In describing the transition from one Martin University president to the next, current president Eugene White considered himself as a Moses figure, starting the school on its journey to the Promised Land. The Old Testament says it was Joshua, not Moses, who finished leading the Israelites, and in the same way, White won’t finish leading Martin. That duty will belong to Sean Huddleston, who the board of trustees named Martin’s new president, effective March 25. The board made the announcement Jan. 7.
“If you think about the history of this institution, the legacy of its founders and the importance of it to the region, it has to exist and it has to thrive,” Huddleston, 51, said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to continue that work.”
Founded in 1977 as a private liberal arts institution to serve predominately African-American students, Martin University is Indiana’s only primarily Black institution. Its emphasis is on non-traditional students, which Huddleston understands well. He was in his mid-30’s when he went back to college to finish his degree at Sienna Heights University in Adrian, Michigan. Huddleston also knows the importance of Black colleges and universities. He went to two as an undergraduate — Howard University in Washington, D.C. for a year and Alabama State in Montgomery for three years — but said he “lost my way” and didn’t graduate.
“I know firsthand what the environment feels like,” Huddleston said. “But more importantly, I know what it feels like for students. … It’s such a necessity to have these schools because we know that African-Americans are graduating at a lower rate than all other populations.”
Data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center show 45 percent of Black students didn’t complete college six years after starting, more than white, Hispanic and Asian students.
Huddleston, a father of three who grew up in Detroit, is a member of 100 Black Men of Indianapolis and currently serves as vice president for inclusion and equity at the University of Indianapolis. He previously held similar positions at Framingham State College, Framingham, Massachusetts, and Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan. Huddleston said those positions prepared him for his new role at Martin.
“When you’re in diversity and inclusion work, you’re working collaboratively across institutions to make sure people understand how to meet the whole student,” Huddleston said. “How to support the student culturally, socially, academically.”
White announced his retirement in August 2018 and said he wasn’t part of the search to find his replacement. But a coincidental history with Huddleston gave him confidence the board made a good decision. The two had lunch together about a year before White announced his retirement — he called it a “brother-to-brother lunch” — where White learned about Huddleston’s history and interest in Martin.
“When they selected him, I was very pleased,” White said. “I think it was an answer to my prayers.”
Huddleston credited White with leaving a stabilized Martin University that won’t require any dramatic shifts. Instead, he gets to continue on a path that White already laid out.
Huddleston has a master’s degree in education from Grand Valley State University, Allendale, Michigan. He will complete requirements for a doctorate in higher education and community college leadership in May from Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Michigan.
A search committee recommended Huddleston to the board after a national search last fall.
“We are extremely impressed with [Huddleston’s] appreciation for Martin, his grasp of important current issues in higher education, and his exciting ideas for the future,” Nancy Chism, president of the board, said in a statement. “It was crucial for Martin University to find a president who has a servant’s heart, can articulate its unique mission, and inspire the faculty, staff and students.”
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.