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Rutgers-Camden in the 1960s
A decade of great significance across the nation, the 1960s also brought forth dramatic change at Rutgers–Camden.
Enrollment had more than doubled from 201 undergraduates in the previous decade to 495 by 1960. Course offerings also grew exponentially, with some 162 courses being offered at the start of the campus’ second decade, from just 31 offered 10 years before. The passages of college bond issues in 1959 and 1964 would also fund the construction of several new facilities, including the Campus Center and Science Building in 1964 and Armitage Hall in 1969. These brand new facilities were a welcomed change to students who once frequented the basement of a local church for student camaraderie and snacks.
Some students, like Richard Aregood ’65, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1985 for editorial writing while at the Philadelphia Daily News, actually liked the ragtag beginnings of the campus.
“The Camden Campus was far from the little jewel it is today, although it had its considerable charms,” he recalls fondly of the church, city library, and a “beautiful tiny Victorian building” he frequented as a student. “What we had was essentially a row house neighborhood with a college crammed into it…For the most part, we were commuters, so campus life was hardly a smorgasbord of thrills and excitement. What it was (and I was only dimly aware at the time) was an opportunity for us working class heroes to learn skills and discipline and gather the knowledge that would change our lives.”
An awareness of the Campus' great potential was realized by 1960 senior class president Frank A. Borbidge, who wrote in the student yearbook: “Some say that our departure is all too soon, that we who now graduate will never experience the advantages of those we leave behind in a growing college with a larger campus, additional facilities, and increased enrollment. But we hope that the informal atmosphere shared by our class and by those who went before us will not be lost to those who follow, as our once small college becomes big. The past four years have left us many fond memories, a feeling of intellectual maturity and social awareness.”
Student life at Rutgers–Camden in the 1960s reflected all of the social changes and political turmoil affecting the nation. As the Civil Rights movement gained momentum and the controversy surrounding Vietnam intensified, student activism also grew.
But Rutgers–Camden students weren’t concerned only about the state of the nation; they were also making impressive strides in their academic pursuits. Athenaeum, the Honor Society of the College of South Jersey, was established in 1952 with five members. Nearly a decade later and the society boasted more than 60 members.
Barbara Wainwright Capuano, CCAS ’62, a Delta Rho sister, recalls campus life in the early 60s at Rutgers–Camden.
“Looking back, the Rutgers–Camden Campus in the 60s was rather modest – we ate lunch in the basement of an old church, our science labs were in an old brownstone building – replaced shortly after our graduation by a new science building. But yet, we graduated, found rewarding professions, and kept the memories of our years at Rutgers–Camden an important part of our lives,” notes Wainwright Capuano after returning to the Campus for a reunion during the sorority’s 55th anniversary at Rutgers–Camden.
As at other colleges in the nation at this time, the university’s relationship with minority students on all three campuses became contested. Despite the expanding number of students, there were still less than 20 minority students enrolled at Rutgers–Camden by the late sixties. Campus organizations such as the Black Student Unity Movement were formed. To call attention to their cause, a group of African American students peacefully “took over” the Campus Center one Sunday night in 1969 and kept it closed until the following afternoon. The incident, and similar activity on the New Brunswick and Newark campuses, helped raise Rutgers’ awareness of the needs and interests of minority students.
Learning how to think about the world wasn’t something Rutgers–Camden students culled from classes alone. It was through demonstrations like these that made an impression on Scarlet Raptors.
“...It is hoped that, in the years to come, this [Mneme] will serve as a vivid reminder of the days in which the most vital foundations of your way of life, your own ‘philosophy,’ were formed. If this aim is achieved, our efforts will have been more than justified.”
Media Contact: Cathy K. Donovan