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Noel, the first African American elected to the Denver Public School Board and the first African American woman to serve in an elected office in Colorado, chaired the then-college’s African American Studies Department from 1971 through 1980. Upon her retirement, the University created the Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Visiting Professorship to honor her legacy.
Noel first gained local acclaim when, in 1968, she presented the DPS board with the Noel Resolution, which asked the superintendent to develop a plan to integrate Denver’s public schools. Under a cloud of threats to Noel and her family, the resolution passed in 1970. Her reputation as a civil rights lion grew with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark decision, Keyes v. Denver School District No. 1, making Denver the first city outside the American South to receive instructions by the country’s highest court to address segregation with school busing. Noel passed away in 2008 at the age of 90.
MSU Denver created the Noel professorship to celebrate and foster the courageous commitment to multiculturalism, diversity and education that defined her years at the institution. Through the professorship, students, faculty and the greater Denver community have learned from renowned scholars and artists of distinction, who conduct classes, seminars, performances and lectures.
Over the years, Noel Distinguished Professors have included such luminaries as Princeton professor Cornel West; pianist Billy Taylor; former President of Spelman College Johnetta Cole; the late actor and civil rights activist Ossie Davis; Fisk University Center for International Studies Director Naomi Tutu; University of Maryland, Baltimore County President Freeman A. Hrabowski III; and in 2015, transgender activist and author Janet Mock.