A future University of Michigan residence hall will be named in honor of a longtime campus leader who was devoted to helping students succeed.
The Board of Regents voted Sept. 22 to name the building after E. Royster Harper, a vice president emerita for student life who worked at the university for more than four decades.
It will be the first building on U-M’s campus to carry a Black woman’s name.
The announcement came as a surprise to Harper, who thought she had been invited to attend the meeting to say farewell to outgoing President Mary Sue Coleman.
Harper was vice president for student life for 18 years before retiring in 2019. She was widely regarded among colleagues and students as a warm, thoughtful and inclusive leader who worked tirelessly to support students’ needs.
“She continually strived to improve the student experience through her advocacy and decision-making, making sure that students received the right balance between challenge and support,” Coleman, Vice President and Secretary Sally Churchill and Vice President for Student Life Martino Harmon wrote in recommending Harper for the honor.
Harper’s far-reaching impact can be felt across campus. She played a key role in expanding and renovating U-M’s residence hall system and helped institute measures that fostered inclusivity and student well-being.
Harper led two phases of the sweeping Residential Life Initiative, resulting in the construction of the North Quad residential and academic complex and the William Monroe Trotter Multicultural Center. She also led efforts to prevent sexual misconduct and expand mental health resources.
Her legacy can be seen in many other areas, including gender-inclusive bathrooms and residential spaces; the renovations of the Michigan Union, Michigan League and Recreational Sports facilities; expanded living-learning options; and the Blavin Scholars program, which supports students who grew up in foster care.
Before becoming vice president for student life, Harper’s other roles at U-M included associate vice president and senior associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, assistant to the vice president for academic affairs and assistant to the LSA dean, and director of the Opportunity Program and the Comprehensive Studies Program.
Coleman invited Harper to the Board of Regents meeting but did not tell her about the building-naming proposal.
During her opening remarks, Coleman said U-M has a vibrant residence hall system that will need to be expanded in the coming years.
“We do not yet have specifics on locations, designs or construction schedules,” she said. “But we do know the following: that we want a future residence hall to honor a longtime campus leader.”
Coleman went on to note Harper’s many years of service to the university. She also highlighted some of her accomplishments.
“She was an unrelenting champion of students and their experiences on campus,” she said.
Coleman then asked for the regents’ approval to name a future residence hall after Harper. Those gathered in the Alexander G. Ruthven’s University Hall broke out in applause.
Regents Katherine White, Mark Bernstein and Denise Ilitch thanked Harper for her years of service and commitment to students.
“I just cannot thank you enough for the service you have given this university, and to countless students whose lives have been enriched by your work,” Bernstein said.
Harper attended the meeting with her husband, Charles. She wiped away tears when she heard the announcement.
“I don’t have any words to express my deep appreciation, not only for this honor, but for what the university did for me so many years ago,” said Harper, a U-M alumna. “It changed the trajectory of my life.”