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New Student Lounge at McCombs Celebrates First Black Graduate

Peggy Holland portrait_0178

AUSTIN, Texas — Peggy Drake was 18 when she arrived at The University of Texas in the fall of 1958. As the first Black student in the business school, she was met with open hostility on a campus roiling with the effects of desegregation. This week, a new student lounge and exhibit at the McCombs School of Business opened to the public. It is a space that shares Peggy Drake Holland’s story and celebrates her achievement.

“We honor Peggy Drake Holland, the first African American student to graduate from the UT business school, a true trailblazer and an honored friend of McCombs,” said Dean Lillian Mills at a dedication ceremony held in the space on Feb. 22. “We celebrate all that Peggy achieved, commemorate the space she created for Black and underserved students of color on this campus, and reckon honestly with both how far we have come as a society, as well as how far we have to go.”

When Holland enrolled, the university remained mostly segregated: Black students could not eat in the cafeteria and had to live in segregated housing, including old military barracks and off-campus dorms. With few exceptions, they could not eat in the restaurants that surrounded campus and were prohibited from participating in most student organizations. Social isolation was the norm for UT’s Black students, whose numbers were kept small by policies and practices that limited their access to the university, despite court decisions.

The lounge/exhibit was initially envisioned by McCombs students from the Black Business Students Association who called for a place in which they could feel they belonged, says Leticia Acosta, director of outreach and inclusion for the McCombs undergraduate program office.

“When our current students considered whom to name this new space after — a space to provide community, a sense of belonging, and education — it was unanimously decided that Peggy Drake Holland would be the namesake,” Acosta said. “We felt it was important that in this space you learn about the past — and inspire students in the present to be the positive force for change.”

Located in Suite 5.130 of the business school’s main building at 21st Street and Speedway, the Peggy Drake Holland Student Lounge is an open and airy space filled with light — a space designed to give all students, staffers, faculty members and the community the opportunity to learn about and be inspired by a key figure in McCombs’ history.

The exhibit features Holland’s story and a timeline of desegregation at UT, as well as historical photos of the campus and city at that time, highlighting the resilience, perseverance, determination and courage of those first trailblazers. The project also includes links to a full feature story and 8-minute video documentary.

“Blazing a Path: The Peggy Drake Holland Exhibit at the McCombs School of Business” was directed by Leticia Acosta, curated by Alberta Phillips, researched by Laura Hernández-Ehrisman, edited by Molly Dannenmaier and Matthew Higginbotham, and designed by Dana Taylor. It includes video production by Catenya McHenry and Jim Canning.

Historical photos and dedication ceremony photos available upon request.