TCU, Jarvis Christian Student Swap Broadened Perspectives
Students from Jarvis Christian College, a historically Black college, spent a week at TCU in 1968.
The year 1968 started with the Vietnam War’s Tet offensive, followed by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. People — especially college students — rioted and protested all over the country.
The same year, 17 students from Jarvis Christian College, a historically Black school in Hawkins, Texas, about 100 miles east of Dallas, swapped places with 14 counterparts from TCU. At the time, both learning institutions were formally affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
The exchange plan invited Jarvis students to stay at TCU for a week to attend classes and live in the dorms. But TCU students made a day trip. The reason for TCU’s shorter visit is unclear.
When Neil Daniel, an assistant professor of English, asked his Negro American Literature students to visit the Jarvis campus, Philip Miller ’70 jumped at the opportunity.
Miller found that Jarvis had a much smaller campus. It did not have a dedicated library and was centered on a chapel, which students were required to visit every Wednesday. Its student body, around 600 people, was less than one-tenth of TCU’s student population — which was 0.1 percent Black the year of the exchange.
The visit to Jarvis “was educational, informative and, at the same time, slightly disillusioning,” Miller said. “I had heard about Jarvis Christian all my life, and to go and see what humble circumstances the campus was in at that time, it was sobering to realize it was probably just typical of the contrast between historically white institutions and historically Black institutions.”
In 1964, the same year TCU became fully integrated, the TCU Board of Trustees approved a five-year formal affiliation between TCU and Jarvis. Under the agreement, TCU became financially responsible for Jarvis and assumed its academic responsibilities, including overseeing curriculum and hiring faculty.
Jarvis had struggled to repay a $450,000 debt from two fires and large-scale sewage repairs. TCU Chancellor M.E. Sadler, also a Jarvis trustee, had personally sought aid from all over the Southwest, according to an article in The Skiff. By October 1964, Jarvis had received $1 million in grants for infrastructure. One year later, its enrollment had increased by more than 20 percent.
When Nancy DeWees ’69, a native of Iowa, decided to attend TCU, her father warned her not to get in any discussions about the Civil War or race riots. “That was a pretty scary time in history,” she said.
By participating in the exchange program, “I thought I was helping TCU do a service to another Disciples school that was less prosperous and to another student body that was less endowed with resources,” said DeWees, now an attorney who defends children in custody and domestic violence cases. “I definitely knew that issues between the races was a big issue at the time, and I wanted to do what I could to facilitate things going better.”
Thelma Milligan LaDay, who was a junior at Jarvis in 1968, recalled the difference in size and atmosphere between her alma mater and TCU.
“Jarvis being a small college, it was a more intimate setting,” she said. “It was just the place for me. Everybody was friendly; they interacted with you well. It was just a good place to be — quite personable.”
For the exchange, LaDay matched her Jarvis courses with similar offerings at TCU. She, much like the TCU students, had preconceived ideas about educational equality.
“When it comes to education, we on the Black side of things were of the impression that at these white institutions they were sharp, they were on top of things, they knew everything. And we on the Black side of things, we’d better step up because they are so much better prepared than we are,” LaDay said. “They were not any better prepared than I was. In fact, they may not have been as prepared.
“This was a good experience for me. It gave me more confidence about my education and what my professors were doing for me and for the entire student body at Jarvis, that we were not as substandard as we were made to seem.”
Thelma Milligan LaDay, a Jarvis Christian College alumna who participated in the swap
“This was a good experience for me,” LaDay said. “It gave me more confidence about my education and what my professors were doing for me and for the entire student body at Jarvis, that we were not as substandard as we were made to seem.”
Soon after his visit to Hawkins, Miller led the charge to persuade the people who were funding Frog Fountain to reconsider the direction of their donation. Miller wrote to H.H. Phillips Sr. and his wife to to suggest alternative recipients of the fountain funds, including Jarvis Christian College, the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund and a new ballet training facility. His ideas were rejected by the TCU House of Student Representatives.
Despite the rejected proposal, Pam Carpenter Blosser ’69 said there was a general sense of goodwill toward Jarvis. TCU hosted book drives and fundraisers for the college.
“We were trying to reach out and bridge the gap so we could have interchange with another school that was racially different from us,” said Blosser, who grew up in segregated Tulsa, Oklahoma.
As part of the five-year academic alliance between TCU and Jarvis, five faculty had dual appointments between the two schools. The history, English and sociology professors traveled to Hawkins once a week to teach classes. Two TCU graduate students also led courses.
The partnership led to new opportunities in TCU classrooms as well. The TCU Experimental College offered an evening course called The Negro in American Life in 1968. The noncredit, tuition-free course intended to broaden the intellectual scope of students, faculty and the community. The six lectures, followed by Q&A sessions, included speakers from TCU and Jarvis.
The following year The Skiff announced the university’s first Black history course, which would cover “the Negro in America up to the present day, but also will include African civilizations.”