UC’s first African-American graduate passes away

Shelsea Deravil


W. Robert Crigler, an Ursinus alumnus, class of ’56, and the first African-American student to graduate from Ursinus College, died October 20, 2018 at the age of 84. Crigler was an accomplished athlete who studied psychology during his time at Ursinus. 

     Crigler served as the executive director of the Chaparral Treatment Center in Colton, California, a multi-disciplinary residential care therapy and education center for severely emotionally disturbed children. His efforts to help troubled families and children led Ursinus to award him the Alumni Association Professional Achievement Award in 1998. 

     The school also named a program after him. What started as the Bridge Program in 1998 was renamed in Crigler’s honor in February 2011 at the suggestion of Paulette Patton, who was the director of the program and of multicultural services at Ursinus at the time. 

     The Crigler Program is a four-credit course that takes place during the summer and fall of the first semester for first-year students. According to the Ursinus website, the goal of the program is to provide a transition into college life for students who are members of historically underrepresented groups. Most of those who have been part of the program are minority students. 

     The program provides these incoming freshmen a community within a predominantly white institution. The three-week preview also prepares minority students for the challenges they might face during their time on campus. 

     Current Head Coordinator of the Crigler Program and Presidential Advisor of Inclusion and Equity, Dean Terrence Williams, shared kind words about Dr. Crigler. “Crigler had that vision where he could help minority students have continual access to a higher education like he did. Stepping into an environment like this … one must have courage, faith, and strength. He will forever be remembered.”

     Williams works to continue the legacy Crigler built.

     “I have the best job in the world. I’m surrounded by, and engage with, smart students… and see them meet their goals,” Williams said. 

     Williams frequently checks up on and converses with students from all demographic groups. He believes that in order to build a community where no one is isolated, we must begin with conversation. He also serves as the Assistant Dean of Students and as a member of the Crisis Response Team. 

     The Crigler program greatly affects the students who participate.

      Samuel Ragland, a sophomore, said “My experience during Crigler was special. Initially, I didn’t want to do it, because it’d take up my summertime, but eventually I went. Today, I feel like it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I established relationships with everyone there that I’ll cherish forever. Those peers became family.”

     Ragland also discussed the program’s college preparatory component.

     “Taking classes—which followed into our following semester—was a big help. It set us up for success early. The professors were very welcoming…they wanted to see us all succeed. They challenged us in new ways to think, read, and write more critically. Having this as part of the program gave us Crigler students a smooth transition into college. Crigler had a profound impact on my life socially, academically, and athletically. I would recommend Crigler to anyone looking to be part of something. Dr. Crigler changed lives and will be missed.”

     Crigler is survived by his wife, children, and grandchildren. His legacy lives on.