New Prairie View A&M president talks legendary predecessor, DEI ban, and prioritizing its funding

Erica Simon Image
Wednesday, August 23, 2023
New Prairie View A&M president talks legendary predecessor, DEI, HBCUs
Incoming Prairie View A&M University president, Dr. Tomekia P. LeGrande, says she's not intimidated to live up to her predecessor, Dr. Ruth Simmons.

PRAIRIE VIEW, Texas (KTRK) -- This week marks a new chapter at Prairie View A&M University. Most are familiar with the outgoing president, Dr. Ruth Simmons, but there's a new leader at the helm: Dr. Tomikia P. LeGrande.

ABC13 Anchor Erica Simon went to Waller County to sit down with her and see how she plans on forging the historically-Black university ahead this semester and for years to come.

"There is no greater place than an HBCU - institutions that were founded on the legacy of providing access and opportunity to African Americans when no one else answered that call," LeGrande said.

LeGrande may be new to "The Hill," but she gets it. When it comes to Prairie View, there's a strong sense of Panther Pride.

"People are passionate and love this place," she said.

LeGrande is a tall woman with big shoes to fill.

Simmons is the first Black American to serve as president of an Ivy League school at Brown University and the first woman president of PVAMU.

LeGrande said that legacy isn't intimidating but actually motivational. She plans to take the richness of the past and use her skills to propel the school into solution-based success for as long as she can.

"When I think about Dr. Simmons' presidency and all that she did for Prairie View, I feel inspired about what the future can hold. Who would not want to receive the baton from a trailblazer like Ruth Simmons?" she said.

SEE MORE: Prairie View A&M University president Dr. Ruth Simmons joining Rice University

Dr. Simmons sits down with ABC13's Melanie Lawson to discuss her ground-breaking role.

Before this gig, LeGrande served as vice president for strategy, enrollment management, and student success at Virginia Commonwealth University.

She's fairly young - in her 40s - hailing from Savannah, Georgia. She's also a two-time HBCU grad. After studying chemistry at Savannah State University and North Carolina A&T University, she went on to earn her doctorate in higher education administration and leadership at Texas Tech.

At PVAMU, there will be challenges fresh out the gate. It's growing, so making sure there's enough housing for students is top of mind, as well as faculty needs and funding, which HBCUs constantly fight for.

"The greatest challenge will be prioritizing. We can't do everything at once," she explained.

The educational realm has been rocked in recent months, both at the state and national level.

ABC13 asked LeGrande how she thought Gov. Greg Abbott putting an end to diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, initiatives in Texas schools and the Supreme Court striking down affirmative action may affect PVAMU.

"While we can't have offices that are titled 'Diversity, Equity and Inclusion' offices at Prairie View, we didn't have any office with those titles anyway. But what we have had are programs and services designed around the needs of our students," she said. "We'll continue to do that, but those programs are open to all."

LeGrande loves live music, food, and the value of southern hospitality. She's a daughter, sister, aunt, and life partner who wants every first-time PVAMU student to know she's right there with them on day one.

"We will begin our fall semester together as freshmen. You freshmen students, and I, as a freshmen president," LeGrande said with a smile.

Another goal of LeGrande's is to tap into alumni, which have gone on to do great things, not just for donations, but in any way they lend their time, talent, or treasure.

On a bragging note, PVAMU is a research-two institution, making it only one of 10 HBCUs in the nation with that designation.

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SEE ALSO: Meet the first woman to become PVAMU's Dean of Engineering: 'Quitting was never an option'

Prairie View A&M's dean of engineering believes her accomplishment wouldn't have been possible without Title IX.