundreds of students,” he says.

Thornton actively serves on the Black Alumni Chapter Board of Directors and has been instrumental in securing many of the items included in the Black Alumni History Project. “There is an important history to tell,” says Thornton. “For me and many others, it’s been a really rewarding story. The collection highlights the contributions African American students have made within the broader OU community for the past six decades.”

Contribute Items to the Black Alumni History Project

Alumni are invited to contribute materials to the Black Alumni History Project.

Visit to submit your photos, stories, fliers, videos, audio files, buttons, newsletters and other materials that convey your experiences at OU. Items from the 1990’s and 2000’s are especially needed to help round out the current collection.

View the full digital collection.

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