Some 200 Towson University alumni spent Saturday morning surprising one of their most beloved mentors, and then the school threw them a celebratory curve that surprised everyone.
Just moments before unveiling an outdoor bust in honor of Julius Chapman, the school’s first Dean of Minority Affairs from 1969 to 1981, Towson President Kim Schatzel announced that the surrounding area would soon be turned into a quad where students could gather to study or socialize or do a little of both.
“This is going to be the Dr. Chapman Quad,” Schatzel announced with a flourish, catching even many of her staff off guard.
Chapman, 82, seated in the front row of a group of chairs placed so that his bust seemed to be keeping watch over everyone sitting in them, smiled broadly. On a day when hundreds of Towson alum returned to campus for the school’s annual homecoming, this moment — and this patch of land, adjacent to Van Bokkelen Hall, home to the university’s Communication Studies and Electronic Media and Film departments ― was all about him.
He was, he assured anyone who asked, proud and grateful and more than a little surprised.
“I’m blown away,” the man all the alum affectionately call “Dean” said.
The formal ceremonies had ended, and he was sitting a few feet from his bust, on a bench unveiled last year that, likewise, celebrates his legacy.
“It’s just an amazing feeling to receive the warmth, the friendship of the people that I knew when I was here at Towson," Chapman said. "It brings back a lot of memories, pleasant memories, of when they were all very young.”
For those who came to fete the man who offered a helping hand and understanding ear to so many of them, the honor was both deserved and overdue.
“He was like a second father to me,” said Lloyd Tucker, a Forest Park High grad who started at Towson in 1976. “I had some situations where things didn’t go very positively, and he was very instrumental in getting me through it. I knew I could go and get some fatherly advice from him.”
“He’s an inspiration, a leader," agreed Bobby Washington, class of ’78 and, as a basketball star, a member of the school’s Hall of Fame. “He’s been a father figure to so many of us.”
Towson State College, as the university was known when Chapman arrived in 1969, was quite different from today’s TU. Physically, it would add acreage and buildings and thousands of students over the ensuing years. And 50 years ago, if you were a student of color ― as Schatzel noted in her remarks Saturday, the school’s student body was only 1 percent African-American in 1969 — Towson could be an intimidating place.
“The problem was, there was only about a handful of us here, minorities,” Tucker said. “We really felt like they didn’t want us to be here, that was the impression we got.”
As dean of minority affairs, it was Chapman’s job to help minority students navigate their college years, assure them they weren’t alone, and offer understanding and guidance.
“And through it all, you graduated,” Chapman said as so many of his former charges looked on, “and that was the most important thing.”
At Towson University in 2019, 42% of students self-identify as racial or ethnic minorities, according to figures provided by the university. And 25% of new students are African-American.
“Dr. Chapman, you brought us a long way, a long way,” said Leah K. Cox, TU’s vice president for inclusion and institutional equity. “We have you, Dr. Chapman, to thank for laying the groundwork.”
Chapman, a native of the small town of Kellyton, Alabama, and a Tuskegee University grad, left Towson in 1981 to accept the position of vice president for academic affairs at Voorhees College in South Carolina. He retired from academia in 2005, after serving as dean of education at Coppin State University. He lives in Columbia.
When the speeches were over and the bust was unveiled, Chapman spent a good 20 minutes shaking hands and posing for pictures. Dozens of members of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity (which Chapman brought to the TU campus, and whose members helped raise money for the bust) and the Delta Sigma Theta sorority surrounded him, smiling and laughing and pleading for just one more picture before he left.
Next year, after the current Stephens Annex building is torn down — 37 years after it debuted on campus as a “temporary building,” Schatzel noted with a laugh — work will begin on transforming the area into the Chapman Quad. As the alums gathered here in Chapman’s honor soaked in the unexpected announcement, the man of the hour couldn’t stop smiling.
“I wanted them to have a good experience here at Towson,” Chapman reflected as the festivities wound down. “I wanted them to be able to go out in the world and soar, to be successful. Not to do what I wanted them to do, but what they were divinely motivated to do.”
That’s just what happened, Chapman said, as another alum approached to offer a hug and a few words of reminiscence. “They are still a part of my life," he said, "and will always be a part of my life.”