In Memoriam: Two leaders who improved the Black student experience
Two past University of Dayton administrators, James Stocks and Timothy Spraggins, are being remembered for their work to improve the collegiate experience for Black students at UD and create a more inclusive environment for all through their leadership.
Stocks, who led the Center for Afro-American Affairs and the Office of Minority Student Affairs in the 1970s and 1980s, died March 31 at 85. Spraggins, who led the Office of Minority Student Affairs and the Office of Diverse Student Populations in the 1980s and 1990s, died April 17 at 66. The Center for Afro-American Affairs, Office of Minority Student Affairs and Office of Diverse Student Populations are among the previous titles for UD’s Multi-Ethnic Education and Engagement Center.
Both men were integral in the support and uplift of the Black student, staff and faculty community while at UD. Stocks, named director of the Center for Afro-American Affairs in 1971, was a pioneer in promoting diversity and inclusion in higher education. During his 15 years at UD, Stocks helped establish the first Black cultural center on campus and advocated for increased representation of Black students, faculty and staff. He also brought numerous influential speakers to the University including James Baldwin, Angela Davis, Julian Bond, Nikki Giovanni, Dick Gregory and Jesse Jackson.
“James Stocks was an excellent professional in his work at Center for Afro-American Affairs,” said UD President Emeritus Brother Raymond L. Fitz, S.M. ’64, who led the University from 1979 to 2002. “He was low-key in style, but very effective in bringing forth key issues at a time when the University recognized that we need to do something more for our African American students. Being the first in this role was not easy, but James got us started in the right direction.”
Upon Stocks’ departure in 1987, Spraggins took over leadership of the center, which in the mid-1980s became the Office of Minority Student Affairs. He served in that role through 1996, a period that saw another name change in 1995 to the Office of Diverse Student Populations.
“They were two great men who went about their work differently, but both were very focused and understood the privilege of higher education.”
“They were two great men who went about their work differently, but both were very focused and understood the privilege of higher education,” said Debra Plousha-Moore ’89, founder and principal of the Plousha Moore Group in her hometown of San Francisco and second vice chair of the UD board of trustees. Plousha-Moore was associate dean of students at UD from 1986-1996.
Plousha-Moore described Stocks as a businessman who took a strategy and metrics-based approach to his work, serving as a dedicated spokesperson for diversity and providing a philosophical rationale for equity. In doing so, he worked to provide Black students with a wonderful experience at UD.
“He was intellectual and philosophical, well-read, thoughtful and connected,” Plousha-Moore said. “He was passionate, committed and his work came from the heart and intellect as he advocated for students in the UD system.”
When Plousha-Moore was hired as director after Stocks’ departure, and Spraggins was hired as associate director, they agreed to lead the Office of Minority Student Affairs together.
“To his last day, he was my very best friend,” Plousha-Moore said of Spraggins. “He’s in my heart. If you were a part of Tim’s world, you were in his life forever.”
She said Spraggins was passionate about promoting Black culture, which he demonstrated through his work with Black Action Through Unity, fraternity and sorority life (including his own membership in Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.) and love and promotion of Black artists and musicians. He wrote poetry as well under the pseudonym Timothy Wallace.
Plousha-Moore remembered how much he cared about every single student and set high expectations — even if it meant showing tough love at times.
One of those students was Ray Blakeney ’93, who had Spraggins as his adviser through the Office of Minority Student Affairs. Blakeney remembered Spraggins as a kind person who listened and cared.
“He changed my life.”
“He changed my life,” said Blakeney, a UD trustee, past president of the UD Alumni Association and executive at Microsoft in Seattle. “One day as I walked by the MSA building, I heard Mr. Spraggins yell my name and wave me inside. I went in and he introduced me to an executive director of a new summer fellowship program housed at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. After a quick conversation, I decided to apply and won a fellowship.”
Blakeney said the fellowship helped him successfully apply to graduate school at Boston College, where he’d meet his future wife. Before that day, Blakeney had never talked to Spraggins about attending graduate school.
“He saw a future for me I hadn’t even dreamed about,” Blakeney said. “I often wonder what my life would have been if not for Mr. Spraggins calling my name as I walked by. It was a moment that mattered — I just didn’t know at the time.”
Julius Amin, professor of history and Alumni Chair in Humanities, called Spraggins both a friend and colleague who worked hard to promote the interests of diverse students on campus while pushing UD to be a more inclusive institution.
“Along with Debra Plousha-Moore and Kathleen Henderson, Tim was impatient with the slow pace of change and constantly ‘agitated’ — in the words of Frederick Douglass — for change,” said Amin, who teaches courses in African and African American history. “Often we sat in his office or mine, or at a happy hour discussing race and imagining how things could be better on campus. He was happy to see symposia on the state of race on UD’s campus. He was a good man.”
Amy Lopez-Matthews ’86, executive director, Center for Student Involvement, began working with Spraggins when she was hired as a student development employee in 1988. She remembers him as being a strong advocate for all students he served.
“Tim was the consummate professional,” Lopez-Matthews said. “He had a dry, quick wit and in addition to being a trusted colleague, he was a valued friend. I was dismayed to hear of his passing, but I can only imagine the celebration that awaited him in the next life.”