Kathryn Tracy Rizzi: This begins an oral history interview on June 29, 2018 with Deborah Shuford, in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The interviewers are Kate Rizzi ...
Avery Kelley: ... Avery Kelly.
Anthony DelConte: ... Tony DelConte.
KR: Thank you so much for coming back and doing part three of this interview series with us.
Deborah Shuford: Thank you for having me, and it is a beautiful day in the neighborhood here in beautiful New Brunswick, New Jersey.
KR: We left off at the end of part two when you were telling us that you went to Arts High School in Newark.
KR: Why did you go to Arts High School as opposed to Weequahic High School?
DS: I'm glad you asked. [It was] because my two older sisters and my older brother and my younger brother all attended and graduated from Weequahic High School. It's interesting, I saw a movie about Performing Arts High School and I said, "Maybe I should try something different," because, as a child, I would just sit and sketch. I loved to sketch. I would just do a lot of sketching and looking at landscapes and at a fruit bowl on the kitchen table, and I would just sit there and I would get a pencil and paper and sketch. So, I guess it was my eighth grade teacher, James Wolfe, [that] said to me, "Well, where are you planning to go to high school?" I said, "I guess Weequahic," because it's next door to Chancellor Avenue Elementary and Chancellor was actually the feeder school. They were right on Chancellor Avenue, right in the Weequahic section, [in] walking distance. I have to say, it was Mr. James Wolfe, who later became a principal in one of the Newark Public Schools, who said, "Well, you're very talented in art class and I know [that] sometimes you sit and you like to draw when we're taking a break in class. So, there's a high school, it's in the Central Ward, downtown Newark, and it's called Arts Senior High School, but you have to take a test. You have to excel in either art or music," and he said, "I think you should try the art test." So, when it was time to go and get scheduled, I know that Mr. Green, who was the principal at Chancellor Avenue School, [supported the idea]. I think he's probably one of the first African American principals, at Chancellor Avenue School, and his wife, Mrs. Green, was a librarian at Dayton Street Elementary School. Mr. Green and Mr. Wolfe thought it would be a great idea to go over and take the test.
In those days, we would take the city buses. I remember taking, I guess it was the 14 Clinton Place city bus downtown, not realizing that once I'm downtown, on Broad and Market Street, that Arts High was up the hill, on High Street. They changed the name to [Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard in] University Heights, University Avenue, which is right next door, adjacent to St. Benedict's Prep. But to get up the hill, it's a really steep hill, you'd have to go up William Street or go up Market Street. [Since] I didn't know which bus to take, because I went to a school where I walked to school, I just walked up the hill. So, I walked up Market Street and didn't realize you'd have to make a left on High, and I walked and I was like, "Where is this school?" Finally, I get there, and I wasn't on time.
The art teacher came out, and she had like a nice colorful drape and she laid it on a desk [with] a bowl of fruit. It wasn't real. It was like artificial fruit and a cup, a saucer, I remember it well. It was a whole table setting, spoon, knife, fork, and she says, "You have ten minutes to sketch that." So, I take out my pencil. She said, "Not with a pencil. You have to use charcoal." I had never used charcoal, which most artists use. She gave me the paper and the charcoal, and that was ten minutes. So, it was a quick sketch, but I had been sketching for so many years as a youngster, so by the time I'm like thirteen or fourteen, when I was taking this test at thirteen, I pretty much thought it was for fun. I didn't realize that it was really a criterion, part of the admissions process, at the time.
I did that, and then she says, "Well, now you have to do the English and the math test." I knew I wouldn't have any problem there because Mr. Wolfe was an excellent eighth grade teacher. I did very well in math and language, as they called it back then, English language courses. That test was a little longer, it was well over an hour, but I thought it went well. With the English, I think it was more, well, reading comprehension. Basically, you read a paragraph and you analyze the paragraph and you answer the questions. I know Mr. Wolfe said, "Just make sure you answer the questions. Don't try to elaborate. Don't go off on tangents. Just answer the question." He said, "The math will be easy for you because you're really good at math." My father was very good at math, and so the math I knew I could race through. I asked if I could take the math first, so I could get through that quickly, because I knew the English test would take a little more time because you have to write, you're writing and analyzing a paragraph, and paragraph structure was involved and also grammar. So, I saved the best for last, which was the English portion. After that, I kind of just didn't take it seriously, I just said, "Well, if all else fails, I know I'll go to Weequahic because I live in the Weequahic section. I'll just join my two older sisters," because my older brother was five years older and he was already in college at the University of Minnesota.
I waited, and I got a letter. What we did in our family [was that] we'd always sit at the dining room table. When Dad would come home from work and Mom would have the dinner ready, we'd sit at the table and we'd discuss whatever we needed to discuss as a family and always open the mail. The letter arrived, and it said I had been accepted. I was excited. My father was. My mother was, but my older sisters were not, because they wanted me to go to Weequahic with them. They were always very protective [since] I'm the youngest girl. So, I'm number four out of five children. So, I don't think they were too excited about it. They really thought I would join them at Weequahic High.
Once I was accepted, then we had to figure out, "Well, how will you get there?" I would be the first in the family to actually take city buses to school. I mean, you're in high school and you're starting at eight o'clock in the morning, which means I had to get up really early. My father would wake me up early once school started at Arts High. My sisters could just roll out in their pajamas, take a quick shower, and walk five blocks to Weequahic. I, on the other hand, had to get up an extra hour earlier because I chose to go to Arts High.
I was always teased, my sisters would tease me about it, and they recently told me that I said, "Well, if I don't get accepted to Arts High, I'm not going to high school at all." I don't remember saying that, but they said I was sort of the type that [believed that] if I couldn't win, then I just wouldn't do anything. For me, it was winning to be accepted because, at the time, Arts High was a magnet school and the test was really intense. The art test, the math, the English language test, and from what I understand from my classmates, once I was accepted and enrolled, the music test was even worse and I had no idea. My sisters reminded me, years later, that I said, "Well, if I can't go to Arts High, I'm not going anywhere." Once you tell everyone in elementary school, this is K through eighth grade, that you actually went over there to take a test and if you failed, then you're going to be teased by your classmates because this school, at Chancellor Avenue, was K through eight. When I was in eighth grade, that's considered middle school now. We all know in middle school, your friends are your friends and they will tease you. If you fail an exam in class, they'll tease you. If you're not popular, you get teased. In this case, there were students like myself, there were just a handful, [and] we chose to take the test. We were from the Weequahic section. My very good friend Felicia Brown from Chancellor, Felicia was very good in music, and so I knew she would have no trouble, so she was accepted as well. We're friends to this day. Her nephew is actually a graduate from Rutgers. He got, I believe, his undergraduate degree from the School of Social Work here. We hadn't seen each other in years, and at commencement, three years ago, she actually saw me at the football stadium, because I am a Commencement Marshal here.
Going to Arts High was great, once I figured out I had to take two buses. I'd have to get up at the crack of dawn. I realized the first day at Arts High, I was a little nervous because I had to get up, go to the corner of Chancellor Avenue and wait for the first bus, and hopefully, that city bus would be on time. When you're growing up in a city, you don't have the yellow school buses that suburban areas have. At least when my son was in school, in Fairfax County, he had a yellow school bus. You don't need bus tickets or any cash. Well, in the cities, you have to have bus tickets. My dad gave me money to get the bus tickets a month earlier. But I was nervous because this is my first time actually taking a bus by myself. My father had always driven the family everywhere. I'm at the corner, but [for] the first stop, at Chancellor and Schley, I get on by myself. But then when we got to Summit Avenue, right across the street from Chancellor at Weequahic High, Felicia Brown gets on the bus. So, then, I felt like, "Oh, great, I have a friend from elementary school, Felicia." Then, there was another guy, Darrell Robinson, who was great in music, and then Darrell gets on the bus. By the time we get [to] downtown Newark, after travelling through the Weequahic section, it had to be like a twenty minute ride because the buses were stopping at every other street in the Weequahic section. Then, they get to Elizabeth Avenue and cross over to the Central Ward. By the time we got there, Felicia, I believe it was, said, "You know, we can take a bus up the hill, so we don't walk up the hill." So, you get off at Market Street, Broad and Market, it was a central area of downtown Newark. We got off there and I believe it was [the] number twenty-four bus or twenty-five bus. So, you transfer to that bus, takes you up the hill, and once you're up the hill, you've got two or three blocks. You pass St. Benedict's and next to Saint Benedict's was Arts High. The first day, once I was walking in with friends, it was very exciting because everybody there, it was like the movie Fame. In fact, the movie Fame is based on Arts High School. [Editor's Note: The 1980 film Fame chronicles the experiences of teenagers attending the High School of Performing Arts in New York City, which started in 1936 as the High School of Music & Art. Founded in 1931 as the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Art, Arts High School, the first arts high school in the nation, served as the model for New York City's performing and visual arts high school, now known as the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School.]
The Performing Arts School in New York is based on Arts High School. Arts High is [an] art deco building. It was established back in the '30s, and it had this impressive entrance. When you walk in, there was a mural, and it was a mural of art and music. I don't know the name of the artist. I have to find out because the mural is still there, and they've expanded the school recently. They now have a dance program and theatre program, but at the time it was just art and music. This school was very special because the fourth floor was the Fine and Industrial Arts College. There was a college in Arts High, and it closed in the '90s. So, you had students aged fourteen through seventeen, and then you had adults. [On] the fourth floor, the first week, we were told, "You can't go up there because that's the college." We had the basement through the third floor. The reason they didn't want us to go to the fourth floor [was] because they had nude models. [laughter] It was always the goal of students of Arts High to make their way to the fourth floor, before you graduate, so you could see the nude models. For a fourteen-year-old freshman, I was like, "Wow." I remember that was the goal. I never quite made it until my senior year, but the goal was to get to the fourth floor and check out the artists and these were great artists.
What was great about Arts High was that the teachers were working professionals, and they all worked in New York. They had their own galleries. They had their own studios. So, the art program there was fantastic. I mean, these were professional people, not to mention, you had a college on the fourth floor, so you had college students in the same building. [In] the music program, all of the teachers were either musicians [or] composers. Mr. Howard, [who] we lost recently, who passed away, in New Jersey later opened an antique store, but this man had such a [voice], he was a baritone. He had a beautiful voice, and he was a composer. He had a similar voice to our very own Avery Brooks, our professor here at Rutgers. So, Mr. Howard had the same voice as Avery. It was a deep, rich baritone, and he was also a composer, very strict. I wasn't a music major, but I would kind of sometimes go over when I had a break between classes and just listen to his voice and watch him as he conducted the musicians, the students. The students were [great], oh, my God. The whole string section with the violas, the violins, it was like going to New York and just watching a professional orchestra. That's how they were trained. [Editor's Note: Avery Brooks is a singer, actor and Rutgers University professor. He is known for his work in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and American History X. He has been a professor at Rutgers since 1976.]
Then, [with] the chorus, you would hear the Glee Club and the chorus, the voices, the mixture of the voices, not to mention that a lot of those students at Arts High, who were music majors, were from the Newark Boys Chorus, similar to the Harlem Boys Chorus. These guys, later on, would go on to be professionals. Arts High was a training ground to prepare you for college, and it was a college prep program. It was very intense because you had to have four years in music, as well as your college prep courses, or four years of art and your college prep courses. With the art, I had, oh, my goodness, commercial art. I did ceramics, photography. We had an original dark room with a revolving door. We would shoot on film, and we would go in and develop our own film. They were training us, [so] that if you decided not to go to college, you could actually go into music or art in New York. You were well trained to do that because you had professionals who were our teachers. That dark room, they had a revolving door. You'd go inside, and they taught us to mix the chemicals and to actually develop the film. Out of the canister, we had the original Kodak film. You'd pop open the canister, take the film strips out. You would splice it together if you were editing. You were taught to do that, so it was a great training ground.
We were also taught at our desk, with a black bag, I remember it well, to pop the canister of the Kodak film, so that if you were ever on location and needed to develop film somewhere, you had a black bag, so [that] you wouldn't expose the film. We were taught to do that without seeing it. You put your hands in a black bag, you pop the can open, and we were taught to do that too, and it was amazing. I went back years later, when I returned to New Jersey in 2010. The first thing I said to the principal [was], "Can I check out this classroom?" because I believe that's where the dark room was. She said, "It's still there," because they wanted to show it to the students, that this is how you develop film, which is interesting because now I am teaching film courses. When I went on to graduate school, I was able to explain to professors at American University how I started developing film at age fourteen, and they couldn't believe it. But because of Arts High, I had that opportunity that I don't think I would've gotten at Weequahic. Weequahic is a great high school, but they were more college prep and at the time Weequahic was steering students to become doctors, lawyers, dentists.
Arts High was more the movie Fame, performers everywhere. Then, during lunchtime, oh, my goodness, in the auditorium, [it was] so much like that movie Fame. The students, the musicians would come in and, I mean, they would just whip out their violins and the guys with the trumpets and the bass players. They would come into the auditorium, and they would just have a jam session there. This would be during lunch, so it was great. Everybody was so talented there. You see that now because we have Michael B. Jordan, the star of Black Panther and Creed. He graduated from Arts High. You have Tisha Campbell, who starred in the Martin television series and House Party. She's an Arts High graduate. Melba Moore, who starred in the original broadcast of Hair on Broadway, you had all these people. I could see it now; I didn't think of it then. I just said, "These are kids. We're all kids. We're having fun, but everybody has such great talent." [Editor's Note: Born in California, Michael B. Jordan grew up in Newark and graduated from Arts High School. He starred in Creed in 2015 and Black Panther in 2018. Tisha Campbell-Martin is an actress known for roles in films such as House Party film series and the television series Martin. Melba Moore is an actress and singer. Hair is a musical that premiered on Broadway in 1968.]
Also a classmate of mine, Howard Simpson, who is now an artist, working artist, [is] doing very well out in California. He's bicoastal, back and forth, but we see his work and I see his work now and he's a professional artist. He was always very good. He did a self-portrait, like Van Gogh, of himself, which was actually in our yearbook. That's how talented he was at fourteen, and he's still a working artist. Then, [we] had great teachers. Ms. McDuffie was a great art teacher. Michelle Capers Hollar-Gregory was my English teacher. She is now a judge in Newark, and she's also a Rutgers Law graduate, but she was also my first English teacher my freshman year. She was great. She was an undergraduate of Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania, a historically black university. I think that was the first time that I was able to read African American literature, thanks to Judge Hollar-Gregory. She's a judge now. Years later, in 2008, I was in downtown Newark and stopped by when I found out she was there, or one of her clerks found out I was there in the courthouse one day doing some research. She saw my name and said, "That was one of my students. Call her." Before I could get to the parking lot, the clerk said, "Judge Hollar-Gregory wants you to come back to the courthouse. She wants you to come to her chambers." That's the first time I had seen her, yes, that's the first time I had seen her since I graduated and she still looks the same, still a lovely women, very smart, brilliant. She was always brilliant, even as [an] English teacher, but now she's a judge. She said, "We have a connection. You're a graduate of Rutgers and so am I."
It's something about Arts High, the connections that I made and the talent there and the training that I got, not knowing that I was going to go on to graduate school and major in film and video, but I had all the foundation and the basics. I got all of that at Arts High; it's part of my journey. As Felicia Brown, my friend from Chancellor and Arts High, always says, "It's part of the journey." Then, Darrell Robinson, who's still performing in South Jersey as a musician, went on to teach music in the East Orange Public School System, but he's also a professional musician also. Then, Jan Carden, who was one of our teachers there, he's now retired from Arts High, lives in West Orange, but now he's a performer. You always had, at Arts High, this richness of performers, artists, musicians, a lot of talent and a lot of people [who] went on to be actors. There was Darrow Igus, who did the old Car Wash movie. He was in that. There [were] just all these people who would go on to really go into the industry, go into Hollywood. There [were] some who won Tony Awards, Grammy Awards. There's something special about that school. [Editor's Note: Car Wash is a 1976 film.]
They've since expanded. They have a great dance program, a theatre program. I understand that Michael B. Jordan's going to do some things there now that he's a big star. He's doing Creed part two and Black Panther. He was just recently on the BET Awards, which I watched, and he recited one of his famous lines from Black Panther. [On] just the talent, it really makes you proud. When I go on the Facebook page, I had no idea of all the jazz musicians, because back in the day, as I said, in the '50s, the City of Newark, they had Sarah Vaughn, James Moody, all these people right there in the central area where Arts High was. It's just a fascinating high school because the richness. Actually, I would call it STEAM, because you have science, technology, engineering, art, and math all rolled into one, and they were doing this long before it became popular, as we call it now, STEAM is popular. It was just fascinating to go, and the people that I met there, we're still friends today. We're having a big barbeque this summer. So, Arts High is just a special place, still is.
