2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
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Secure in His Many Roles

Secure in His Many Roles
Dennis Chambers, Ed. D. Adult Learning and Leadership, and TC Security Officer
 
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During his many years at Teachers College, Dennis Chambers has seen TC in all its modes: the nighttime TC, the weekend TC, TC in summers and TC when students are on break.
 
But few at the College know Dennis Chambers equally well.
 
Nearly everyone knows the unfailingly friendly, calm and gentle man in the security officer’s uniform who responds to daily crises, large and small. Many also know the dedicated student who this spring is receiving his third degree from Teachers College – an Ed. D. in adult learning and leadership, to go with his master’s degrees in health education and organizational psychology.
 
What may be less well know is that
  • Together with his wife, Sharon, who also holds a degree from Teachers College, Chambers is the founder and guiding spirit of Zen Masters, an after school program in Queens that provides kids with homework assistance and teaches them life skills through martial arts.
  • Chambers has served as an adjunct professor at Brooklyn College; a consultant to the U.N. on conflict resolution skills for staff; and a motivational speaker and leader of community workshops.
  • Chambers also has co-chaired numerous high-profile committees at TC.
As an African American male who inhabits all these different roles, Chambers thinks a lot about the ways in which people do and do not see him. He tells powerful stories – like the time, after 9/11, when, having just come off shift and with no time to change, he attended class in his uniform, and a student said, “Oh, are we going to have security with us all the time now?”
 
Or about the candidate for a high-level administrative position who treated him rudely at the front desk, only to come face to face with him as her interviewer later that day.
 
In fact, Chambers has found the issues of identity, race, perception and possibility so compelling that he has ended up writing his doctoral dissertation on the experiences of African-American males pursuing doctoral degrees and how they perceive those experiences. One of his major findings was connected to what Columbia provost and psychologist Claude Steele calls “stereotype threat” – the potentially limiting and damaging effects of others’ perceptions on those of color or from other quote-unquote minority backgrounds.
 
Chambers says he is grateful to faculty members he has worked with at TC -- especially Maria Volpe, Victoria Marsick and Barbara Wallace -- for seeing him not only for who he is, but who he can be, and for encouraging him in his work. He is proud that, at TC’s doctoral ceremonies, not only his family but also so many students from Zen Masters will see Master Dennis walk the talk. He doesn’t yet know what the future will hold. But from a man who says he believes that “teaching is love,” it seems likely that helping others will continue to be a major part of the plan.
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