“You better make good on the opportunity that we granted,” are the words James Chambers lived by throughout his time at, what formerly was named, Trenton State College. Class of 1974, Chambers used his time at Trenton State College to fight for what he wanted while obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.
The athlete from Pleasantville, New Jersey knew from 8th grade that he wanted to go to college. Unaware of what college was at the time, his older cousin asked him he if wanted to attend. “Collage? Collage, sure I’d love to go to collage,” Chambers states as he reflects.
Chambers succeeded his way through high school, with the idea of going pro for his athletic abilities. Before graduation, Chambers and 12 other students were selected and applied to many universities. While he did have a skill in sports, Chambers father told him he was going to school for academics. As a First-Generation student, Chambers made it his goal to keep academics at his top priority at whichever college he attended.
Getting offers from many schools like Morgan State and HBCUs with Academic scholarships, Chambers was ready to go to school in Louisiana. Right before the move he received an offer from Trenton State which he accepted.
Throughout Chambers college life he was involved in EOF, the Education Opportunity Fund. EOF began as a small organization and continued to grow while Chambers was at Trenton State. EOF was also known as project CHANCE, Counseling, Help, New College Experience.
“Not only Trenton State College, but most colleges opened their door, the legislature through the powerful leadership of a very good friend of mine initiated a program called EOF, Education Opportunity Fund, at TCNJ it was turned project chance,” Chamber states.
This organization recognized people of color and gave more opportunities to students, while also bringing more people of color to Trenton State.
“In 1968, the first group of students arrived we went from something like 5, 10 students of color to 34. My class was 1969 and we came in with 54. That number rapidly increased from 32 to 54 upward, then the next year we jumped to 108.”
Chambers was also a member of the first black Greek line. President of Omega Psi Phi, the first international fraternity founded on campus of a historically black college. A small community means an even smaller community in the Greek line.
“All of the fraternities and sororities lined up in front of the oval circle in ABE, and it was quite a shock. All these student groups and then you had this small black line. People are looking around saying “what are we doing out here, do we want to do this?”
During Chambers time at Trenton State, he described the first week as tumultuous. There was hostility and racism that did not directly come from students. Not to say that there weren’t any battles with students. Most students were looked down upon and seen as immature, but most BIPOC stood up for themselves. This did not hold Chambers back from receiving and fighting for a high education. He was a fighter, as he had to be to come home with a degree. By 1973, there was solidarity between students because most were facing the same problem- financial aid.
Before the solidarity, Chambers wanted a more welcoming feel at the college, along with other black students. In Spring of 1970 the first “black room” was created. The building and room stood where home and all used to be, which is now the STEM building.
“We made requests initially, and we studied and modeled friendships with people at other institutions. We quickly switched from request to demands. During the spring of 1970 we formulated our demands. In the fall we presented our list of 10 demands, which led us to the formation of our Black Studies department and the black room. We wanted a place where we could go to sort of feel safe and at home. Sure enough, yes- we got our black room.”
Eager to have a place to share, Chambers and others gathered into this room the first day it was built. He is still able to remember the details in the furniture that was placed there.
“Everything in the room was white. When a group of us got there, our first time meeting we were excited. I didn’t particularly care that everything in the room was white, we had furniture. Some students took issue to that. I don’t know all of them, but I do know in retrospect that room and building lasted 2 or 3 days. It burned down, to the ground. Just disappeared. I was dumbfounded.”
The room and the white furniture were gone, but Chambers spirit and fight was not gone. After the fall of the original black room, another was created in the annex of Phelps Hall. That room held the developing of the black student newspaper and magazine. Within the annex was a smaller room painted in black. Students felt at home in the sanctuary built for them after many demands, camping out and meeting in this room within their free time.
Chambers made the next request in hopes of forming Black Studies at Trenton State. The administration was defined as invasive, resentful, and hateful- racist to the bone as Chambers describes them. Sending a request to the President at the time, the President took the demand as a joke. Receiving scoffing from a project the students and faculty have worked so hard on resulted in a hot campus, literally.
“Things were happening, people would walk along the walkway at night and find fires burning, simmering. The fire department got tired. The trucks got tired of coming to the campus.”
In 1970 the request was made, and a committee of faculty and students were created to form and establish the African American Studies Department.
Chambers graduated top 2 students of his class at Trenton State in 1974. “I was top two students leaving The College of New Jersey, given the highest award by the board of trusties. So I kept my word.”