I understand that Tisha Campbell and the actor, Michael B. Jordan, are trying to get together and have a huge reunion of all classes, of all graduates, of Arts High, which will be one big reunion. Arts High, it's a lot smaller than Weequahic. I mean, Weequahic had, oh, God, hundreds. I don't know how many they had at their graduation, probably four times of Arts High. I think at our graduation, we had maybe one hundred graduates. It was a very small school, but then you had the Art College and they had their graduation. Maybe they had half of that, fifty, but I don't think we had more than a hundred graduates in our entire senior class. My son attended Fairfax County Public Schools and graduated from Bowie High School. The high school ceremony, the graduation, was held at the University of Maryland because it was huge. I mean, there were so many students in his graduating class, he doesn't even know them all. I actually know every student that I graduated with, and some we're still in touch [with each other], thanks to Facebook. At the time, because it was a small school, you knew the freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors as well. [Editor's Note: Deborah Shuford's son Miles Quintel Smith graduated from the Rutgers School of Arts and Science in 2014.]
It was so small, and that would never happen at Weequahic because it was huge. But Weequahic was my neighborhood school, so I also had friends from elementary school, from Chancellor Avenue, who were Weequahic students. We're having a big reunion with Chancellor and Weequahic as well this fall, this October. But what I can say about Arts High is, and this is at that time, that they actually prepared you for a career and also for college, if that was your choice. So, you had that option of going on to Hollywood, as we said, or going to New York, going to Broadway, or you could go to college, but you were well prepared. We had the best guidance counselor, and that was Ms. [Judith] Barrett. It was Mrs. Barrett who was instrumental in my coming to Douglass College. She told me, "I have just the school for you," because she knew all the students, because it was such a small high school, and she actually knew what would be a good fit for each student.
Prior coming to Douglass, well, I was in STEAM. I was in art, but I was also in science and technology. At Arts High, they had a great relationship with [the] Stevens Technical Institute in Hoboken, New Jersey, and through the National Science Foundation and Exxon-Mobil, Ms. Barrett was able to secure a program, Stevens Technical Enrichment Program, for several students who were STEAM. They were artists, but they were also good in science and technology, engineering and math. After my junior year, and this I have to give credit to Arts High again, I was able to go to Stevens Tech as a seventeen-year-old rising senior at Arts High, and I spent the summer, before returning to Arts High for my senior year, in Hoboken, New Jersey. [It was] fully funded, the whole summer, tuition, room, board, and all of my math and science courses that I needed for senior year, I was already taught at Stevens Tech, on a college level, and this is before you had AP [advanced placement] courses. The AP courses were actually college courses. When I returned to Arts High my senior year, it was a piece of cake because I had already had all the science and math that I needed for senior year. I had that the summer prior at Stevens Tech, and that prepared me for my application process for the College of Engineering at Rutgers, which I was accepted in right away. I had the courses from Stevens and I had all the college prep from Arts High, and that's all I needed. When I applied to Rutgers, back then, they had the old application; it was Rutgers College, Cook College, Douglass. It was also ...
DS: Livingston College. Ms. Barrett said, "Just check them all off." I checked them all off, and I got accepted to all of them. It was the old way, you just checked off everything, and I decided, "Okay, I'll do that. Ms. Barrett, she's great. She knows her stuff. She's a great guidance counselor." But then she said to me, "But you know, I think Douglass would be the one for you. So, you should go down and take the tour." Again, neighborhood kids, city kids, all met in downtown Newark at Penn Station, and this was our junior year at Arts High and Ms. Barrett was like a coach. She was a guidance counselor, but she was also like an athletic coach because she would coach and guide us. So, she says, "Oh, you've got to get up early Saturday morning [and] you guys could meet downtown." So, we did. I was the only one who got off the bus at Douglass. Everyone else went to Livingston, Rutgers College and Cook. I was the only one from Arts High, in our class, that decided to go to Douglass, and Ms. Barrett said, "That's the one for you. You got accepted to all of them, but that's the perfect fit for you," and she was right. She was absolutely right, when I think about it now. I'm so glad. All the colleges were great, it's one university and they were all great, but there's something special about Douglass, which we'll talk about in a few minutes. She knew that that would be the right fit for me, and she was right about that, right again. So, I had Ms. Barrett at Arts High. I had Michelle Capers Hollar-Gregory, who's now a judge. I had Miss McDuffie. I had Mr. Howard. I had the best teachers, guidance counselors. They were almost like managers, like they were managing our lives at Arts High. They knew what we needed, and they gave it to us. I don't know if I would've gotten that at a larger high school, whether it be at Weequahic or a suburban school or a Catholic school. At one point, my mother was going to send me to Catholic school because my younger brother only attended public school to third grade.
Then, he went on to Blessed Sacrament School, and then he went on to Essex Catholic before completing his final year at Weequahic, because he really wanted to go to Weequahic. [Since] he was ten years younger and he was alone in the home, my mother thought it would be better for him to go to Catholic school from third grade through twelfth. But by the time he entered his senior year, he wanted to go to Weequahic because that was the family tradition, except for me, and they would tease me about that forever.
[At] Arts High, to me, I felt like I had men and women who were working professionals, who were parents, who were part of the community, and they knew what we would need later on in life and they were preparing us for life. That's what Arts High did. It prepared us for life and it prepared us to succeed, and failure was not an option at Arts High. Everybody was doing well. The option was [that] you go into the military or you go to college or you go into the music industry or you become an actor, and everyone did well. Those were your options, and you had people there who managed your careers. They were your teachers, but they were also your managers and they were great managers. Even today, we're still in touch with [some of] them, and they return to reunions and we're going to have a big barbeque this summer because what they did for us. I don't think we would be where we are today without the kind of teachers that we had at Arts High. That's a public school system and a great magnet school. I know Michelle Obama mentions her school in the South Side of Chicago. She went to magnet schools as well. [Editor's Note: Michelle Obama served as the First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. Growing up in Chicago, Obama attended Whitney Young High School, which was a magnet high school with selective enrollment.]
[There is] something about those magnet schools. I know people today have discussions about charters schools and public schools. We didn't have charter schools at that time. We were still in the public school system, but they were special schools and if you were lucky enough to find one and get accepted to one, you knew that you were going to go on to do great things. That's something that Arts High was so great at doing. They're still doing it to this day, because look at Michael B. Jordan, years later after I graduated, and he goes right from Arts High right into acting. The story is he would just leave Arts High as I did, go down the hill or take the bus, he probably walked--he's in great shape--go down to Penn Station and go over to New York and go on auditions. I mean, they're still training students that, "You can do this, you can be a great actor," and he's given back. He has special screening of Creed and Black Panther in the City of Newark for the Newark Public School Systems, so the students could see that if he could do it, anyone can do it. That's important, and that's what we saw. Then, we have the college students on the fourth floor, and they went on to have studios and galleries in New York. They were talented, and we learned from them as well.
Finally, my senior year, I made it up to the fourth floor, and I think I saw the back of a nude model, just the back. Then, I ran because I didn't want to get caught. I said, "If I got caught, I'm going to get expelled, I can't go to college. I can't go to Douglass." So, I, finally, my senior year, made it. I don't know if that was a rites of passage, or whatever you want to call it, but I did make it up to the fourth floor and I saw the back of a nude model. She was covered because there was a drape behind her, kind of on her lower back. Afterwards, once we were graduating, some of the students, the college students in the art college, would show us some of their work and they were so good. They were really [talented] and they went on to become artists in New York, and some went over to Paris. But the sad part about that is that later, I didn't know what happened, [the] arts college closed in the early '90s, I was told. At the time, I was living in Fairfax County, Virginia. I think maybe it was between '94 and '96 [when] I was told that they closed, but it's a shame because it was such a good school. What would've been nice is to have students from Arts High go, and some did, on to college on the fourth floor and continue their coursework there.
I don't know if it was a budget problem. I don't know if it was something that the Newark Public School System decided to do, but I know that we were able to be there and to have the best of both worlds. We were in the high school within a college or a college within a high school, and it was a wonderful experience. We didn't realize then because we were having so much fun. We were in an art deco building with artists and it was a professional atmosphere, even though we were kids. We were in a very professional atmosphere with professional people, working professionals, college students. So, for a public education, I think we got all that we needed and it was a richness that I can't even describe. Even to this day, I'm like, "Wow, I was really lucky to get into a school like that." The resources were just normal resources, but you had the talent and a lot of those teachers went on to do other things as well. We were so lucky to have them because if we had to pay for that kind of education, it would cost a lot of money, a great deal of money to have that kind of education with those types of people. That would be, I would say, on par of going to a private college today. Those were the type of teachers we had. The math teachers, Mr. Dessasau, wow, I mean, the trigonometry and the calculus, the kind of math that they taught. These were brilliant men. Mr. (Gentile?), oh, my goodness, and I still remember their names. They also prepared us to drive. We had a driving teacher, and we learned to drive as well.
KR: Did you take calculus at that time?
DS: I did. I had calculus. I had trigonometry. Actually, when I think about it, I must have had five years of math in four years. That's a great question. Now, that I think about it, yes, I did. I had "Algebra I," "Algebra II," "Geometry," "Trigonometry," "Pre-Calculus," and "Calculus," all in four years. I don't know how they were able to structure the curriculum the way they did. Again, it was STEAM. You had science, technology, engineering and math all in four years and that's a lot. We did not go in the summer. The only summer session I ever attended was at Stevens Tech--and NJIT. After sophomore year, I remember Ms. Barrett, again, the guidance counselor, sent us right down the street to [the] New Jersey Institute of Technology, which was right across the street from Rutgers, and I didn't realize [that] Rutgers-Newark is right there. I know [that] after my sophomore year, I went there for math and sciences courses at NJIT. We didn't stay on campus then, because you had to be a little older. So, after junior year, I went to Stevens Tech [and] all the math and science that I got made it possible for me to take the SAT one time. [laughter] We were trained and that was our prep course, going to New Jersey Institute of Technology and Stevens Technical Institute in Hoboken. Once you had math and science there and then you sit down at Barringer High School [for the SAT, you were prepared].
I remember it well. We had our SAT at Barringer, and my dad gave me a bunch of Life Savers so I could stay awake. It was early in the morning. I said, "Are you going to come back and pick me up?" He said, "No, I'll just take a nap in the car." My father sat in the car, and I said, "Boy, I'm going to have to get through this test quickly because Dad is going to be tired." But I had my Life Savers, popping them in my mouth, and I brought Life Savers for us here today because it reminds me of that. I went through that test so quickly, and I didn't realize, again, Arts High, they sent me to Stevens Tech and NJIT long before I took the PSAT. That's another thing. We all had the PSAT right after our sophomore year and we all passed. I mean, [it was] because we were so well prepared, thanks to our guidance department at Arts High and Mr. [Hilton] Otero, [who] we just lost a few weeks ago, [who] was our principal. He retired and he lived in East Hanover, New Jersey and just passed away a few weeks ago. [He was] the best principal in the world because he knew how to recruit the best teachers, so we had the best faculty there and staff. It was just wonderful. To prepare us for the pre-SAT and the SAT--and this is long before the popular prep courses that you pay for now. It was all free, at least it was for us. We were well prepared. It was up to the individual student, "What do you want to do? Do you want to go into the military? Do you want to go to college? Do you want to go to Hollywood? Do you want to go to Broadway? Do you want to go to SOHO to the studios and art galleries?" Whatever you wanted to do at Arts High, they prepared you and they supported you, in more ways than one. Like I said, they were like coaches and managers, in addition to being our teachers. It was probably the best high school for me. I don't think I could've gotten a better education anywhere else, not in the suburbs, not at a parochial or a Catholic school or private school. I think that's all part of my journey as well, and then they brought me here. They brought me to Douglass College. I think it was all part of my journey; it's part of that journey. It's just wonderful.
KR: You were at Arts High from 1974 to 1977.
DS: '77 to '81.
DS: I'm sorry. '77 to '81, I was at Douglass. Arts High would be '73 to '77.
KR: I am wondering ...
DS: '73, four years, to '77.
KR: I am wondering what the climate was like at Arts High in terms of social activism.
DS: Oh, my goodness, I forgot about that. You always had the group of students who were the real social activists, who try to pull you in, who, instead of going to class, have an excuse that they have to go protest somewhere. We had that group, but they were really a progressive group. Those students weren't just protesting in New Jersey. They were going over to New York. I don't know. They would always find a cause. They were activists and they were very smart, and they never got arrested or anything like that. So, we did have those activists, and because you had the artists, you had, back then, people who were into green space. They were into clean air, clean water, and so we had that group too. You always had certain groups, and they would sit in a certain section of the auditorium during the lunch break. You'd have the activists making their signs and they were artists, so they could make the best signs in the world. They were in their corner of the auditorium. Then, you'd have the other people who were going to clean up the city, and they wanted to have more green spaces, which we have now. You have that now with New Jersey Tree Foundation and programs like that. Well, they were doing that back then, and that's '74, '75, '76, and '77. So, you had students doing that, at that time, and then the activists that were going to New York and they were real social activists.
You're talking about the '70s, so some of them were active with the Black Panthers. That's what they were doing. They were doing things with the Panthers at different locations, and when the Panthers started to kind of--not fade into the fabric of life--but sort of not be as prominent, still you had students who would continue the cause of the breakfast program. These students would go to the elementary schools in Newark, and they would just do community work within the community and they were still students. They were fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen-year-old students, and they would go into their community and do things and volunteer, teach the kids to read. They were working with them on phonics before you had the Hooked on Phonics; they were actually doing things like that. Reading programs, breakfast programs, and this is some of the things that they learned from the Black Panthers, because that's something that the Black Panthers started that most people don't realize. You hear a lot of negative things, but there were a lot of positive things, like the school breakfast programs, the pre-school programs, the after-school programs, working with young kids and volunteering to work with them, which our students at Rutgers do. They do that in New Brunswick.
Well, these are some of the things that they were doing at Arts High, and they were doing it at the local elementary schools. At the time, they had kindergarten through eighth grade elementary schools, and then they had what they called then junior high schools, which were our middle schools, so they had a few of them. There was Broadway Junior High, Clinton Place Junior High, but mostly you had the kindergarten through eighth grade. Students from Arts High would go to the local elementary schools, and they would work with the younger kids too. They were actually teaching them math and science, so they were doing that to prepare them for high school. So, that was another thing. I know in the City of Newark, they would say, "Oh, you go to Arts High, you guys are so flighty. The creative people, the flighty people, you belong in California." They would make jokes about it, because these were students who came from all over the city.
We were told that some of the other students, who were from the suburbs, would actually come to Arts High because they wanted that richness and they wanted the art and music program. So, there were suburban students there as well, not just city kids. I don't know how they did it. I don't know if they used someone else's address or if their parents just paid the city a tuition to attend, but we also had them there, suburban kids coming there, I think, probably, because we also had the art college and their parents were aware of it. So, if their kids could not find that in suburban schools, because there was nothing like Arts High in the suburbs, they would actually come there too as well. So, it was considered a very creative school with a bunch of weird kids. [laughter] That's what the city kids would say. That's what the kids in Newark would say, Camden, Trenton, "Oh, yes, that's Arts High School, they've got all those nerdy [kids]." They were nerdy kids, they were weird kids, creative kids, so that was the reputation of students at Arts High, but they were all going to go on and succeed and everyone knew that. Suburban kids knew that, the city kids from Paterson and Trenton and Camden, they knew that as well. So, Arts High, at the time, the '70s as you said, just had the best reputation, the best ever.
KR: I am wondering if you applied to other colleges, outside of Rutgers.
DS: It is interesting, I know I thought about Howard because it was an HBCU and there were some Arts High students [that applied there]. My friend Martin Jenkins, who went on to major in chemistry, was one of the nerdy students at Arts High, brilliant in chemistry, always. Ms. Venskus always called on him because Mr. Yablick and Ms. Venskus were our science teachers, because Martin Jenkins was always so smart. Martin Jenkins went on to work for the Drug Enforcement Agency as a chemist; he later worked for the federal government. He applied to Howard, and he's a good friend of mine. He still lives in the Washington Metro area. He said, "You should try Howard," and I said, "No, Ms. Barrett said ..." It's funny, because I didn't bother to ask my mom and dad; I just trusted Ms. Barrett so much because she was a guidance counselor. I said, "She said I should go apply to Rutgers." So, then, one of my friends said, "Well, I'm going to," I think she was going to apply to Florida A&M. I said, and this is so weird, "Maybe I should apply to a school in Florida." I didn't know anything about schools in Florida, so what did I do? I applied to the University of Florida. That was the only other university, and I was accepted. The reason I didn't go is because I didn't know anyone in Florida, and I was a bit sheltered, because I had two older sisters. By the time I graduated, Sandy, she was at Morgan State in Maryland, Trisha was at Boston University, and then Billy, who was five years older, already had his life in the University of Minnesota, graduated, and was living there.
Everyone went out of state, and I kind of felt like I didn't want to leave my parents and then my younger brother, who was ten years younger. I kind of felt like I needed to be near my parents and near my younger brother. In fact, when I was a student here at Douglass College, I brought my younger brother to visit. I was eighteen. I was on campus and I brought him, and the guys at Cook, they just loved my younger brother Jarrod. They had Jarrod go with them to the gym and [took] him out to the baseball field and the basketball courts. He loved that because he was eight and I was eighteen. It was just very special.
