The Auburn University Student Center will be dedicated to Chief Justice Harold Melton of the Georgia Supreme Court. Melton is a 1988 Auburn graduate in international business who was the first Black president of Auburn's Student Government Association from 1987 to 1988.
Trustees James Pratt and Elizabeth Huntley announced the dedication to the University Board of Trustees on Friday, Sept. 4. Pratt and Huntley co-chair a trustee task force that proposed the dedication.
"This naming is an important and historic step in our long-term effort to strengthen Auburn by demonstrating we value diversity and inclusion," Pratt said. "We also honor a fine man who has achieved much both here at Auburn and in his professional career and life."
Melton ran for SGA president at a time in which fewer than 5% of Auburn students were people of color, according to Pratt.
An in-person dedication will be held at a future date where Ada Ruth Huntley, a senior in global studies who is the current SGA president and the daughter of Elizabeth Huntley, will name the facility. Pratt noted that Ada Ruth is the first Black female SGA president.
"This should serve as a powerful statement to all concerning Auburn's current and future commitment to diversity and inclusion," he said.
Ada Ruth expressed her excitement for the task force's decision to the Board of Trustees.
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"[This] is definitely a personal significant thing," she said. "[The] Student Center, under normal circumstances of course, is host to more than 5,000 visitors each day. It really is the focal point for where the Auburn Family and all of its students come together on campus, and I cannot think of a more fitting person to name it after other than Harold Melton.
Melton achieved a landslide victory in his election to the position, receiving 65% of the vote, according to Ada Ruth. He was also the first SGA president to be unaffiliated with a Greek life organization.
"During his tenure from 1987 to 1988, he worked to improve student life at Auburn, and his contributions were impactful in ensuring he would not be the last African-American SGA president also," Ada Ruth said. "He was forward in paving the way for many Black student leaders to come, myself included."
Melton was appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court in 2005 and was sworn in as presiding judge in 2017, according to Ada Ruth.
"He's a part of the reason why I'm able to serve in the role I am today, so I cannot be more honored on behalf of the student body to suggest that we name the Student Center the 'Harold Melton Student Center,'" she said. "I think this naming will be impactful in recognizing the impact Judge Melton made and contributions other student leaders have made on Auburn's campus because of Judge Melton's empowerment."
Elizabeth Huntley said she was also influenced by Melton during her time as an Auburn student, whose success led her to run for SGA president. Though she lost, unlike her daughter, Elizabeth said she feels Melton "left a legacy at the University regarding student leadership, inclusiveness and diversity" nonetheless.
"He didn't stop just there with his work for Auburn and his love for Auburn and commitment to Auburn," Elizabeth said. "I can't even count the number of times that he has worked with Auburn, whether it be in capital campaigns or coming back to talk with students and supporting other Auburn initiatives."
Elizabeth said while she was pleased to help develop the dedication, it was also the culmination of student support for diversity in the past few years that led up to the decision.
"I'm so proud of the students ... who have been so forward-thinking in celebrating diversity whether it be from the original work from Justin [Smith] and Dane [Block] three years ago that led us to the NPHC Legacy Plaza ... [or] whether it be the University taking the collegiate step to reach out to Dr. Harold Franklin and allow him to defend his thesis and receive his master's degree," she said.
Among this support was an SGA proposal several years ago to dedicate a building to Melton, Elizabeth said.
"He's the right person for the right building at the right time," Elizabeth concluded.
The Student Center was built in 2008 and is home to the Office of Student Involvement, Student Affairs, the Office of Greek Life and Auburn Student Media among other offices. SGA and many other student organizations host meetings in the facility during regular University operations.
Reporting for this story was contributed by Collins Keith.
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