Upon graduating, Chambers still made an impact as an alumnus. As a staff member of Project CHANCE, he gave support to intellectual college students who did poorly in high school. Chambers was also a member of society of Ethnic and Special Studies, along with a Member of Minority Recruitment and Retention Council. In 2006, Chambers received a Metropolitan Trenton African American Chamber of Commerce Executive Award. Coming a long way from seeing tanks used against rioters in the 1967 Newark riots and breaking barriers for students of color at Trenton State, Chambers impact will be admired.
Dorri Scott attended Trenton State College, now known as The College of New Jersey, from 1977 through 1981. Before coming to Trenton State, she attended Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts her freshman year. She felt like the school and city was too big for her so eventually she took a semester off before attending Trenton State. This was the only school she had applied to that was in New Jersey. She did not have a problem with Northeastern, just the simple fact that it was too big for her liking. She had great relations with her professors up there and enjoyed their help and support. She wanted to be in a smaller community and somewhere she would feel more comfortable.
In a recent interview between her and a fellow student, she said, “I wanted to see myself as a big fish, in a small pond versus the opposite” and also, “Although I love the city of Boston, I came from a small town.” She felt like Trenton State College was a great fit for her and made her mark there.
In high school, Scott ran for president of the student government all four years in a row and lost each year. Coming into Trenton State, she had the intention of running for president of student government and also winning which she did her sophomore year. Once becoming president and being known throughout the school and student government, she had gotten many opportunities. She mentioned how she knew the president of Trenton State, which at the time was Clayton Brower which is who Brower Student Center at TCNJ today is named after. Being a part of student government also allowed her to get close to her professors and have outside relations with them. She mentioned how several of her professors attended her wedding including Don Evans, Benny Barnes, and Gloria Dickison. She felt like she had more support than she could ask for from her professors and also the staff and faculty while in student government. She met a total of four United States presidents, including Jimmy Carter and met team leaders and peers at the school. When she was president, most of the board members she was with were black and that showed how Trenton State was diverse and had opportunities for back students.
Diving into her social life at the school, Scott became a member of a black sorority called Delta sigma Theta Inc which was founded in 1913 at Howard University and Founded at Trenton State in 1971. She joined as a graduate. On campus, she had many white friends and expressed how she felt very comfortable around them and had no problem hanging out with them. Others seemed to have had a problem with her actions. For example, she would always wear clogs on her feet and people would make fun of her. “I wasn’t breaking the law, integrity was impeccable, so what are we really talking about here?” she stated in the interview. She was simply unbothered and continued living her college life with her friends. “Most white people hung out with white people, most black people hung out with black people. I hung out with people.” She was comfortable with both races, but she received a lot of hate within the black community there. She never thought about attending an HBCU, but an Ivy League school. Ever since she was in 6th and 7th grade she wanted to attend Harvard University. Also, because she spoke so well and properly, people would tell her she talked like a white girl but she never let that faze her. “Leaders don’t always fit what you think people should do or be” is what she said in response to looking back at people making fun of her.
The black faculty at the school had a big impact on her and how she looked at herself. She took a black women’s literature course and felt like she connected a lot with it and learned more than she already knew. She was also introduced to, now, two of her favorite books, The Bluest Eye byToni Morriso and Her Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. She read them when she was 19 and said, “That was the influence of understanding my blackness.”
As a first generation student in her family, advocate for anti racism and the intersection between mental health and racism, and also advocate for women and students with disabilities, she described herself as “determined and organized”. With Delta Sigma Theta along with outside the organization, she does community work and is into social justice in the community. Her parents were involved in the Civil Rights Movement so when she felt the need to continue on that path and make a difference in the community and carry it on to Trenton State. She had a lot of confidence and did what she had to do to become something she believed in. She always looks at something and says she thinks it through and sees the long term effect to see where she can make a difference.
Some other achievements she had were as followed:
- Owned a magazine
- wrote for the newspaper
- Won a literary magazine award
- Tutor for Project Chance (english and writing)
- Funder and founder of a program called the turning point memorial suffrages
- Helped delta sigma theta raise $200,000 to build a monument for the finding of Delta Sigma Theta (1913) to make sure black women were honored
- Political science major, minored in journalism
Dorri Scott still continues to shine in her own way and continue living up to her goals and achieving them. She has a daughter and a son who she holds to high standards and keeps them in the best hands and gives them the same support she has had throughout her life.