So, the University of Florida, and now I understand [that] they have a great journalism program, I just chose it because there were some students, classmates, who were choosing [it]. You always have to have that safe school, but I didn't think of it in terms of being a safe school. I just said, "Maybe I should apply to another school," and I had a couple of friends going to Florida and of course a number of students were going to the HBCUs, Lincoln University, Morgan State, Howard, even Tuskegee, in Alabama, where my family is from. My mom spent time there in the 4-H Club at Tuskegee. Alabama State [is] where all my cousins attended, even my aunts. They all went to Alabama State, and so my relatives were like, "Why don't you come to Alabama State? You've got family here and you wouldn't have to worry about anything. You'd always have a home-cooked meal. You could go to church every Sunday." My grandparents were there, but I just said, "Okay."
Well, I had a friend who applied in Florida, and back then, we didn't have the Internet as we have today. I had to go and do some research, go to the library, and look up the University of Florida. I was just looking up schools in Florida, and I chose the biggest one. It was Gainesville, and it was a long application. I mean, back then, you had these paper applications that were endless. I'd take it home, and I put it on the dining room table and I'm like, "Oh, my God, this is going to be hours." I completed it. Then, I went to the post office [in] downtown Newark, the main post office, so I could get it stamped and [be] on time, and I was accepted. Again, Ms. Barrett said, "I don't know," she said to me, "I think Douglass, that's the place for you," and she was right. I had no regrets, but I just chose that because they said, "You're putting all your stock into one university, Rutgers, and you've been here your whole life." This is what my friends were saying, [along with], "You should go out of state." I'm so glad [that] I did not listen to my friends and that I listened to Mrs. Barrett, my guidance counselor, and it worked out for me.
It was just the perfect fit, and if I had it to do over again, I would go to Arts High and I would come to Rutgers and I would just do everything the way I did it, because I came in fully prepared thanks to Arts High, Stevens Tech, NJIT, Mrs. Barrett, Judge Hollar-Gregory, Ms. McDuffie, Mr. Howard, Mr. Carden, Ms. (Levinson?), who taught us theatre. I remember all their names and then my second grade teacher, at Chancellor Elementary, Mrs. Rivers. My eighth grade teacher, Mr. James Wolfe. I mean, it's amazing how you remember the names of these people, because you know that these people put you on the path of success to where you are today, just great teachers. It's something to be said when you have great teachers, and I know sometimes people say, "You're in an inner city and you're not going to get the best," but I had the best teachers. I don't think I would have had that group, and it takes a village and that was my village. They were coming from everywhere to work with us at Chancellor, at Weequahic, at Arts High. I mean, there's no way that we could have had that type of education anywhere else. I don't know if you can get that anywhere else. I don't know if you can get that in another state.
I love my family in Alabama, but the diversity and the richness that I obtained in New Jersey, in the City of Newark, I never would have gotten that in Alabama. It would have been more of a southern kind of education, and so it would've been, to me, limited. I mean, part of our education was actually going into New York. We would go on the PATH train and go down on to SoHo and to the galleries. We had teachers that would take us into New York when we were just high school students, we weren't even college yet, because that was part of the education and they understood that. Ms. Hansen, I forgot Ms. Hansen, Ms. Hansen was the best art teacher, she lived in New York, and when we were talking about careers with her, at one point, I said, "Ms. Hansen, do you think you're going to be a rich artist?" [As] kids, we always say things we shouldn't. She said, "Well, I hope so, but I'm not going to work for it." [laughter] I still remember that to this day, Ms. Hansen. She had to be all of five feet one or something, a little, petite lady but a great artist. She said, "Yes, maybe I'll be a rich artist. Maybe I'll be a poor artist," but she said, "I'll tell you one thing, I'm not going to work for it." [laughter] She said, "I like what I do. I like teaching. I like having my studios," and I wish I could find her today. I bet she's still in New York doing great work, brilliant artist. But we had the type of teachers that were so much fun, and they made it fun. They made our education fun and maybe that's why we learned the way we did, because they were creative and it was a great experience.
Arts High, I forgot to mention, have a great alumni day, which I don't know if many high schools have that, maybe so. They would bring back people who were in Hollywood and on Broadway who had awards, Emmys, Tonys, Grammys, Academy Awards. They would come back to Arts High on alumni day, that's every year in December, and I'm going to try to go this year myself. They would come back and talk to us as well. So, you get to see people who were doing well, who, at one point, were sitting at the same desk that you were occupying. That was another thing they did that I thought was great. [They] ended up taking us to New York because to take the PATH train back then had to be, what, thirty cents. It was very cheap. So, you [would] walk down the hill, if you want to save your bus tickets, get on the PATH train and go into New York. We were going into the theatre. We were going to the galleries, the museums, and, again, as an art major, we went to all the museums in New York, all of them. That was part of our education, long before I attended college. The kind of high school education we had was a very rich high school education at Arts High.
I think it's because we had Mr. Otero, and he had that curriculum [that] was very structured. He made it possible to have STEAM at a time when STEAM wasn't even popular. He knew, he had the foresight to understand that you need more than just college prep. He understood that you would need a richness; you needed art, you needed music, you needed college prep and you [needed] the understanding of practical experience, and [a] part of that curriculum, in practical experience, was to take us into New York. I mean, when you're taking the PATH train for thirty cents, cheaper than some of the city buses, and you're crossing the Hudson River, and you're going into the World Trade Center, and you're going into SOHO, and you're going to galleries, and you're going to the museums. You're going to the Metropolitan Opera. I mean, the music students were going over to the opera. We could never have done that if we had been in other parts of the country, in Idaho, Montana, because you wouldn't have the money to travel, and you wouldn't have the money for hotels and meals. All we had to do is go down High Street, down Market Street, and go right to the train station and just take the PATH. The PATH was the cheapest way to go. You would take the PATH train, and that would take you down to 33rd Street and you'd walk ten blocks or more and go down to [Greenwich] Village. We would go into the Village, places like that. We always had chaperones, but we could never have had that type of education anywhere else. That's why I think Arts High was and still is a very special place.
I think that that's something that students here at Rutgers appreciate as well because of New Brunswick. You could take the train into Manhattan. That's part of your education. Even as a college student at Douglass, I had a theatre appreciation course and it was so funny because I can't remember the professor's name. I think he retired, but I remember, at one point, we had to go into New York to a play [performed by] off-off Broadway. I kid you not, I think this play was going to close, but I remember, because the whole class from Rutgers was there, [that] the next day, the write up was in The New York Times [saying], "[The] play was sold out. Great play." I remember the professor saying, "Yes, because you had the Rutgers University students there." So, actually, in this off-off Broadway play, we occupied all the seats. We bought all the tickets. It was part of our curriculum at Rutgers and it helped this play. So, you just never know.
Again, staying here in New Jersey, starting with Chancellor, going to Chancellor Elementary, to Arts High, Arts High to Douglass, I mean, it was the best thing for me. Then, going from Douglass [in] my junior year [to] my internship in New York, [I] could never had done that if I were in Alabama. I love my family in Alabama. I think it was great to spend my summer's there, but it was great to have my education in New Jersey. Yes, I still feel that way.
KR: What did you do the summer before coming to Douglass?
DS: Oh, the summer before coming to Douglass, and even on Saturdays, I was at Stevens Tech.
DS: Stevens Tech in Hoboken.
KR: So, that was the summer before college.
DS: That was the summer before college. Yes, Stevens Tech. What's interesting, I'm glad you mentioned that about Stevens Tech, is [that] during the academic year, we had to go on Saturdays. Exxon-Mobil paid for everything. I mean, we had a stipend, and I think, back then, they gave us, it had to be like fifteen dollars a week, which was a lot because, I mean, the PATH train to go to Hoboken couldn't be more than thirty cents, forty cents, or something. The rest, you could save it for college, which I did. When they would give it to us, Exxon-Mobil, I only needed transportation and lunch money. Actually, [I] didn't need lunch money because at Stevens Tech, Exxon Mobil even paid for the lunch.
On Saturday morning, that was something Ms. Barrett at Arts High secured as well, because you're city kids and our families all worked, but no one was rich. We didn't have a silver spoon. The Saturdays, we would go there, and then the summer before we all went our separate ways to college, we went back to Stevens Tech the summer before. We went there and had the summer enrichment programs. In other words, at most universities, when you have the EOF [Educational Opportunity Fund] program--I wasn't an EOF student at Rutgers--because I was at Stevens before coming to Rutgers, so I kind of thought I'd missed out, because when I arrived here, there were students in the EOF program here, who were friends of mine from the City of Newark. [I] don't remember any from Arts High but [others] from other [schools], like Weequahic, Malcolm X Shabazz, which was formerly South Side, East Side, [and] Barringer were part of the EOF program at Rutgers. So, they were here. They arrived before I did, because I was at Stevens in Hoboken. But at Stevens Tech, they knew that I was coming here and that I would major in engineering. So, that's why Ms. Barrett sent me to Stevens; she knew that I would come here and be well prepared for the engineering program.
I actually started in engineering, as a Douglass student. This is long before the program that we have now at Douglass with Douglass women, who are now majoring in engineering. They live on Busch campus, [and] they have the special housing there, which is great because when you're in engineering here, you actually have all your courses over at Busch. All the engineering courses for me were at Busch.
The summer before, I was at Hoboken, which I loved, because they had Fleet Week. So, I had all this education, but then I got to do all these cool, fun, things. You were at Stevens and you're overlooking the Hudson River and you see the ships just sailing down the Hudson. At Stevens, you just get on the PATH train and go in to New York, and Exxon gave us a stipend, so you have all this extra money. I was able to go in to New York and go into the galleries and go to the museums. I spent my summers doing that. Again, at Stevens, they would take us to New York as well, for art and music and culture. The summer before, I was in Hoboken. Then, my mom and dad, when they brought me here, picked me up from Stevens. Everything was packed there, so it was easy just to put back in the car and then come to Douglass.
Coming to Douglass was very special because you had this empowerment of women, and then we had this dean who was doing cancer research, Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb, who we lost January 2017. Dr. Cobb was a brilliant scientist, and everyone at Stevens knew about her. I think everyone knew about her in the tristate, especially in New York because she had spent time there, I think, working and teaching there as well. When I told the professors at Stevens I was going to Douglass, they're like, "You're going to Douglass," because Douglass had such a stellar reputation and they said, "Oh, Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb is there." They said, "How lucky are you. You're very lucky and it's a great work and a great choice." They were right, they were right. Yes, I was at Stevens, but they knew I was coming to Douglass, and they thought it was great. They thought it was an absolute great choice, and they said, "Well, you know, if you ever think about graduate school, we'll be here," and they are. They're still there. They thought it was wonderful that I was going to Douglass. [Editor's Note: Jewel Plummer Cobb (1924-2017), a biologist and cancer researcher, served as the dean of Douglass College from 1976 to 1979.]
Again, at Stevens, with a group of New York metro students from--well, there weren't many students at Stevens from Connecticut, they were mostly New York and New Jersey, urban students, because it was an urban engineering program. At Stevens Tech, I was the only one that summer that was going to Douglass, but many students were going to Cook and Livingston and Rutgers College. They were going everywhere. A lot of students were also going to NYU [New York University] and Columbia, and they were going into the City University of New York system and the state schools of New York as well. We were great friends and we started with a summer enrichment program. My summer enrichment program was at Stevens. It wasn't here with EOF, because I wasn't an EOF student.
I kind of felt like I missed out because I met so many great friends in the EOF program [that] I wanted to be in the EOF program, but I was not. Yes, I still feel like I missed out. They had a lot of fun. I think they have more fun in the EOF program than we did at Stevens because Stevens was really intense. I think [that in order] to break that down and to give us a breather and a break, they would take us into New York to a play or to a museum, because we were doing so much math and science. It was incredible, yes.
KR: Please tell us about moving into Douglass and freshman orientation.
DS: Oh, my God, that was so special. I still remember it. In fact, I do the move-in day now with Dean [Jacquelyn] Litt, I volunteer. First of all, I have to say, I had stuff already packed; I understand why it was taking my mom so long. I kind of think now, maybe my mother--well, she told me years later, "One by one, all my children were leaving going on to college." My parents didn't go to college. My father was so excited, but [for] my mother, I think there was a sadness when everyone left. First, Billy left and went to [the] University of Minnesota. Two years later, Trisha went to Boston University. Then, a year later, Sandy went to Morgan State in Maryland. I think I kind of felt guilty and maybe that's why I didn't go to the University of Florida, maybe that's why, but I remember [that] she was taking so long to get herself ready and prepared to get in the car and just drive on the Turnpike from Exit 14 to Exit 9. I couldn't understand it. I said, "I'm going to be late. I'm going to be late." I arrived on campus, and all the girls were already in the chapel. I kind of just threw the stuff in the room and ran over to the chapel, because we had a chapel service with the dean then.
But I kind of felt like I missed the actual move-in with everyone else in the big dorms, because I was in Nicholas [Hall]. There's like a horseshoe, and all the cars were there and all the parents are parked there. My parents stayed with the stuff because what they do today, and they did it back then, is that the parents can stay and they have other activities with the parents, but then they want the students to start getting acclimated and to come together in the chapel service. I go in there, and I kind of missed out on meeting my roommates. I didn't know who my roommates were because they were all in the chapel. I go there--move-in day was very special--and after the chapel service, I think we went back to our rooms before going for lunch. Back then, you had to sign in [to] the big dorms. You didn't just swipe in. They had people at the desk because, at that time, it wasn't coed. The housing was not coed at Douglass, but right next door is Cook, so you had all the men over there.
I know when I checked in, they said, "Oh, here's your key." I went up to--it was the F-wing, and I'm looking for a room, like two beds in the room, and then [I was told], "No, you're in here." It was a study because, oh, my goodness, there wasn't enough housing. We still have, I guess, a housing crunch on campus. I go into this study, and it's a room with a galley kitchen, because it's a study room. It's like a common area, but there are like four beds. I'm looking at Avery, and Avery's like, "What?" [Editor's Note: Deborah Shuford directs this at the interviewer Avery Kelley, who is an alumna of Douglass Residential College and the School of Arts and Sciences, Class of 2019.] There are three women in this room, and I'm like, "Oh, great, I thought I was going to have my own room. I shared a room with my two older sisters all my life." [After] eighteen years, I finally think I'm going to get my own room, and I come in and I've got not just two but three. [laughter] It was Tracey, [Linda] Tracey Ross, who later became an actress. She's still an actress. Tracey was from Englewood, and we're still great friends. Sharri Timmons, and Sharri is from Mount Vernon. She actually grew up in a neighborhood with Denzel Washington's family. Dave Washington was a student at Cook, right next door. At the time, we didn't know if Denzel was going to be a great actor. So, [there was] Sharri Timmons, who had her own room in Mount Vernon, New York, and Tracey Ross, who had a sister, so she shared a room. Then, there was Celeste Youngblood. Celeste, she had been married and divorced, young woman, beautiful woman, and I'm trying to think of what actress she reminds me of because I used to tell her, "You remind me of an actress." Anyway, [with] Celeste, [it's funny] because she had been married, and here she is sharing a room with three women. That was our room. It turns out that we became sisters in a short span of time. [Editor's Note: Denzel Washington is an actor, director and producer who was born in Mount Vernon, New York in 1954.]
Now, I remember the first day, once I walked in, well, of course they had the best beds already, because I was late. So, they said, "That one's yours." I'm like, "Oh, great, here I am now. I thought I was going to have my own room. Now, I've got three other women in here." But then we went to lunch and I'm like, "You know, these ladies are really cool." Celeste was from Bergen County. So, she and Tracey were from Bergen County, I don't remember which town, but Celeste was from Bergen County, Tracey was from Englewood, and Sharri was from Mount Vernon. Sharri said [something], and I'll never forget [it]. We felt, "Well, you know, the four of us, we're in this together. This is going to be great. We can share and share alike." So, Sharri says to us, "Well, you know, I'm not into communal living." [laughter] We're like, "Oh, she's going to be a piece of work." [laughter] Then, because Tracey's mother was an executive assistant and her father owned a store in Harlem, they were working-class people. I came from a working-class family, so does Celeste. Sharri's mother was an educator, who would later became a principal in Brooklyn, so Sharri, she was the only girl [in her family] and she was spoiled and she didn't want to share anything. We were talking about pulling our nickels and quarters together when we [were] just making plans to do laundry together, buying the laundry detergent, and she didn't want to share any of it. So, it's [like], "Oh, she's going to be a piece of work." Then, Tracey worked on her that day and then Sharri became more comfortable, but initially, she was kind of standoffish.
