Students initiate naming opportunities for Robert Grays and Noel Johnson

Regents approve establishment of Charlye O. Farris Social Justice Resource Center

During its quarterly meeting on May 6, the Midwestern State University Board of Regents voted unanimously to approve naming opportunities that recognize and celebrate the lives of three historic figures in the campus and local communities.

“These naming opportunities are particularly meaningful to our campus as we seek ways to connect and honor champions in our community,” said MSU Texas President Suzanne Shipley. “Though their parts each varied greatly, the legacies of Charlye Farris, Robert Grays, and Noel Johnson exemplify the values of our university and stand as powerful testaments of how to best make a difference in our spheres of influence.”

Charlye O. Farris Social Justice Resource Center

In establishing the Charlye O. Farris Social Justice Resource Center (Farris Center), MSU Texas will create a hub of advocacy for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Farris, a native of Wichita Falls, earned her bachelor’s degree in political science in 1948 from Prairie View A&M University and then studied law at Howard University. She was the first Black woman to be licensed to practice law in the State of Texas, the first Black lawyer to practice actively in Wichita County, and the first Black person to serve as a judge in the South since Reconstruction. Farris served on the Midwestern State University Board of Regents from 2006 to 2010; poignantly, she would not have been permitted to attend MSU 60 years prior.

“Charlye was a person of strong character. In her extraordinary career, she gave a voice to people whom others refused to hear. Remarkably, the challenges she faced in her lifetime didn’t diminish her desire to help others,” said Barry Macha, MSU Texas General Counsel and former Wichita Falls District Attorney. “It would mean a great deal to her to promote more diversity on campus and in Wichita Falls and open doors that weren’t opened for her. We couldn’t find a more deserving person to honor with this naming.”

With open doors and space for reflection, dialogue, and collaboration, the Farris Center will welcome members of the community and empower them to engage in meaningful conversations and action on a range of social justice topics through education, advocacy, and training.

“Everyone benefits from a more inclusive environment,” said Cammie Dean, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs and Director of the MSU MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center. “In creating stronger links between the University and Wichita Falls through the work of the Farris Center, we will find ways to transform the experience for our students and others who seek to be better reflected in the community.”

The creation of the center is one of several actions to support the DEI strategic plan that was presented and approved at the meeting.

Robert Tyree Grays Field

Members of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and the Student Government Association (SGA) brought forth a proposal to rename the football practice field the Robert Tyree Grays Field in remembrance of the beloved student-athlete. Grays tragically passed away September 19, 2017, after suffering an injury during a football game three days earlier. The designation marks the first campus facility to be named in remembrance of a student.

“Naming of the Robert Tyree Grays Field is important to the student body because Robert was someone cherished and a part of the student body community,” said Shelbi Stogdill, SGA President. “Not only was he a talented student-athlete, but he was someone students knew outside of football, and his presence on campus was positively felt by every student he met. What I hope comes from this naming is that Robert Grays’ presence at MSU lives on and students are able to learn and recognize everything he was able to accomplish here in such a short amount of time and use that to inspire them to have as high of a positive impact and service that he did.”

Fondly remembered for his outgoing personality, Grays was honored through 24 Strong Week, in which student-athletes took part in “a spree of kindness, spending more than 400 hours volunteering in the Wichita Falls community.” The MSU Texas football team continues to close each practice with 24 pushups to honor his memory. His #24 jersey was retired in 2017.

Noel Johnson Locker Room

The SAAC and SGA members also recommended and endorsed the naming of the Noel Johnson Locker Room in memory of the former women’s basketball coach. Johnson, 47, passed away June 9, 2020, after a 14-month fight against ovarian cancer.

“There are no perfect words to describe who Coach J was to all of who knew her. Every player who passed through her program was taught the concept of family, loyalty, and tradition. She was a hero to several women, including myself,” said Hannah Reynolds, SAAC President and member of the MSU women’s basketball team. “With the naming of the Noel Johnson Locker Room, her tradition of hard work on and off the court will forever be a staple of the Midwestern State Women’s Basketball program. I wholeheartedly believe the locker room will be a source of inspiration for players to come and carry her core values: kindness for others, love for all, dedication to the classroom, and relentless effort on the court.”

Johnson was the winningest coach in the history of MSU women’s basketball and earned numerous awards during her 11-year tenure at the University. A fierce competitor on and off the court, Johnson took great pride in maintaining high student graduation rates, regularly among the highest of all MSU Texas teams. She was dedicated most of all to mentoring young women for life after basketball.

Each of these namings will be recognized and celebrated with ceremonies in Fall 2021.