WASHINGTON, PA (Feb. 12, 2021)—During February 2021, Washington & Jefferson College is celebrating Black History Month by recognizing some of our accomplished Black alumni and the current students who are carrying on their legacy today. Each Friday, we’ll share a new feature showcasing how vital Black contributions are to the success of our institution.
THEN: Taking a Stand
Walter Cooper, Ph.D., ’50 stands as an inspiration to our community, and a template of the type of student W&J hopes to graduate.
During his long tenure as a visionary leader in science, education, and civil action, Dr. Cooper has crossed paths with celebrated figures of advocacy including Martin Luther King, Jr,. Malcom X, Eleanor Roosevelt and Robert Kennedy.
Challenging racial discrimination is, in fact, how Dr. Cooper came to Washington & Jefferson College, rather than attending another school he was considering – one where he encountered discriminatory policies when he inquired about athletic opportunities.
Dr. Cooper passed on a scholarship from that school after learning that he wouldn’t be allowed to participate in football games against some southern schools. At the urging of friend and fellow football player Dan Towler, he instead applied to W&J, where the two became teammates and where Cooper found mentors and support for his work as an athlete, activist, and academic.
Following his time at W&J, Dr. Cooper continued his education at Howard University and eventually settled in Rochester, N.Y., where he became even more involved in civil rights activities. He instituted Rochester’s chapter of the Urban League and served as president of the local NAACP chapter. He also founded a new organization in the early 1960s called Action for a Better Community in Rochester.
His desire to create more educational opportunities for Black students was at the forefront of his advocacy, and Dr. Cooper made strides for underserved children in the Rochester area for years, expanding his reach globally to establish Rochester’s Sister City program with Bamako, Mali, where he worked to create scholarships for students from Bamako.
In Fall 2020, W&J recognized Dr. Cooper and his achievements by dedicating and renaming a newly updated residence hall, Cooper Hall.
During the dedication ceremony, Dr. Cooper told the crowd, “I want to say that my life was shaped, my life was enriched, and my life led to the dedication of other human beings based on my early experience at Washington & Jefferson College.”
NOW: Refusing to be silent
As Dr. Cooper hands the baton to the next generation of W&J activists, Jasmine Dey ’23 is ready to take it and run.
Jasmine’s first big experience with activism came in their high school days at a 2016 community demonstration for Black Lives Matter organized by a group in their hometown of Stroudsburg, Pa. Four years later, Jasmine again joined in a demonstration led by another group—and the number of participants grew exponentially. That solidified Jasmine’s excitement and passion for community demonstration and inspired them to join the organizing side of activism.
At W&J, Jasmine has continued to engage with their peers and surrounding community, using their podcast “Cue the Conversation” as a megaphone to discuss racial inequities in America and their experience growing up as a Black person in predominantly white settings. They’ve captured the attention of a wide audience, including national politicians, even hosting the Green Party 2020 vice presidential candidate on the podcast’s first season.
Jasmine also is actively supporting inclusion efforts at the College and is a member of W&J’s IDEA committee, focused on providing more equitable representation from more diverse backgrounds on the College’s faculty and staff. They act as a leader for their peers in the W&J Black Student Union, which regularly hosts conversations around topics of racial injustice as well as serving as a campus resource for Black students.
Jasmine also is looking for more opportunities to do grass roots organizing in Pittsburgh to help local vulnerable populations. And, even with all that experience under their belt, Jasmine wants to evolve in their activism and plans to continue their work beyond W&J.
“I call myself a baby activist. I’m not where I want to be—I don’t believe that hosting a podcast and leading in BSU are nearly enough—but I hope to grow into a community activist while organizing and finding my roots,” they said. “I kind of laugh at myself because when I came to school, I thought I was going to be a senator, but that fell apart completely when I realized how important community is to me—and being ingrained in that community. I see myself being wherever my community needs for me.”
While that community could take Jasmine a host of places in the future, right now it has them firmly planted at W&J—and that’s exactly where they feel they need to be. In the next few years at W&J, they plan to work toward growing the BSU.
“I feel like I’m part of a group of people who care about this cause and who are determined to create better experiences on this campus, improving on the headway that W&J has already made,” Jasmine said. “I really want Black students, teenagers, young adults—and people in general, really—to unapologetically indulge themselves in their identity as a black person and stay the course in whatever they do because they deserve to be there.”
About Washington & Jefferson College
Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work. For more information about W&J, visit www.washjeff.edu, or call 888-W-AND-JAY.