It turns out that Celeste--what was interesting about Celeste--Celeste probably said, "Oh, my God, I'm in this room with these three black girls." Celeste [was] the only Caucasian in the room. In her town, I don't know how many African Americans or Latinos or Asians were there, but, I mean, Celeste, she's in a room with three black girls. [laughter] But then, when we went to lunch, we realized [that] we're all here to get an education, and it was Sharri who was the one who would stand off, not Celeste. Celeste was with us, because even though we're of different races, we had more in common with Celeste than we did with Sharri. Our families were working class. Sharri was middle class, and we weren't. So, I guess Celeste said, "You know I have more in common with you than I do with some of the other girls down the hall." Then, there were girls there who were from pretty affluent communities, Madison and Chatham, New Jersey. They were from Morris County, so Celeste had nothing in common with them. So, when you're eating in the dining hall, you realize it's not about race at all. It's about shared experiences.
Once we started talking, Celeste told us about her marriage and that she had been divorced and that she had this really good-looking boyfriend, who would come and visit. He was a mechanic and he was in great shape, and he said, "If you girls ever get a car, I'll take care of you and I'll fix your car." So, we have more in common with her, whereas Sharri's mother was an educator and Sharri 's father was an actor and then he went into the ministry. So, Sharri, initially, was standoffish. In that wing, the F-wing, you meet so many different people from everywhere, once you're at Douglass. After the chapel service and then the activities in the evening, you get to know each other. They had these little games that we would play in the lounges, so you'd get to know people. Then, we realized [that] we're looking at four years here, we might as well go along and get along. I think Sharri, because Sharri transferred in, was a year older. Celeste was older because she had been married. Sharri transferred from a community college, so she came in from Westchester Community College. She was from Westchester, New York. Sharri had this air about her [like], "I'm from Westchester. You're from the city." She always said, "I'm from Westchester," I remember that. The evening activities at Douglass, what they did--and they did it very well--was they would do these--did you do this, Avery, where after the chapel service, after lunch, you would do things in the dorm to get to know people?
AK: In the lounge, we would have nights where we we'd play games.
DS: In the lounge.
AK: We would have educational programs.
AK: There was a sex ed thing too.
DS: Yes, sex ed.
DS: We had that "Biology of Sex" course. [laughter] First of all, you had your schedule; you knew your schedule. The interest was in "Biology of Sex." I don't know why, but [for] most of the girls, that was the course that everyone said they couldn't wait to take. They were looking forward to [laughter] the "Biology of Sex" course. Is that right, Avery?
AK: Everything else was empty.
AK: When I came down to the sex one ...
AK: ... Everybody showed up and there were free condoms that disappeared immediately.
DS: Wow. Now, that's interesting because they didn't give us free condoms at all. The girls were talking about our schedules and everyone had this [course], I remember the conversation was about this course, "Biology of Sex." [It] turns out that [that] was a great course with a scientist, Dr. Francine Esien, an African American woman. I think she was the only African American women in the Biology Department. It turns out her assistant, that I met that day, was Dr. Fred Tyson. We just called him Tyson. He was a Weequahic [graduate] and he was my brother's best friend. I'm like, "What are you doing here?" He said, "I'm in [graduate] school." Remember, my brother was five years older. So, when I arrived at Douglass, Dr. Fred Tyson was there and he said, "You know, I'm Dr. Esien's assistant." I'm like, "Oh, great, I'm taking 'Biology of Sex' with my brother's best friend." [laughter] Dr. Fred Tyson, I'm like, "Oh, no, I can't take this class if he's going to be the TA. He knows my brother." They went to high school together. They're both Weequahic graduates. They were athletes. They were teammates, best friends. Even when my brother was sick, Fred Tyson, Dr. Tyson, went out to Minnesota to visit my brother because they were lifelong friends, from the Weequahic section. But when I saw Fred Tyson, we always called him Tyson the athlete, I'm like, "There is no way I can take this class. You're the TA for my 'Biology of Sex' teacher and you're my brother's best friend." So, that was a shock for me. But they didn't give out any condoms. What they did was they told us that we all had to make an appointment to go to Willets Health Center, which I think they moved over to College Avenue now. I don't know, did you guys have Willets Health Center? It's right there in Jameson, yes.
AK: They moved into a different part of Douglass.
DS: Okay, okay.
AK: In a new building.
AK: I forgot what building. It's near Nicholas. [Editor's Note: The Cook/Douglass Health Center is located at 61 Dudley Road.]
DS: Oh, near Nicholas, okay.
DS: Okay, Nicholas, because that's where I lived my first semester, in Nicholas. You were saying, "What did we do?" We had the activities similar to what Avery had. We had a move-in day. Avery, you had a move-in day. I'm a volunteer for move-in day. So, I know we're celebrating the centennial of Douglass this year, 2018, which we kicked off last September with Dr. Robert Barchi. A lot of the traditions at Douglass, we're still doing today, and so it's refreshing and fun to hear Avery share her experiences at Douglass, and [compared to] my experiences, they're still the same. A hundred years, we're still doing fun activities. We didn't have condoms though. [laughter] That just shows you times have changed and to be more healthy and aware. What else did you do besides get that goody bag?
AK: Well, we did have the event at the chapel where the dean spoke.
DS: We had that event, too.
AK: It was pretty fun, and after there was a little barbeque.
DS: Yes, the barbeque. I forgot, thank you, Avery. The food was really good. It was very good. That was a great social hour too, and that's when, I think, Sharri kind of loosened up a bit. I guess she realized, "Look, not only are you going to sleep in the same room with us, but you will eat with us, share a meal with us, and you'll have fun." So, she's [started] to loosen up a little bit, at the barbeque she did, and she started to kind of enjoy herself a lot more. I think that the barbeque [was] another way of getting women to socialize, I think, and to meet women that you'll attend class with, that you'll actually go to the dining halls with, maybe even go to some of the social activities, the parties with. It was kind of like a get-to-know-you day, without our parents, which I thought was a great idea. For many of the girls, including myself--and I had two older sisters, an older brother and a younger brother who was eight at the time--you're leaving the house for the first time, and so you have to do things to make people comfortable. I think the chapel was great to get information, and I think the barbeque was fantastic. That was really great. The moving, well, I missed the move-in part, because we were running late.
KR: You were a Douglass student.
KR: Your original course of study was engineering.
KR: Tell us about that program.
DS: Oh, my God, so that's why I thought, "Oh, the only thing on here that I won't have to worry too much about would be the 'Biology of Sex' class," because the others were very intense, math and science. The curriculum is really [hard], and then I said, "Gosh, this is just like Stevens Tech and NJIT." I'm thinking, "Do I really want to do this?" But then I had the scholarships from the National Science Foundation and Exxon-Mobil, and I felt a certain responsibility and commitment that I had to go through with it. I had to actually do it.
So, the first week of classes, the math classes were huge. I was accustomed to small classroom sizes at NJIT and Stevens Tech and also at Arts High, but I was in Hickman Hall and this was a lecture hall and there had to be, God, hundreds in there. I had never had that experience, not at Arts High, not at New Jersey Institute of Technology, or Stevens Tech. I mean, the teacher-student ratio was very small at my high school and also at Stevens. So, I felt a sense of, "Do I really want to be here in this lecture hall?" And, "What am I actually going to get out of this?" So, that was the first week of the lecture halls for the math classes, and then going over to Busch for engineering and taking the bus over there from Douglass, I was exhausted. I'm like, "Oh, my God, I have to get up extra early because I have to take one bus from Douglass to College Avenue to what was at the time Rutgers College, change, get on another bus and take it over to Busch."
AK: Did they ever get an express bus at some point while you were there?
DS: No, and thank you for asking that. We didn't have the express buses that you have, Avery, today. We had to take two buses, so you really had to have good planning [and] good time management. To me, the food was the best over at Douglass, Cooper Dining Hall. All I could think of is, "I am going to get stuck over here. I'm not going to have anything to eat." We had our meal plan, as you have now. So, I said, "Well, where can I eat?" We didn't really have a lot of the places, like Panera that you have on campus now or Dunkin Donuts. We didn't have any of that. You're just going to a dining hall, and if you were over at Livingston, there was nothing. There was the dining hall at Tillett, and they had the worst food. We always said Tillett was the worst. You hear parents all the time say that, when their students are doing the tours, their main concern is, "What type of food will my child have? Will they enjoy it?" Well, Tillett was the worst. So, I was like, "Oh, thank God I don't have classes over there." So, I'm over at Busch, and there was Davidson Hall and now they're renovating that hall. I think over there is the RU-tv studios. That's where the dining hall was at Busch.
Cooper had the best food. The Rutgers College, College Avenue, the Commons, huge, long lines, and the athletes would go right to the front. You're in the back, and by the time you get up there, they're going to get all the good food, because the athletes didn't really come all the way over to Douglass. So, I was always trying to get back to Douglass to have dinner. I'd have to have lunch at [either] the Commons [or Busch] because I'm changing buses, or I didn't have lunch at all. So, I would have it at Busch or at the Commons, but I'd always try to make it back to Douglass for dinner. After dinner, my friend Joan and I--Joan was a pharmacy major, so she was doing the same thing, going over to the Pharmacy School over at Busch. Joan and I would always try to get back in time to Douglass, eat at Cooper, we'd have maybe an hour, and then we'd go across the street to the Douglass Library and we would study until midnight. What was nice about those days is [that] the guys at Cook [were there]; they were volunteers and they called them the Green Lantern Men, because back then, before Hurricane Sandy, there were trees everywhere. It was so dark at Douglass, and coming from a city where we had street lights I'm like, "It is really dark here." I remember the first night. I was like, "Wow, this is like Alabama. It's like my grandparents' farm. I can't see a thing." So, what we would do is [that] we would eat at Cooper and we'd go [to] the library. I think, then, I don't remember them staying open until like two or three like they do now or twenty-four hours. They would close maybe midnight, and the Cook guys would have these lanterns and they would walk us back up the path to Nicholas to the big dorms, because they lived up right next to us. Woodbury was all Cook. It was coed, but it's Cook.
Next to that, would be Katzenbach, Lippincott, and Nicholas. That was just Douglass women. New Gibbons and Old Gibbons, just Douglass women. Jameson, just Douglass women. So, you had all these women, you're in the city, and sometimes there would be incidents where there would be people coming. I don't know where they're coming from. There would be a bit of troublemakers coming on campus. So, the guys at Cook were volunteers, and they would walk us for safety back to Jameson, back to the big dorms, Nicholas, Lippincott and New Gibbons. Behind New Gibbons was very dark too. They'd walk us there, if you lived there, and no one wanted to live in Corwin. Corwin, by the little theatre, which is all the way down Nichol Avenue. Corwin, they don't use that as housing anymore. There may be a couple of houses there because they are very old, and those houses were built when it was New Jersey College for Women. The story goes from some of my Douglass sisters who were students when it was the New Jersey College for Women, but they're now in their eighties. They're like eighty-two, and by the time they graduated, the name changed to Douglass College after the first dean, Mabel Smith Douglass. Well, they lived in Corwin. The story goes, from the Douglass women, that they built Corwin, these little houses, because they said, "This women's college thing will never last and at least we can sell the houses when they all leave." [Editor's Note: In 1918, Mabel Smith Douglass became the first Dean of the New Jersey College for Women, which was renamed in her honor 1955.]
Corwin had this reputation of being a place that no one wanted to live in because initially, it was designed that way. But it was so far down, past the dean's residence, at the other end, [and] the only thing there was [a theatre]. The theatre students would go there because there's a little theatre there. Thank God for that. So, if you have a theatre production, you'd have people there, but other than that, you have these two horseshoes of these really old houses, which were very charming. They had fireplaces and they would decorate them really nicely during the holidays, but it was that end that bordered onto the City of New Brunswick too, which was further away from George Street, and it was very dark. So, the Cook guys would actually escort the women down there too, but it seemed like the longest walk ever to go from there to the dining hall. So, I was thankful that I didn't live in Corwin my freshman year, sophomore or junior year. But they had the Rutgers officers on horseback. They would ride down there because the Douglass campus is very beautiful, very scenic but [has] lots of trees and lots of farmland because you're bordering Cook and Cook has all the farms in New Jersey, research for farming, because it was the Agricultural School. They would ride on the horses and that's how they patrolled the area and they really needed to do that because it was just so dark. It's still dark, I think, today.
Probably, you may have some light, a little more light than we had then, because you don't have as many trees because you've had hurricanes [like] Sandy. We lost a lot of trees, I think, but at the time, you're talking in the late '70s, early '80s, I mean, there were trees everywhere and that Passion Puddle [was] pitch-black darkness, beautiful in the daytime but still dark now. It's very pretty in the day time, but it's kind of scary. The story was that a lot of the men from Rutgers College, there was a shack there, would come there to meet the girls at Passion Puddle. I know Avery is shaking her head, can't imagine that. Well, at the time, at Rutgers College, you have to understand [that] women were not allowed at Rutgers College and College Avenue, not until 1972. I did not arrive until 1977. So, the men, if they wanted to date women, and this was told to me recently by the Rutgers Alumni Association at the annual Punch Bowl Meeting, would walk from College Avenue to Passion Puddle. The women would come from the big dorms and from Corwin and meet them at Passion Puddle. There's a little shack there and that's where they would have their dates. But they would walk because back then they didn't have the buses that you have now, and there was no express bus. Basically, they didn't have busses at all. They would walk. I know [that] when I was a student, we weren't allowed to have cars, not until your senior year, unless you were a commuter. So, we didn't have cars. We lived on campus, we took the buses, and we didn't have an express bus. That weekend schedule was horrendous. That first semester, we felt [like] we were going to go to this party with the athletes over at Busch, because the football players were over there and the basketball players, and we missed the last bus. I mean, there was no way I was going to call my dad. I was like, "No way, my father is from Alabama. I have no business here to begin with and no way am I going to do that." So, there was one girl that we saw there and I think she might have been in Pharmacy School, [but] she was studying. She had a car, and back then no one checked your seatbelts. I know this was dangerous, it's terrible, we all piled in there so we could get back to Douglass. [laughter]
That's how we got back. There were no buses. You didn't have New Brunswick city buses. If you didn't get on a Rutgers bus at a certain time, you were stuck, if you didn't know someone over there. There [were] Johnson Apartments, not as many as there are now, but if you didn't know someone, you would just have to kind of like, I don't know, just wait until the morning to get a ride back, unless you had money for a cab or something. There was just no transportation. Busch Campus, very dark, Livingston, very dark, and nobody wanted to go to Livingston in those days. No one wanted to go to [Livingston]. No one wanted to live there because they had very weird housing. They had the tunnels underneath [the Quads].
AK: They're still there.
DS: The tunnels are still there, and no one wanted to live there. It was like an institution, like you were in a mental institution, the way they were and they had these tunnels. I was told, at an alumni event, that that was built for safety. You have to remember, Livingston Campus is on the original Camp Kilmer. So, that's why it was Kilmer Campus. The library [is] named after James Dickson Carr now, an African American student, probably the first or second at the University, [but] that was called Kilmer Library for a long time. I know that they had green barracks over there. I thought, "This is the military over here and it's dark over there." In fact, in those green barracks, that's where we had our television production courses, and Natalie Morales, who is on the NBC network and on the Today show, actually trained there when she was a student, here in the '90s. Well, those barracks are still there, the iTV studios are there. Well, that's where we trained when I left the engineering program after my sophomore year and decided I was going to go into journalism. I actually had to train there, so then I ended up in Livingston, where I didn't want to be, and then had have lunch at Tillett Hall, which had the worst food. But all the journalism courses and the production courses were in those barracks at Camp Kilmer, we called it. You had no choice. [Editor's Note: In 2017, Kilmer Library, on Livingston Campus, was renamed James Dickson Carr Library. James Dickson Carr was the first African American graduate of Rutgers in the Class of 1892. Natalie Morales is a journalist, news anchor, and television host on NBC that graduated from Rutgers in 1994.]
So, there, again, I was taking two buses, one bus in Douglass to Rutgers College, College Avenue, the second bus over to Livingston. Thank God the classes were in the daytime because I was a full-time student, undergrad, and so I had daytime courses. Then, I would try to make it back over to Douglass in time to eat at Cooper Dining Hall or Neilson Dining Hall because I wanted to be with my friends because, again, you had this sisterhood at Douglass. Even though I had courses at Busch and Livingston, I had a sisterhood at Douglass that was more like home, and it had more of a home environment. The transportation system--which I know is still a challenge today, but you can do it--we did it. If you plan well, plan your time well, it can be done. You may be tired by Friday, but it could be done. Getting back to Douglass, you were talking about social events, they had what they call Pub Night. Back then, you could drink at eighteen.
