- Distinguished Alumni Service Award (1995)
- College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award (1982)
Thomas Irving Atkins is a splendid example of the positive impact an individual can make on a diverse society. As an independent lawyer in Brooklyn, New York, his country-wide caseload dealt exclusively with civil rights, school desegregation, employee discrimination, and voting rights.
Driven by the desire to make things better for himself and for other human beings, he entered IU, earned the B.A. with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1961, and became the first minority student body president at a Big Ten university. His administration achieved new highs in opening campus opportunities to students living in residence halls, international students, and blacks. While studying at Harvard for master's and law degrees, Atkins was executive secretary for the Boston NAACP and the first black elected to the Boston City Council. After graduation, he was a lecturer in urban politics at Wellesley, and a member of the Massachusetts governor's cabinet and of the Harvard Board of Overseers. He was president of the Boston chapter of the NAACP when he became involved in that city's precedent-setting school desegregation case as parent, class-action spokesman, and principal trial counsel. Atkins was special counsel and general counsel for the national NAACP before entering his independent practice of law in 1984.
At IU, he has been named a distinguished alumnus of the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Afro-American Living-Learning program at Ashton Center proudly bears the name of this skilled, dedicated, and altruistic man.