DS: Tony's like, "What?" [laughter] So, you could drink at eighteen, and, to the credit of the University, they had responsible drinking, which they have today at Cook-Douglass. My friend, Dean Michelle Jefferson, does a great job with that. They usually have a responsible drinking hour over at Cook, at the Cook Student Center. At the time, we didn't have a Cook Student Center. We only had Douglass. So, Cook and Douglass shared a student center on George Street. Then, [at] that student center, they had what they called the Pub, and Tuesday night was Pub Night. The first night I go in there, who do I see? Dr. Fred Tyson. At the time, he was a TA, so it was just Fred Tyson before he completed his Ph.D., but Dr. Fred Tyson on the dance floor. I'm like, "Oh, no, this is my brother's best friend. How embarrassing." But he said, "You know, Debbie," he said, "It's okay if we dance." He said, "It's all right." Back then, they were doing the fast dance and the hustle, so it was still the hustle and, Avery's laughing, it was still pretty popular in the '70s. Everybody was doing the hustle on the dance floor in the pub, but you could drink. I was never a drinker, even though I come from Alabama where they had moonshine, but I'm not a drinker. Tony's laughing. You could drink at eighteen, so every student center had a Pub Night. So, all the student athletes would come to Douglass. All the men would come to Douglass, Tuesday night Pub Night, so they could come and dance and meet the girls at Douglass.
TD: Were you there when the age switched back to twenty-one?
DS: To twenty-one, when did that actually? Does anybody remember that?
TD: '81, 1981.
DS: That's right, I think you're right. Yes, because I graduated in '81, yes, it did. [Editor's Note: The National Minimum Drinking Age Act was passed in 1984. In New Jersey, the drinking age was lowered to eighteen in 1973, and by 1983 it was raised to twenty-one.]
TD: I guess a portion of the students must have been disappointed.
DS: It was, you're right. Thank you for that, Tony. You're bringing back great memories. Yes, because it was weird. We came in as freshman, you could drink, and then '81, it changed. That is so true, yes. So, I don't know why it happened. I just remember it did happen, and I think there was a lot of disappointment. I think, actually, that's when the Pub Night went away. The purpose of the Pub Night was that the students could socialize and have beer or wine on campus, and there was never an incident.
[In] my four years here, never an incident. It was very safe, and it was a controlled environment. We were not going to bars in downtown New Brunswick. We were on campus, and every campus had their individual Pub Night. So, if you had classes [on] Tuesday at Cook-Douglass and you couldn't make it there, then you could go to the Pub Night at Busch or over at Livingston Campus. At that time, it was Livingston College. So, you could go to Livingston College or Busch Campus or even to Rutgers College, but the way they did it was that there was one every night. I think it was a great safety measure. It worked because we were on campus, we were well protected, and we're socializing. Then, you walk out and no one was driving, so you walked back to your dorm. It was well planned, but, yes, it did make that switch, Tony. I don't know, what are your thoughts, Avery and Tony, on switching it to twenty-one, what are your thoughts on that? Do you think it should go back to eighteen?
DS: Oh, okay, well, okay, that's interesting, yes.
KR: I have a ten-year-old daughter, so it is okay with me that the drinking age is twenty-one. [laughter]
DS: My son graduated from here, from the School of Arts and Sciences in 2014, and we had this conversation. I told him about the Pub Night and it's [like], "Wow, why don't they have that now?" I said, "Well, they do." I said, "They have the responsible drinking nights." He said, "Yes, but if you're not twenty-one, you can't drink." I said, "No, you can't. You just can't." With my son, I agree with you, Kate; I like the age of twenty-one. For smoking too, there's states now that are going to [that] you've got to be twenty-one to buy cigarettes, and, for me, I think it's more of a health-related issue. This is the reason why I prefer the twenty-one [law], because I mean, people were going, as they used to say back then, buck wild at eighteen when they would go off to college. I don't recall that here at Rutgers, but I know there were other schools where [that happened] because I don't know if they had a pub night. They were leaving their homes at eighteen, and they were going off to college. Then, they had all this freedom and all this drinking. I think what we did well here is that we turned it into a social dance party. It wasn't a bar. It was a dance floor and people were dancing and you could socialize and if you wanted a beer or wine you'd have that, but people were more interested in the dancing than the drinking. The drinking you could have, but it was the dancing. Like I said, all the athletes, because they wanted to meet the girls at Douglass, couldn't wait until Tuesday night if they weren't travelling for away games. There would be so many athletes at Douglass on Tuesday night. Then, some, later on, got married, but that was a thing back then. It's like the athletes would always come to Douglass, and they would come not just Tuesday night but the weekends when they didn't have away games or they would come after practice. They would all come over to Douglass.
For some reason, we'd see all these athletes coming over, and at Cook we had some athletes too. We had Dave Washington. Dave is Denzel Washington's brother, and he was a track star. Then, we had All-American Deron Cherry, who was a pre-med student and was also a football player. Deron would eat with us at Cooper Dining Hall too because he had [time] after practice. His schedule was more intense than the schedule we had because he had football practice and he was a pre-med student. He was a Cook student. So, for some reason, Deron lived on Cook and he was a football player, and then he later became an All-American. He was recruited for [the] Kansas City Chiefs, [and] he played for them [in the] NFL. So, he didn't go to med school because he got drafted, but Deron would study with us also. So, you had certain students who had math and science majors; we were at Cooper, we would eat, we'd go study, then we'd go back to the dorms, and we had these really strict schedules. I remember [that] Joan later decided [that] she was going to switch, she was a Douglass student, from pharmacy to chemistry, foods, and nutrition. We had the foods and nutrition at Cook, so that was easier for her. Then, she wouldn't have to go over to Busch for pharmacy anymore. So, she changed her major also to foods and nutrition. Deron, I think, had a really tough schedule, but he made it work and then he got drafted to the NFL. We're still in touch to this day, [a] really nice guy and [a] Cook grad. He was inducted into the Loyal Sons and Daughters Ceremony at the Rutgers Alumni Association many years ago. We made it work, but I think what was nice about having Cook next door to Douglass was [that it was] great for safety. [Editor's Note: Deron Cherry is a retired NFL player and Hall of Famer. He graduated from Rutgers in 1980.]
I don't know about the other women's colleges, I've been to a couple, but when you have women's colleges, sometimes you'll have some knuckleheads that will probably venture on to campus and cause trouble. I think our protection was Cook because Rutgers College was too far and Livingston is across the Raritan. So, we needed that protection of having the men at Cook. Now, it's coed, so the dorms are coed. The dining hall, the student center, all the facilities were always [coed], except the housing, at the time, was not coed. We had classes together at Hickman [that] were coed. But we needed the Cook men for safety, I really believe that. Then, we were fortunate enough to have a lot of men at Cook [who] were in the ROTC, they were training for the military, so that was nice. Then, we had the athletes at Cook too. So, I think we really did need that. We had the best of both worlds and still do.
[At] Douglass, we continue those traditions, and we're within a major research university. We still have the Douglass traditions. Although we don't have individual degree granting colleges, we still have the traditions, Livingston, Cook, Douglass. I mean, on Rutgers Day, some folks still call it Agriculture Field Day, the original term for Cook College. Then, the gym on College Avenue, we still call that "The Barn." So, you still have those traditions, all that richness, and you still have it within a major research university. We're Big Ten now, which is very nice. Then, I mean, all of our reputations have remained the same, so we haven't lost that, but when you say Douglass now, you can just say Douglass and people are like, "Oh, you're a Douglass woman." At the time, at Douglass, I don't know if they did this, I don't know if they do this now, [but] they would have an annual spring dance at West Point. They would have buses, and we would join what they called the Seven Sisters Schools. These were all female schools called the Seven Sisters and you can look it up there, they'll give you everything. They'll give you Barnard. [Editor's Note: The Seven Sister colleges refers to Barnard College, Bryn Mawr College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, Wellesley College, Vassar College and Radcliffe College.]
DS: Wellesley. You know that Secretary Hillary Clinton is a graduate of Wellesley. Bill de Blasio's wife, Mayor de Blasio in New York, is a Wellesley graduate. These were the Seven Sisters Schools. So, there would be this annual spring dance, and they invited Douglass. So, we were with them as a sisterhood. We'd go to West Point. We would go to West Point, and the West Point men would help us off the bus. Then, when we would go into [a pub], they didn't call it a pub but they had some place similar because, again, you could drink at eighteen. Well, they weren't drinking, but they would, at the tables, pull our chairs out and then push it in. Avery is looking like, "The guys here don't do that." Well, we come back to Rutgers and we're waiting for them to pull out our chairs [and] they're like, "Pull out your chair? Pull it out yourself." They said, "Every time you go up to West Point, you change." That's what they would tell us, but that was another nice thing that we would do, we would go to West Point, and it was a great experience. [Editor's Note: Hillary Clinton graduated from Wellesley College in 1969. Chirlane McCray, wife of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, graduated from Wellesley College in the 1970s.]
Then, we'd come back to Rutgers and the guys were like, "Are you kidding me?" and we're like, "Well, the guys at West Point ..." "This isn't West Point." But then we had the ROTC program here, where they were trained like the West Point men and West Point women. You had men and women at West Point. Well, you had men and women in ROTC here, which we still have. So, their training is similar to West Point. So, that was another nice thing that Douglass did, the West Point [visit].
Then, during the holidays, we had Secret Santa. I don't know, do you have that now? Secret Santa in the dormitories. Well, you take a name out of a hat and you buy a present and that was a nice tradition that we did, Secret Santa, and everybody got a gift. So, we had Secret Santa, which was a favorite of everyone's, and then we had Sacred Path, which I did this year in May, which we still do. [It's] part of the Douglass tradition, and that's when you'd have every class get a promotion in May, because they're moving up a class. So, [it's] freshman to sophomore and sophomore to junior and so on. It's a very nice ceremony in the chapel, Voorhees Chapel at Douglass. We do that in May.
Then, in December, we would do the yule log, which is beautiful. People don't realize, in that chapel, you burn the log. Well, one story, thank God it didn't happen. I think it was 2011 or '12, the log was burning the way it should not have burned, and the fire department had to come out. [laughter] No one got hurt, but the smoke [was] filling the chapel and we're all looking at each other and like, "Hey, I don't remember that happening when I was a student." I don't know what happened. Maybe [it was] cleaning the chimney or something. It's still a tradition, and we're still doing it, but that was the one mishap and that was like a couple years ago.
KR: I am wondering about a couple other freshman traditions.
DS: Oh, yes.
KR: Did you have to wear a costume, and did you have a junior big sister?
DS: We did have a junior big sister. The costume, I know at Douglass, my friend Kathy McAdams, who was [a] New Jersey College for Women student when she arrived. Then, when she graduated in '57, [it was Douglass], because [in] '55, the name was changed to Douglass College.
DS: Well, Kathy told me they would wear these dinks. They called them dinks. So, they wore that and the other costumes [that] they wore. I would venture to say that was done in the '50s and '60s. I think in the '70s, that probably changed because, then again, '72 was the year, I believe, that women were allowed at Rutgers College. So, then, you would have some women who wanted to go to Rutgers College, as opposed to coming to Douglass. Maybe some of the costumes and those traditions probably faded away, I would say, around '72. But there were costumes worn, and it was quite funny and to see those--if you go into the Douglass Student Center, they have a wall, it's kind of like a timeline, and you could see from 1918 through 2018. You see the women. You see their costumes. You see the clothing. You see the dormitories. So, you get the feel for that. We didn't wear the costumes as they did. We didn't wear the dinks. We didn't wear gloves.
They had to dress for dinner. Could you imagine going to dinner at Neilson Dining Hall wearing white gloves and dressing for dinner? They wore white gloves at convocation. I do remember freshman year, when we went to dinner, we were in shorts. [laughter] I remember someone, one of the moms, I think, [said something], because she had graduated and I think this was someone's mother or grandmother, I'll say grandmother, she said, "Times have certainly changed." She said, "We had to dress for dinner." [They wore] the white gloves and they didn't wear pants. When we were going in, you arrive in August and I remember it was very hot that year, freshman year. So, we were wearing shorts, going into the dining hall, and this grandmother said, "Oh, we had to dress for dinner. Times have certainly changed." But the furniture is still the same. [laughter] The dining hall tables and chairs are still the same. [In] the dormitories, some of the furniture is changed, but at the time, when I entered in '77, we had the furniture from the '50s and '60s, the same furniture. The desk, the chairs were still like [from] the '50s, which is retro now, so everyone likes that. It's kind of nice to have that if they still have it.
I think there's a surplus area over on the Livingston Campus, in those green Army barracks, where there's a lot of that old furniture. If anyone wants to do research on it, you can find it at Livingston. Everything gets dumped at Livingston, or used to. Now, Livingston is the place that students want to go because it's so nice now. You have the Rutgers Cinema, Starbucks, [and] you have the best food there because you have a dining hall where they prepare fresh pasta. They have woks and you get fresh stir fry vegetables. Well, we didn't have that back then. So, freshman year, we didn't wear the costumes and we didn't wear the dinks, which I think would've been fun, because they know that you're wearing the dinks and you're a freshman. So, we didn't have that and I kind of wish we had. That, I missed out on.
KR: What do you remember about your junior big sister?
DS: Oh, my junior big sister. Well, because I was in the lounge and I remember the junior big sisters, they had the single rooms at the other end of the hall, which they still have, I believe, Avery. In Nicholas and Lippincott and Katzenbach, you have that one room at the end of the hall. It's a single, as opposed to doubles.
AK: I know they have that in Katzenbach.
DS: In Katzenbach.
AK: But Nicholas is now coed.
DS: That's right, Nicholas is coed now. So, yes, the big sister lived at the other end of the hall, and the big sister was the one who, basically, would inform us that you had to sign in. I'm sure, Avery, they don't do [that now]. You swipe now because [it is] high tech now. So, you have [identification] cards that have that magnetic strip on the back, so you can swipe. Well, we didn't have that back in '77. So, you had big sisters who would come down to the lobby and would check the books to make sure you were in and [that] you were in safely, because if you weren't, they would have to notify the dean, the dean of students, to find you, to make sure you were safe, in case your parents called. Back then, we had the old-fashioned telephone booths. There are a couple of them still. They didn't remove them from the big dorms. So, there's no phone in there, but the wooden structure is still there if you go to Nicholas and Katzenbach. If they haven't removed them, they're at the end of each hall. So, I know the big sisters would always check to make sure that there was a fairness, that you did not stay in the telephone booth talking to your boyfriend. Most students weren't just talking to their parents, they'd call their boyfriends, who may have been over on the other campuses or out-of-state. So, they wanted to make sure you allowed time [for others] because there would be this one phone booth on each floor, at the end of each wing of Nicholas, Katzenbach and Lippincott. People had telephone privileges, so they would make sure that was fair and then silence, because some people wanted to study in their rooms or the lounge.
They moved students out of the lounge during spring semester, because the fall was always crunch time and they needed the lounge to move students in who didn't have the housing that they needed. By spring, everyone would move out, because at that point, you'd have some students who were graduating in December, so they'd have more rooms available. By the spring term, they knew they would have more housing, but the fall was always crucial for the big sisters. They had to maintain a sense of order and fairness and it was a lot for them, because they would have more women to work with because you'd have at least four on each floor, in those study lounges. So, they did a good job. We'd have what they'd call house meetings, and that was [in] the lower level in the lobby area there with the big open common area [and] a fireplace. They had working fireplaces and I think they probably stopped those fireplaces, stopped using them, because years later they had that fire in Seton Hall. So, maybe they stopped it, but it was beautiful. [Editor's Note: The Boland Hall Fire occurred on the campus of Seton Hall University on January 19, 2000.]
They would light the fire, and [you'd] sit there. Each wing would come down a certain time, and the big sister would discuss what some of the issues were, if there were issues. If there were not, we'd just have discussions about some of the traditions that we would move forward with, but sometimes you'd have to have those house meetings, because there would be situations where some roommates didn't get along. There would be some that would be very loud. There were people running down the hall. There were people bringing guys in, and at the time, the guys couldn't stay overnight. They have to sign in, sign out, and so you had those issues. What I liked about the big sisters is [that] they would have us discuss it as women, young women, professional women, and they would remind us that, "You are going into the working world. You are going to be the future leaders. So conduct yourselves that way now and prepare for the future." So, they were great at doing that. They were well trained.
KR: Men were actually allowed in the dorm.
DS: They were allowed in the dorms, but then you'd have some of the girls who'd sneak them in. I mean, we didn't have enough space for ourselves. How could we accommodate the boyfriends? So, you'd have some roommates who'd report to the big sisters that [would] say, "Hey, it's okay for them to visit, but we are overcrowded with just us, and if we allow everyone's boyfriend or friends from the neighborhood or relatives to come and stay, then it would be more overcrowded." You have a health issue and a fire issue because you're allowing people to stay there that [are] not students of the university, [which] probably didn't have any records of these people and don't know if they've had immunizations, which we all have. So, you're bringing other people into an already crowded situation, which is a health hazard, not to mention safety, because all the students who are here are here for a reason. That's what the big sister would say and she would also [say], I remember her saying, "So, if you're inviting people from the general community, we don't know who these people are, and if there is an incident, it could cause a lot of trouble for us and for the university." So, I remember they were good, well-trained people and they lived on each floor. Then, some of the deans actually had apartments. In those big dorms, they have apartments inside those big dorms. So, they actually lived in there, too.
Then, I know, [during] the spring term, I was moved to Henderson Apartments, which is still there. Henderson had grad students, and they had apartments in that complex, which is near Route 1 and Sears. So, you would have graduate students, [and] they became the new big sisters for you. They were graduate students who lived in Henderson and these were women and [they] were maybe four, five, sometimes ten years older than us, but they were there for safety, for guidance and direction. So, you felt comfortable moving into it, because it's like your first apartment. So, I went from Nicholas to moving into an apartment, and in those apartments, you had two bedrooms and two single beds in each room. Then, you'd have the common area, where [you'd] have your dining area for your meals and a living room, and we didn't really have a [television] back then. There was one big television in the big dorms, in the basement, where you did your laundry, unless you brought your own television. But I know [that] when I moved [into] Henderson, the girls there were already two and three years older than me.
Here I was a freshman, but they had to get us out of those lounges. So, then they moved me over there, and [it] turns out [that] there was one girl there from Weequahic High. Jeanette Sampson, who had gone to school with my sister Trisha. It's so funny because here I am and I'm like, "I don't want to go to Weequahic," and I come to Rutgers and I meet two people from Weequahic. It's only because I wanted to go to Arts High. Then, I actually meet Fred Tyson, who's my brother's best friend, and then I move into Henderson and I saw [that] my sister's friend Jeanette is living [there]. She's three years older because my sister, Patricia, we call her Trisha, [is] three years older. So, Jeanette was three years older. So, I said, oh, I told my mom, "I'm living in an apartment with older women." My mother's like, "What?" because she's from Alabama. I said, "Yes, it's okay, one is Trisha's friend. Jeanette is here from the Weequahic section." Then, we had our own phone, because you're in an apartment, [and] you could get a telephone through [a system], back then it was [called] the Bell Telephone system. So, we had our own telephone. What was great about being at Douglass during the winter too is the snow storms, because you'd have the guys from Cook [who] would come in and come over, or they would go down, they'd walk down George Street, [to] that one supermarket that was there, they would go get food, and bring it back up for us. The guys at Cook were great and the athletes too.
Then, at Henderson, because we had a kitchen, you're in an apartment, my dad used to bring food to us every weekend, and I said, "Dad, I still have a five-meal plan." I got the five-meal plan so that during crunch time, [and] I'm studying, I wouldn't have to cook dinner. I would just go eat dinner in a dining hall. But my father would go to the butchers on Mulberry Street, in downtown Newark, and he would bring meats. So, I remember the football players, like Deron Cherry and some of the athletes, would come over and it's like, "Yes, Deb Shuford's dad brings all these steaks." They would come to our apartment to eat, during the snowstorm, because my father, I don't know how he made it, would bring all this food. My roommates would say, "Is your dad coming this weekend?" Well, word got around. Some of them guys from Cook, especially the athletes who lived at Cook because they couldn't get back across town, no buses [due to] the snow, would come to our apartment. My father would bring all this food, and we would cook the food so that it wouldn't spoil. So, we'd have the popular apartment with all the food. My father would [bring] steaks. I mean, my father was from Alabama, so he thought you [needed] meat and potatoes, so that's what he would bring. The girls and I would make baked goods because I remember that [during that] one snowstorm, we didn't have class. So, it was nice to be able to bake cookies. We did a couple of [things]. I think we did banana bread and maybe a pie or two, and then the guys would come over and everybody's sitting on the floor because you only had four chairs, one table in the common area, for the four of us. They would come over, and you'd have that. Then, they'd have parties over in the other apartments at Cook too. So, we would do social things like that.
When I moved over to Henderson, all the girls were older than me. It was interesting because I started out with the lounge. Celeste did not return. She didn't come back; I think she married the guy that she was dating, so her second husband. Tracey left to become a model, an actress. Sharri and I stayed, but Sharri was older too. They moved me to Henderson and they moved Sharri, I think, to Katzenbach, but it's interesting because I never roomed with girls who were freshmen like me. They were always older and I kind of feel like I lost something there. Some of my other friends roomed with girls who were actually freshman, and they roomed together for all four years. So, after going over to Henderson, that was my spring term of my freshman year, the girls were all older, but it was fun because we had an apartment. I consider it my first apartment, even though it was University-owned. It was [still] an apartment. What was interesting is that some of the girls over there didn't get along, and I met Avis, who was actually older too. Avis lived in Henderson next door and there was some kind of issue with the girls there, so Avis moved into our [dorm]. We had a walk-in closet. Do they still have those in Henderson? They'd have this big closet.
AK: I haven't been in Henderson, but I know they have walk-in closets in Jameson.
DS: Yes, in Jameson, okay. They have this walk-in closet when you walk in. I guess that was used for a coat closet for storage. Well, Avis said, "Can I move into the closet?" because she had this one roommate and, I don't know, there was an issue there. So, we had what we call a house meeting and the other three said, "Well, Avis is a friend of yours and if you think she'll be okay, sure she can move in here." So, we cleaned the closet out and this is my freshman year, my first time in an apartment, so we went from four girls to five. Avis took her bed from the apartment next door, and we helped her carry it and put it in the closet--this is the sisterhood at Douglass-- put it in the closet, the shelves, we put all her stuff up there and the other stuff under the bed, and then she moved in with us. So, then, we went from four to five. Avery is shaking her head. At Douglass, you'd have this sisterhood, and if people really liked you and you really got along, you became more of sisters. We felt bad for Avis, so she ended up coming in with us. Joan [Maulsby Shorter], who was the pharmacy student who became food and nutrition, lived in Henderson too. Joan would come over and cook with us because Joan was from Jamaica and Sherry was from Grenada and these women could cook. I was not a cook, even though I have a southern background, but these women really cooked real meals. So, they would cook in the kitchen and then, again, the men would come over to eat. They really cooked. I mean, Sherry, who's now Dr. Sheridan Quarles Kingsberry, got her Ph.D. here in the School of Social Work, [and] teaches at Delaware State now. Sherry made the best fried plantains I ever had, and she would make this chicken too. Then, Joan would make this chicken that they would make in Jamaica, so she made jerk chicken and then all this great rice. So, I had a chance to sample all this other type of food, other than the southern food that I was raised on, with these women, which was very nice, because we had a kitchen.
So, freshman year, I was able to cook, but I had a full meal plan the fall of freshman year, when I lived in the study/lounge. But when I moved into the apartment, I kept the five-meal plan because I had such a tight [schedule]. I was still doing the engineering courses and I didn't know if I could get back in time to cook dinner. So, I had that five-meal plan as a cushion, but that was my freshman year.
Sophomore year, I moved back into the large dorms, and I moved into Lippincott with Sharri Timmons, who was a year older, who was my first roommate in the study lounge. Sharri found me at Cooper Dining Hall. She says Debbie, "I have a terrible lottery number." She said, "I don't want to room with someone else." She said, "Do you have anyone?" I said, "No, I just came out of Henderson, I don't know where I'm going. Those girls are graduating." I said, "So, I have to start all over again." I was a [sophomore], but I felt like a freshman starting all over again sophomore year, in terms of roommates, because those girls were older. So, she said, "Well, we can room together." She said, "This will be my last trip," because she came in her junior year. So, we got to room together again, and we've been friends ever since. So, my sophomore year, I got to be with her again; that really helped. Then, she was graduating, and then I had to start all over again with a roommate.
Well, my senior year, I ended up in Corwin. The place I didn't want to go to because it was so worn down. The only thing I liked about Corwin [was that] I loved the little theatre and I loved going to the student plays there. I had a bad lottery number, but it was good enough to have a single room and I ended up in Corwin senior year. So, that was my housing experience. But what I liked about housing here is [that] you get to meet people and you become family. That's part of the Douglass tradition too. You become sisters and family forever. So, the kind of friends that I made at Douglass, they last forever, and [that] even [includes] some of my friends in engineering.
I go to the tailgate during homecoming, [and] the engineering school has their own tailgate. I go over there and I see some of the students that I started out with, that come back for homecoming, I should say, and they have their own tailgate, the School of Engineering. So, I venture over to theirs. I go to the Yellow Lot with "Friends of Frank." Frank is a good friend, and that's with the Rutgers Alumni Association. We're in the Yellow Lot. Then, also, I walk over to [the] School of Engineering because I still have friends in engineering, and so I go over to visit them. That's once a year that I get to see them. It was great. The freshman year was great. It was crazy housing, but it was fun. It worked out. It really did work out.
KR: Let's pause and take a break.
DS: Sure. What time do we have?
KR: We are back on. When you started at Douglass, you started on an engineering course.
KR: How many women were in those classes that you were taking?
DS: Oh, my goodness, at that time, it was interesting because there weren't as many as there are now. I would say now there are--if I were to go over to the Busch Campus, through the Douglass program, and just go over, and I think I'm going to try to do that, I would love to see the ladies there and have a conversation with them and just see the differences. There weren't that many. We were still a minority, women there at the time. Maybe that's why we didn't have the program they have at Douglass now, where you have a good percentage, so much so that you have enough women now that they could actually live at Busch. At that time, you didn't even have enough to live in a dorm at Busch. So, there was a very small number of women, yes, which is interesting because I guess, at the time, you didn't have [as many women in engineering]. Nowadays, if you look at the statistics, I think most college campuses are comprised of at least, what, sixty-five percent are women, to sixty-seven percent. Well, you didn't have that at the time, in the engineering program. I don't have the correct numbers, but I would say the number of women now would be a considerable amount of women, because you have more than sixty percent of women on a college campus. That makes sense if you run the numbers and you crunch the numbers. That would make sense that you would have more women in the engineering program, if they choose that major. Now, you still have women who choose other majors. At that time, gosh, I think when I would sit in some of those lecture halls over at Busch in the engineering courses, if I saw, and this is my memory, ten women in the lecture hall, that was a lot back then, a lot. So, we were certainly in the minority. I know that even [when] I'm talking to women at Douglass who majored in chemistry and other majors, when they talk about going to their first jobs, [they mention] that there would be maybe four, five women with advanced college degrees, in a world where men were dominating, and so, in engineering, they were still dominating then [in] '77.
You still had men who were dominating that field and maybe that's why they recruited us, and I kind of feel badly now that I didn't stay in that field and then switch, maybe in graduate school, to film. But I know the foundation that I had in engineering started with Stevens Tech and NJIT. Actually, [it] helped me in digital technology, in graduate school, at American University because they were saying to me, "Where did you learn how to work with computers like that?" Well, you have to remember, in engineering, I worked with original computers, IBM computers, and key punch cards. [Also] coding, that's something we did. I was doing coding so that I could take these cards and put them in the computer, sort of like the movie Hidden Figures. [I] actually have, through that program, [had] a printout come out from what I was coding on cards. So, I have a stack of cards after coding and putting those cards in, and key punching those cards, and feeding it to the computer. It actually would pull out the data that I needed. So, when we would do that, the professors were impressed. They knew that these were women that really, very intelligent, smart women, who belonged. We had a place there and we knew that. We knew that. Now, I chose to leave that program, but I never left the environment. I never left what I learned there. That followed me right into graduate school, and it all started at New Jersey Institute of Technology and Stevens Tech. I mean, everything I learned in engineering I still use today, [like] in [the] digital technology that I use in filmmaking. [Editor's Note: Hidden Figures is a 2016 biographical film about three African American women who worked for NASA as mathematicians and engineers during the Space Race.]
KR: It was some time in the 1950s that Douglass started that program that Douglass students would go to the School of Engineering.
KR: By doing that, in effect, Douglass was making the School of Engineering, which was one of the original colleges for men, coed.
DS: That's right, that's right.
KR: And it was coed for a decade and a half before Rutgers College went coed.
DS: You're right, yes.
KR: What strikes me is that Douglass was very subtly challenging traditional norms and raising women to be trailblazers. What do you think about that?
DS: Absolutely, I think you're right. Just now, you're jogging my memory and I'm thinking [that] maybe that's why Mrs. Barrett at Arts High, said to me, "You need to go to Douglass." You know, I never thought about that. I'm glad you brought that up. She knew then, as she does now, that Douglass was doing that and that's probably why she said, "Douglass is a good fit for you." I mean, she already sent me to engineering from the age of sixteen at New Jersey Institute of Technology and then seventeen at Stevens Tech. So, she knew that. I'm quite certain she did, and I know that she knew a whole lot, a great deal, about our wonderful dean, the late great, Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb. If you watch the movie Hidden Figures, and you look at the women at NASA, what they were doing with those computers, we were doing. The women at NASA were doing that with the IBM computers. Those women were human computers, as they were called in the film, and based on Katherine Johnson and her life at NASA. When I lived in the Washington Metro area, I actually had a chance to go to NASA and to go to Langley. But at the time, I didn't know the history until I read the book and I saw the film Hidden Figures in 2017. So, now that I think about this, I now realize that Ms. Barrett knew all of this information. She knew about the women at NASA. She knew about the engineering program. She knew that one day women would be more than fifty percent of the engineering students nationwide perhaps, maybe if you look at all the numbers.
I think that's why she said, "Go to Douglass," because she knew to do that, [knew] that Douglass was doing it in their own quiet way, [and knew] that you would have to have support. If you didn't have [the] support of other women, it would be a sink or swim situation, and you'd probably sink because you'd have this male-dominated school. Then, you probably would hear from some of your classmates that, "You know, women don't go into engineering," which I had heard. When I was at Stevens Tech, some of the men there, I was high school student, were like, "Women don't go into engineering," and I said, "Well, why not?" It just never dawned on me that women couldn't do it, because I was doing it since high school. Then to come to Douglass, well, of course, women at Douglass could do anything. I mean, from the time that we arrived, as Avery said, with the service in the chapel, that was like a pep rally. It was like empowerment and it was a pep rally that once you left Voorhees Chapel, you were ready to conquer the world. I mean, what we learned and heard from all the deans [was inspiring]. Especially from Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb, because she was doing cancer research in the '60s and she was a daughter of southern background as well. I mean, when you listen to her and her staff telling you that you're here at Douglass now, you've made it this far, the sky is the limit, and then she would name some of the fields and the curriculum, it was a whole new world.
Then, in engineering, I mean, we're sitting there shoulder to shoulder with these men and we're doing calculations, and then [for] the computer calculations, I had already done that. So, I was ahead of the game and I brought to some of the TAs some of my work I did at Stevens Tech and they were like, "Where did you learn that? Class has just started." I said, "Well, I did that at Stevens." They're like, "Stevens? How'd you end up there?" So, it made me feel good that I had gone to Stevens and I had gone on to NJIT. My friend Kari, I forgot to mention [her], Kari Jacobs, a graduate of Rutgers College. Again, I was the only one that went to Douglass, but Kari and I were together at Stevens Tech. We were Arts High friends, classmates, [and] we went to Stevens Tech together, and we came to Rutgers together. She was at Rutgers College and I was at Douglass, but we were trained at Stevens Tech, on those computers, and we were trained on some of the original IBM computers. We would always leave, going back to our dorms at Stevens Tech, with stacks of these key punch cards and these printouts. I wish I had saved some of those printouts for my students. I know my parents had it in their garage or basement for years, and of course it's paper, so it yellowed, but I never forgot how to do that technology. Kari and I [met up], I went out to Minnesota, she lived in Minnesota, [and] we were talking about that. She switched her major too. She later switched over to English literature, and I think maybe we wanted to explore more of creative things because we were doing science, technology, engineering and math at such an early age. At [a] very early age, we started it. You know, we were teenagers, sixteen.
Now, when she and I talk, we don't regret our changes in life, but we have the best foundation, and as I said, we had no problem passing our SATs. We didn't even have [an] SAT prep course. We just went in, we had the test, and everything on it, we were exposed to at Stevens Tech. So, that was our SAT prep, going to Stevens. I know [that] when we arrived, Kari was one of those women in my engineering classes, and we were from Arts High, both of us. We had all of the preparation that women could actually desire to go there, feel empowered, and feel that we were ready and that we could stand shoulder to shoulder with the men, and we knew that. So, I think we were comfortable when we decided to change majors, and we still graduated on time, within four years, because we were trained that way. We were trained in terms of how to study, how to manage our classes, how to manage our internships, [and] how to manage all time management. We were trained at Arts High and at Stevens Tech to do that. So, to change majors, we were able to do that and still graduate within four years. Now, if you look at a lot of the statistics today, some students have to work more. So, they will graduate within five years, six years. There were programs at the time, I know there was a five-year pharmacy program. I know we have that, probably, now in engineering, some students, they're on a five-year course and some six-year course, depending if they're part-time or if they have to work. [Since] were trained at Arts High and at Stevens Tech that we needed to have the first bachelor's degree within four years, we were able to accomplish that. But we knocked those prerequisites right out of the ballpark our freshman year. The math and science, we were so good at that. We got through that so quickly that we were able to change majors because of that. If we had not been prepared, there's no way we could've changed majors and graduated in four years. We would've been on a seven-year program.
So, Kari's African American, but for women it wasn't a matter of being African American or European American or Asian American or Latino American. We were just women and we were minorities together in an engineering program. Now, I think we have women from Douglass living on the Busch Campus in the engineering program, and I don't think they are the minority now. I think they have risen to the ranks of being, probably, in terms of numbers, maybe fifty-fifty. I have to check with some of the professors over there, because I have friends over in the engineering program. We have lunch together over at Busch, because they're interested in my journey from engineering into social sciences because they couldn't believe it. But what's funny is that when I'm teaching here on campus, I know when I was teaching a couple of film courses, I have engineers in my classroom. I started explaining to them how I worked with computers and slide rules, and they were fascinated. So, after class, we're walking down a corridor and they're asking me questions about using the slide rules and using the key punch cards.
Engineering is still with me. It never left, and thank God it didn't because, as I said, at American University, when we were the first class to use Final Cut Pro, digital editing and digitizing film, I had a different understanding of how to do that, based on what I learned in engineering in undergrad. When the computer crashed in the editing suite, some students would just throw up their hands like, "I'm going home, I'm tired. I've got to drive back to Virginia, drive back to Maryland." We're leaving American University [at] two or three in the morning, and they said, "What are you doing?" I said, "Well, I'm going to add memory." They're like, "Add memory?" I said, "I'm going to add a chip to the computer." The next day, the professor says to me, at American [University], "Where did you learn that?" I said, "Engineering school." They said, "Well, when did you go to engineering school?" I said, "I went to Stevens Tech during my junior year and after my junior year and after senior year in high school, and then I went to Rutgers." They said, "And you did all that in this short timeframe?" I said, "Well, yes." I said, "Once an engineer, always an engineer." So, even today, when I need memory, I call the Apple Store out in California, and I order what I need to order. I restore my old Apple computer, but I learned that in engineering. It never left me. Once an engineer, always an engineer. Thank God I had those courses, starting with high school and then my freshman year at Rutgers in engineering. I still have friends, and I go to the tailgate. I'm looking forward to going and meeting some of my old classmates from the Engineering School, now the College of Engineering. I'm looking forward to seeing them this fall at homecoming. So, engineering, something about engineering makes you think, analyze, and you could put things together and make them work. That's something you learn in engineering, and you never lose it. It stays with you for life.
KR: Tell us about being a journalism major.
DS: Oh, boy.
KR: What were the classes like, and what professors stick out in your mind?
DS: Oh, my goodness. Roger Cohen and, gosh, I remember going back to Livingston Campus, and I'm like, "Oh, my God." When I first arrived at Livingston, I said, "What have I done? I left engineering. I'm on this campus at Livingston that no one wants to go over [to]." It's out in the open, and the wind was terrible when it was cold. It just blows you away. Then, I'm like, "Where is this radio production course?" I'm looking for [an] academic building, like the ones at Rutgers College, or Cook, or over at Busch, or Douglass. I get over there and someone is trying to show me radio production, and it's in the Army barrack, a green barrack. I'm like, "What?" I'm like, "Oh, my God, I think I made a mistake. This is not going to work out." But then I go inside and I meet Professor Roger Cohen, who's retired now, and he had the best way of teaching you radio production. He reminded us that in media, you have print, radio, television and film. This is before cable, because most of the students, later on, all had internships at HBO, which was very new. You're going into '81, but prior to that, your curriculum included print, radio, television and film. Roger had a way of mixing music like DJs do today, he had this dual turntable like he was a disco DJ, and he showed us how to mix sound for films and television. So, that impressed me. Then, in spite of the surroundings, and the green Army barrack that we were using, the interior was a production facility, and when he placed those two turntables together, he did the sound from, it was War of the Worlds. It was a sound from that original film, and he had it on vinyl and showed us how to mix this sound and showed us clips and showed us how they composed the music, the soundtrack, [and] how you made a soundtrack for a film. This was before I went to graduate school at American [University], where we were laying tracks with digital equipment. Well, Roger showed us how they did it in the old days. So, I was so impressed by that and that's when I said, "Okay, I'm in the right major now. I've got this great professor."
We also had--oh, we had Hartman. We had Roger Cohen and, oh, my God, there were just so many. But I remember Roger, because Roger also said to me, "You're in the right place. Don't worry about it. It will be okay. I will make sure you have an internship." So, he was my academic advisor in journalism. He said, "But you will need Reporting I and Reporting II, because you've never had that." He said, "I know you're a Douglass student, and you have English at Douglass, but it's a different type of writing." When you're writing for radio, television and film and journalism, it's different from English literature where you're analyzing stories, and the narrative is different. It's a different type of narrative, different type of analyzing. From Roger, I learned to write scripts for radio productions, the old way, with the original radio shows on the air. I learned how to write scripts for radio, and then with, I think, Hartman, and some of the other professors, I learned how to write scripts for television and also for film. So, it was a different type of writing. The dialogue was tight, and the narrative was different. So, that I learned when I moved over to journalism and the journalism writing. Then, Roger was the academic advisor, and he told me [that] I'd have to take Reporting I and Reporting II in the summer, in order to graduate in four years. So, here again, I had another person who stepped up and became like a manager and a coach for me.
He said, "Once you do that, and you've taken all the required courses in journalism, then I will secure an internship for you in New York," which he did. He secured it, the best internship, with RKO Pictures and Radio because RKO Studios was a top studio in Hollywood, in the golden years of Hollywood. What Roger did is [that] he got an internship in which I would have like a rotation, like a med student, where I went from radio to television to film. I worked with executives from Hollywood, who still had offices in New York, and at the time it was RKO General. General Tires owned them, and they were going from being a major studio in Hollywood to distribution. So, I learned producing distribution, which is the business side of the industry in television and film. I was a producer for WOR radio, talk radio, and I worked with Patricia McCann. I was her producer. Back then, we won the Olympics, and it was the Olympic team that won, the hockey team. [Editor's Note: RKO Pictures was founded in 1928 and was bought out by General Tires and Rubber Company in 1955.]
KR: In 1980.
DS: Yes, that's right. I was like, "Wow." I'm watching [it] and I love watching sports, and I was, this was crazy, trying to come up with an idea for Patricia McCann. Patricia McCann was a Sarah Lawrence graduate, whose parents were the McCanns, who had a radio program going back to the '30s. The McCanns, her grandparents, her parents, and then Patricia, who never had any children, who was a liberal [and a] Sarah Lawrence [College] graduate. We got along well because, again, [it was] another, like, sister school, and we became like sisters. She was much older [than me], but they told me, "Be careful, you're working for Patricia McCann as her producer. You're an intern." Roger secured a stipend for me as an intern, so I had money to go back and forth from Douglass to New York to 1440 Broadway. That's where their studios were in Manhattan. Patricia wanted to do exciting programs, and I just didn't think I could keep up. So, they entered the Olympics and the Olympic hockey team, they won. So, I started making phone calls and I was able to get them to do a show with Patricia. [Editor's Note: In the 1980 Winter Olympics, the United States Hockey team won the gold medal, and this event is also known as the "Miracle on Ice."]
Then, I said, "Well, maybe it's easier to get someone like that, and then maybe sports [could work]." So, going back to the Weequahic section, there was a guy who was a promoter for Muhammad Ali, from the Weequahic section, that my older sisters and brothers knew. I called them and they gave me his number, and from the studios at WOR radio, 1440 Broadway, I called him. He said, "I'll give you a call. Give me the number in the studio." He called. [Editor's Note: Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. on January 14, 1942, Muhammad Ali converted to Islam and changed his name in 1964. Ali won a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, and he became the heavyweight boxing champion in 1964. On April 28, 1967, Ali refused to be inducted into the Army during the Vietnam War. After being convicted of draft evasion, Ali was sentenced to prison, fined, and banned from boxing for three years. In 1971, the Supreme Court overturned Ali's conviction. Ali went on to reclaim the heavyweight title several more times before retiring in the early 1980s. In 1984, Ali announced that he had Parkinson's disease. He passed away on June 3, 2016.]
Patricia is walking in with her coffee, typical New Yorker. She'd always come in the morning with her coffee and a buttered roll. That's a New York thing. You have a buttered roll. No meat, just butter on a roll. Kaiser roll and her coffee. She's walking in, and this is when we're trying to book guests. So, as a producer, I had to book the guests, the talent guests, [and] I had to do the research. Roger prepared me well. I had this guy to call, a friend of my brother and sisters, and he was from Weequahic High and he was working for Muhammad Ali. So, he called the studio. I said, "It's Muhammad Ali's promoter," and she was like, "Muhammad Ali's [promoter]?" She said, "You're going to get an A on your internship. You don't have to worry about it." So, we got Muhammad Ali on her show. Again, it goes back to Weequahic and people that I knew in Newark. He happened to be, at this time, a promoter working with Muhammad Ali, and they were at a training camp in Pennsylvania. What luck.
Roger thought that was great, but he secured my internship, he gave me the right internship. I got to work with producing and distribution with RKO Pictures executives too, and at the time, they owned Channel Nine, which is now in Secaucus. Some people say Secaucus, New Jersey [with a New Jersey accent]. I know that never would have happened without Roger getting that type of internship. So, my internship included radio, television and film, and I was able to put that on my resume. I was also able to say that I booked the United States Hockey Team and I booked Muhammad Ali on Patricia McCann's long-standing radio program. Now, she's doing voiceovers. She does it for 1010 WINS, yes.
KR: Did Muhammad Ali call into the radio show?
DS: Yes, and he was in the middle of training. He called in, and people thought I was some bigwig producer. I was just this little girl from Douglass College who happened to know someone who knew someone at the training camp in Pennsylvania, and it goes back to the Weequahic Section, Weequahic High. [This time], it happened to be friends from Weequahic. In fact, they have on Facebook [a group called], "Weequahic Friends for Life." Even though I didn't go to Weequahic, [they let me join because] if you lived in that section, you joined their group on Facebook. We were just talking about that, and I was like, "This is amazing." I said, "You don't know what you did for me with that internship," and "Yes, I did earn an A." People hired me after I graduated from Douglass. They actually hired me at WOR because I think they thought I was some kind of whiz at booking guests, but it just turned out that, as luck would have it, I happened to know someone who was working with Muhammad Ali at his training camp in Pennsylvania.
Muhammad Ali would come and visit in Newark. There's footage of him visiting Newark, because he was a Muslim. At the time, in the '70s, you had people who left the Black Panther organization and became black Muslims. This guy was one of them. Muhammad Ali would travel to Newark, because he had gone from being Cassius Clay to being Muhammad Ali. So, he would visit Newark, New Jersey, and this guy from Weequahic and these other guys who were black Muslims, as they were called then, worked for Ali. But they knew my brother and my sisters. That's how I got the inside scoop, and it just worked for me with that internship. That was great. The hockey team was a big thing back then when the United States Hockey Team won. It was huge for the [United States] for that team to win. In fact, I saw something recently, when they were interviewing some of the guys from the original team. But that stands out and that's why Roger Cohen stands out, because he secured the best internship.
I mean, otherwise, you'd have to do four or five internships, do one in radio, do one in television, do one in film, or do one in sports. I managed to do one and have the best of all areas in media, and I still have it on my resume today, thanks to Roger Cohen. That was just unbelievable, and I had a stipend. I was able to go back and forth [to New York]. I had work-study at Douglass, at [the] Student Center, so I had the financial support [that] is important when you're doing internships. I don't know, today there are some stipends for internships, and some that you get credit but you don't get a stipend. So, it would be difficult to travel back and forth to New York because now, I think, the train costs almost thirty dollars round trip. I was going Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, we had a "Senior Seminar" with Roger Cohen and with the other professors over on the Livingston Campus. So, it was great. Again, Engineering School and then Roger Cohen, in my four years, what I achieved and what I was able to do, at a fraction of the cost, was phenomenal. When I look at the cost now for an education and the things that I was able to do here, I [realize that I] took full advantage of it and thank God I did. It didn't cost me a lot. It's just wonderful.
KR: Yes. Do you remember offhand what tuition was?
DS: Oh, my God, I think I do. That's funny. Room, board, tuition and fees for the whole year, freshman year, [was] about three thousand dollars. Tony's laughing, Avery's laughing. Three thousand dollars, that was everything. I had a full meal plan and the food was great, as I said, and I had housing. I never lived off campus, and the Financial Aid Office was absolutely wonderful. I mean, they made sure that I had everything I needed. I had enough to cover tuition, fees, books but not enough to cover commuting back and forth to New York for an internship, and Roger secured that. That's why he really stands out, Roger Cohen. He's retired, and he lives in Monroe, in New Jersey. He comes to campus every now and then. I know a good friend of mine, Peter Troost, who's a classmate, who's now a director at iTV Studios, promised that when he has Roger on campus again he'd give me a call so I could see Roger. Roger Cohen stands out. In fact, Roger Cohen wrote my recommendation for graduate school at American University. He wrote it from the Journalism and Media Department, and Dr. Cheryl Wall wrote a recommendation from the English Department. Those are the two recommendations that they had at American University to this day.
KR: Was Cheryl Wall your professor?
DS: Yes, she was my professor in English.
KR: Please tell us about her being a professor.
DS: Oh, my goodness, oh, my God. Harlem Renaissance is what I remember, when I think of Dr. Cheryl Wall, brilliant, brilliant, and we're very close today. In fact, when we had a reunion at Douglass, we invited her. I told my Douglass sisters, "We have to invite Dr. Wall. She's still here at Rutgers and we should invite her as guest speaker." So, we had Dr. Wall to speak in 2011 at Douglass. We were in Neilson Dining Hall, and she spoke. It was wonderful. Again, I had these women that were just brilliant, and she was one of them, Dr. Cheryl Wall, [in] the English Department. I have to give her the credit. I know that the writing is different in journalism and it's certainly different for writing for television and film, because the dialogue is really tight, but what I learned from Cheryl, Dr. Wall rather, is--she tells me to call her Cheryl now, but I'm not comfortable with it because even with Roger Cohen, I would still say, "Professor Cohen"--what I learned from her is how to dig deeper into what you're reading, look at the narrative, and actually analyze it in semiotics. Then, when I was in graduate school, I started doing semiotics and film, signs and symbols in films. I learned that from Dr. Wall in English literature. If I had not had her and had not learned how to read and look at the signs and symbols in the narrative, in the language in English literature, I wouldn't be able to analyze film today, so it started with her. Also, she gave me the foundation that you need to know--where do we get the ideas for film, for those productions? From books, from stories. Filmmakers are storytellers. It was just fascinating to listen to her talk about the Harlem Renaissance and the artists. When she talked about that, then we would have conversations and I would tell her about Arts High and the art deco building and that whole time period, which was fascinating. It was just really interesting when you think about that, but she's such a great scholar and her knowledge is unbelievable. [Editor's Note: The Harlem Renaissance was a social and artistic movement that occurred in Harlem and lasted from the late 1910s to the mid-1930s. Dr. Cheryl A. Wall was a pioneering scholar of African American women's literature who taught at Rutgers for nearly five decades. She passed away on April 4, 2020.]
I also learned how to write for film through the coursework that I did with Dr. Cheryl Wall, because when you're analyzing film, you're writing for film. You still need that foundation and structure from English writing, you still need to have your paragraph structure, [and] you need that topic sentence. These are all the things I learned from Dr. Wall because when I was writing for journalism--even now, when you go on Twitter, you [have] a few characters [and] that's not real writing. But from Dr. Wall, you learn how to write clearly and concisely. You are telling a story and you're providing the narrative, but you're analyzing the narrative as well. You're looking for the semiotic signs and symbols in that narrative, and that I learned from Dr. Cheryl Wall. I didn't learn that in journalism because we were writing for Reporting I and Reporting II, you're getting facts, stories and facts, but you're getting [details] from Dr. Cheryl Wall and you're getting a history. She would give us the history of Harlem. It wasn't just the artist, but then she would do the whole history behind it and in the film. Before you write a script, if you're writing a true script about a period piece with historical facts, you have to have that background from Dr. Cheryl Wall to do that. She would give you the whole history of Harlem before we even discovered the Harlem Renaissance and the artists from that period. She would give you the whole history. She even talked about the Great Migration of African Americans before the Harlem Renaissance. So, she would give you the history lesson, and then teach you. Then, she would teach you about the artists who actually migrated from the South, made their way to Harlem. That, I learned from her. It was just fascinating. [Editor's Note: The Great Migration was the migration of African Americans from the South to urban areas in the North and West of the United States over the course of the twentieth century.]
Even today, we have conversations. She had a talk [in], I want to say March 2016, and she was talking about the Harlem Renaissance. I made sure that I was there, front and center, still learning from her, to this day. You think about the influences you have and the great professors, scholars and teachers, and you're just always a student. It's lifelong learning, and thank God she's still here. When we found out she was here, I said, "She's got to speak to us at Douglass at our reunion, Douglass reunion," and she did. She was our guest speaker, and she was really happy because most of us in the room were her former students. It was like a reunion with her, and we were so glad [that] she was still here. At the time, Dr. Cobb was still with us, and so she was there as well. It was great because at the time, at Douglass, we had a degree-granting college, as was Rutgers College, Livingston College, Cook College. We had faculty there at Douglass and that's before the integration, which I think came after '81. So, we were actually the last class that she had on the Douglass Campus, before she moved over to the central system, for lack of a better term, the central system, integration.
KR: The Faculty of Arts and Sciences. [Editor's Note: In 1981, the faculties of Rutgers College, Livingston College, University College, Cook College and Douglass College merged into the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). Prior to this, each college had its own department in the same academic fields.]
DS: Yes, and then moving over to--I guess she had to move, her offices were moved from Douglass over to College Avenue. So, she was very happy to have [that reunion], and we were her last class at Douglass and then we graduated in '81. She's still here doing great things. In fact, when I'm teaching film, no matter where I'm teaching, I always say [to students], "You should try and take a class with Dr. Cheryl Wall before she retires. It will help you when you return to my class, when you're analyzing film. It will just help you because it helped me." I said, "I know that if you take her class, it will help with your writing as well." I mean, we have the writing centers, which are great, here at the University, but if you take her class, you will get a history lesson as well as writing, and you need that. You need to know, especially in film, that time period [of a film]. Why did they create that particular film? What was going on in the country, or if it's international, what was going on in a foreign country? You need that when you're writing about film and when you write a script, if it's going to be an accurate script. I mean, if you look at movies like JFK and Lincoln, you have to know your history, but you also have to know how to write about history. I think that's something that I learned from Dr. Wall. [Editor's Note: JFK is a 1991 film directed by Oliver Stone that focuses on the conspiracy theory of the President John F. Kennedy's assassination. Lincoln is a historical 2012 film directed by Steven Spielberg that is based on the life of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.]
I know I learned that from her, and I certainly learned a lot about semiotics and film, which would be signs and symbols in film. I actually learned that from her. I didn't really learn that in graduate school. I was able to perfect it in graduate school and build on it, but I actually got the foundation from Dr. Cheryl Wall in her classes. They were small classes. They were [in a] very intimate, small setting at Douglass, and there would be men there too. Men were allowed to take classes with us too, but it was great in her classes. Oh, my God, we were just mesmerized just listening to her talk about the Harlem Renaissance and the Great Migration of African Americans, and so it was just wonderful. Then, when you hear her now, you listen to her at her speaking engagements, it's just great information. It's something that, I think, [is] an art to be able to do that the way [that] she does it. She's an artist. She's a scholar but also an artist, I think, anyway. That's my opinion on her, just [a] wonderful woman and great scholar.
KR: How much interaction did Dean Jewel Plummer Cobb have with students?
DS: Oh, my goodness, this woman, oh God, Dr. Cobb [was a] scientist but also a mother. So, with her, we had a mother on campus. She would invite us to the dean's home, to her home on campus, at Douglass. She would invite us to come there, and she would have a tea, like a British afternoon tea, and conversation. She would just say, "How are things going? How are your classes? How are your social activities?" It was almost like, if you couldn't go home for the weekend or the holidays, you could always go to Dean Cobb because she lived on campus, in the dean's house, right across from the Student Center. She would just make you feel at home, in her home, and very comfortable. [She was] always willing to help and very concerned that we were fully engaged and that we were learning. [There are] two things [that] I learned from her. What I learned from her that I shared in my "Preparing Future Faculty" course that I had at Howard University in graduate school years later is that she would always say, "Are you engaged in the classroom?" and "Are you learning?" Then, years later, in graduate school, at Howard and also at American, the professor said, "What are two things that are important as a scholar and as an academic?" I said, "You have to ask the students, are they engaged and are they learning?" I learned that from Dr. Cobb.
She would do it in such a way that you weren't intimidated, because you're in a setting where she's having tea with you and conversation, very casual. Then, you just sit there with other students, and her engagement in that setting was pretty much like being at home. So, you were comfortable. You didn't realize it, and I realize it now, but you were actually learning. It was like she was giving us a course in her home, off hours. She would do this on weekends, when she didn't have meetings. So, it was like having a course in her home. It was a separate course that you were paying for, but she was willing to share for free. I remember during Senior Week, she would invite the parents to like a garden party. I remember my brother from [the] University of Minnesota--he's a Weequahic grad and then he went to the University of Minnesota--then my mom and my brother show up at the dean's residence for this garden party during Senior Week, when I was graduating from Douglass. I know my brother said, "We don't have anything like this in Minnesota." He said, "This is really nice." We'd go in the garden. My mother loved it because it was very southern for her. You had this huge house across from the Douglass Student Center, and there's a garden party. It's very informal, and you're having an iced tea and you're walking around. So, it reminded her of being in Alabama, and my brother just loved it because, as he said, "We don't have anything like this at the University of Minnesota." He just thought it was such a nice touch, and her presence.
Then, she introduced herself to my brother, who didn't attend school here. It was a missed opportunity because he was recruited to come here, and I think, years later, he did say to me, "Well, they had some great things going on at Douglass and at the University as a whole." Years later, he would bring up that moment where he met my dean and how my mother was so impressed by her, because they both had that southern background. She had all these accomplishments, but when she met my mother, it was like two southern women just having iced tea, walking around the lawn, and my mother loved that, never forgot it. To this day, she talks about it. My brother continued to talk about it. So, she just had that nice way of just making people feel wanted and comfortable, putting aside all her degrees and her accomplishments, [and] just being a warm endearing person. When you have a dean like that, it's like you don't want to leave. I didn't want to leave, and Senior Week was great. I wanted it to last forever because she put together such great programs, had great staff, and had wonderful people. We had Dean [Nancy] Richards. We had Dean [Janet] Yocum. I still remember them, and they come back from time to time for the Douglass reunion, those who can still travel and come back. These are people that she knew would work well with us, as women. To this day, we're all on Facebook together.
Sadly, we lost her [Jewel Plummer Cobb in] January of 2017, but we did honor her on campus. Dean Litt was wonderful because Dean Litt actually invited Dean Cobb's son to return, in 2016, to Douglass, at Voorhees Chapel, and he spoke about his mom and received a nice honorary resolution, or certificate, in honor of his mother. His wife, the actress, Suzzanne Douglas Cobb was there as well. So, I got to meet them. Her son shared a memory that we had forgotten, where he had a graduation party at the residence there before his mom left, before Dean Cobb left to go to the University of California system. What she did for us at Douglass is that she showed us that we were women and that we were future leaders and that we could do anything. In fact, I will share later, what she wrote in our graduation program, and in the back of our yearbook, [is] so timely. It's something that, if you were to read that to students today, would be a great commencement speech for someone to deliver, in her words. It would be nice to have her son come back and just read it at commencement, or at the Douglass Convocation, because, and I still have my yearbook, what she wrote in there [is] just unbelievable, yes. So, it's something that if you read it now, you feel empowered. If you were depressed, or if you were between jobs, between careers, and you read that, it just gives you a jolt and a pick me up. It makes you remember that you are ready and you have the foundation and that it's time for you to get to work. It was her charge to us and it was just wonderful. I am so glad that I still have that. I say that and I read it quite often. [Editor's Note: In Jewel Plummer Cobb's statement "To the Graduates of the Class of 1981" in the Quair yearbook, she said, "We are as proud of you as we were of the first graduating class of 1922. We have always upheld a traditional expectation of top performance from you as Douglass women. Each job or assignment in all your work requires excellence as a standard of objective performance. We expect that you will be not simply a writer or a surgeon or a judge, or a teacher, or a scientist, a corporate manager, or a civic leader, but we expect you to be the best of the lot."]
Actually, I shared it with some students on campus; they were doing an event in her honor. Dr. Felicia McGinty did the STEAM event, and it was the Empowerment Conference that we did last summer. Again, it's STEAM, so it's Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math, Women's Empowerment Conference in honor of Dr. Jewel Plummer Cobb. It's an annual event here on campus, at the Student Center on College Avenue, and we all got a nice bag with her name on it. Then, we watched a quick video about her lifetime achievements, and I actually shared [it] with the students. A student actually spoke and said, "Can I read this?" when I showed her what Dean Cobb wrote for us, and at the end of the Empowerment Conference, she stood on the stage and read it. God, everybody stood up, standing ovation and applauded, and said [that] they wish that Dean Cobb were here with us today, because it was just wonderful what she wrote. See, words have power, and that I learned from Dr. Cheryl Wall as well. So, between these two women, their words stand the test of time, and it's something that will stay with me forever, what I learned from those two women. [They were] just brilliant women, brilliant, both of them. So, it's just fascinating, and she was a scientist. Dean Cobb was a scientist, but she also believed in the social sciences as well. So, it's a nice tribute to have the conference named after her but also include the arts and the social sciences. She believed in that as well and as a Dean at Douglass College, a liberal arts college, of course.
She was way, way ahead of her time when you look at the work that she was doing. When I say that, I say that with love and respect, when I say ahead of her time, because people at her time could've allowed her, I think, to do a whole lot more. When I say they, I mean, in her field, with men dominating the field and the work that she was doing, like the women in Hidden Figures at NASA. These are women that were doing great things [and] men probably felt that the women, at the time, belonged in the kitchens and not so much doing that kind of work. But these were women that were doing work, that decided that they could be a wife, a mother, a sister, a girlfriend, and still be great scholars and leaders and scientists. So, that's what I learned from Dean Cobb because she did it all, she absolutely did it all. I wish she were here with us today, but I'm so glad that we were able to bring her back to our reunion along with Dr. Cheryl Wall, together, because those two women were on the Douglass Campus at the time I was on the Douglass Campus, and I had never met two women like that. I had great teachers at Arts High, but these two women, this is a different level because now we're talking [about] higher education.
I've gone from the great women at Arts High, Mrs. Barrett and Judge Hollar-Gregory, who was my English teacher, Judge Hollar-Gregory, who's a judge now, was an English teacher that I had. Between her and Dr. Cheryl Wall, I had great English teachers and two of my favorite courses, one in high school at Arts High and then, again, at Douglass. They were just great writers and great storytellers, and what I learned about the narrative structure, I still carry with me today, from both of them. Then, what I learned from Ms. Barrett and Dean Cobb is that women can be in the sciences and technology and math, and that they will always be leaders in those areas and they will do well. They are future leaders and we see that now, because we got the women's movement going on now and so we've got great leaders. Hopefully, they'll have women like Mrs. Barrett and women like Dr. Cobb and Dr. Cheryl Wall and Judge Michelle Hollar-Gregory. Hopefully, they'll have women like that to learn from and to move forward in society. It's important. It's important for women and it's important for men.
KR: What was graduation day like?
DS: Oh, my goodness, so after that wonderful Senior Week and going to that garden party at the Dean's house, and then graduating, it was hot. I remember it was very hot. It was in Antilles Field, but it was dry and sunny like today. So, at least we didn't have the rain, because last year we had a lot of rain at the Douglass convocation and this year we had mist. But that day, 1981, in May, God, it was sunny, dry, but it wasn't humid, because it was dry, and we were all wearing, believe it or not--you talked about--we didn't wear costumes, we didn't have to wear the white gloves, and, again, [for] the teas at the dean's residence, with Dean Cobb, we didn't have to wear the white gloves. That's part of the tradition when you go to a tea. [At] the Dean's residence, you would have to wear the white gloves. Well, she didn't have us do that, but we were in, I like to say, a type of uniform, because we had to wear black caps and gowns. I know now [that] the students wear red. Well, you know the heat and wearing black. So, we wore black, and it was very business-like, because we wore hose, pantyhose. Women now have bare legs and pumps, and they have these three-inch heels. Well, we didn't have that. We had nice, traditional, professional pumps, black pumps, black gown, black caps, black pumps, black hose, or nude hose, but it was so elegant and so professional [when] you were there, in Antilles Field, and you saw these women cross the stage and go up to Dean Cobb.
She shook every hand, similar to what Dean Peter March does now, [for the] School of Arts and Sciences. I like that touch. I like that he's doing that now, because we did that with our dean. They'd call your name, you'd walk across the stage, and she would extend her hand, she shook every hand, and presented us with our degree. We actually got the degree there and then you walk across the stage, and that's what Dean Peter March is doing now, which I like. When he brought that back, he reminded me of Douglass and Dean Cobb, because that's something she did, so that now we're in [the] School of Arts and Sciences and he continues that tradition. He even did it this year, even with the rain. It's a nice touch. I know that I still remember it, so I'm quite certain that students here [will as well]. That's something you will remember, and I hope that more students will take the chance, no matter what the weather is like, [to] go to High Point Stadium [Now SHI Stadium] to the SAS, School of Arts and Sciences, convocation, following commencement. You'll never get to do that again in life, walk across that stage and shake the hand of Dean Peter March and take that photo and hear your name called with your family there. That's very special. [Editor's Note: Dr. Peter March is the current Executive Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.]
I know that Dr. Cobb did that for us, and it's funny because you're excited afterwards, but that's the last time, unless you make an effort to return to campus, that you will meet those people. The people who have been there for you for four years, who have taught you everything they know, before sending you out to the working world. That's what she did for us. I think she knew that, because I remember that grip, the handshake. It wasn't just like a casual shake. Move on, next person, read the name, it wasn't like that. It was very warm, endearing, and it was almost like, "I hold you in the palm of my hand and I will carry you for life." It was just wonderful and she's done that, and I still feel like she's with us today.
Pretty much, yes, that was great. Dean March is doing that now, and I think that was great. I'm so glad he's doing it, because I miss that. That's one thing I miss; with the University commencement, you don't have the opportunity to do that because you've got every school out there and there are thousands. I know [that] one year, when I was commencement marshal, I think Dr. Barchi conferred a total of, it's close to, sixteen thousand degrees. You can't possibly do that there, you'd be there for hours, but Dean March does that with School of Arts and Sciences, and I don't think the students realized that. You won't realize that until years later, as I sit here, and you'll say, "Wow, I missed that opportunity." So, I'm sharing this with Avery and Tony, so that you will do this. It's going to be like it's a magical moment and you [will] know then, when you receive his hand and they call your name and your family's watching, you'll never get to do that again in life. Never, it just doesn't happen that way. So, it depends, some graduate programs do it, but some are so huge, they can't do it.
I would tell every student here, "If you can do that, [do it]." This is just not to sell it to anyone, but I know how I felt when it happened for me. So, I think it's important if you do that. For my son, it was great because he graduated from SAS in Criminal Justice, and they called his name in the gym and he was able to do the same thing, to go across the stage. They allowed me to go on stage with him, as a faculty member. We got a big hug and it reminded me, it brought back memories, of myself with Dean Cobb. I told my son, I said, "You have no idea. That's a moment that years from now will come back to you, and you will feel so special and so glad that you had the opportunity to do that." But she gave us that, and it's almost like we were her children and she was sending us off into the world with that handshake. It was a nice, warm [handshake]. It wasn't one of these business handshakes, when you clasp the hand like that. It was a warm handshake, like you were taking a part of her with you, as you go out into the working world. Yes, so it was really nice.
What she wrote for us, my goodness. I have to talk to her son, Dr. Jonathan Cobb, and find out--he, actually, should publish it. It's something that should be published. I know that some of us still have our yearbooks. We have that, but students don't have yearbooks anymore because you're all on social media. You do things on Instagram, you do things quickly, but at the time, we had an actual yearbook. Her photos are in it and then to have her write this [in it], it should be published, because everything she talked about then [is] something that [is] very relevant today. So, sitting here, discussing this with you, I have to maybe even share that with Dean March and say, "You know, this is something that maybe you should check with her family and maybe you should publish this." It would be something nice to have for the students in the School of Arts and Sciences to take with them, since you don't have yearbooks. We actually have it in a book form, in our yearbook, in the back of the yearbook, and it's something that you put on your coffee table and people read it. Again, I brought it out for the students and they read it and they were like, "Wow, this is great," and they said, "Can we make a copy of this and share it?" and then they'd read it to each other. These were women that were in the Student Center, and they're reading about Dr. Cobb at the empowerment session they did in her honor, and they're reading her words, today, and it was just great. So, maybe we should just talk to the dean and find out if we can publish it, because when they read it, the student asked if she could stand on stage and read it, and she read it before a sea of women at this empowerment meeting. We had guest speakers there and we had guidance counselors there and to hear Dean Cobb's words, everybody stood up and just applauded. So, she has left us with her legacy and with those powerful words that continue to inspire us. It's so inspirational. She was a great inspiration. She was a great mentor. She was just [a] scholar, mother, wonderful women, yes, and we were so lucky to have her at Douglass when we did, before she went to California. [laughter] So, it was great.
KR: I am going to pause.
DS: Oh, sure.
KR: This concludes an interview with Deborah Shuford on Friday, June 29, 2018. Thank you so much for being here with us and for sharing your stories.
DS: Thank you for having me. This is so much fun. I am really enjoying this, thank you.
KR: We are going to reconvene very soon for part four.
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Transcribed by Jesse Braddell 7/25/2018
Reviewed by Zach Batista 1/23/2020
Reviewed by Kate Rizzi 2/26/2020
Reviewed by Deborah Shuford 7/30/2020
Reviewed by Kate Rizzi 4/7/2021