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Kowolchuk - Let's just start kind of your education before University of Dubuque.

Donna Cooper - I attended Richard T. Crane High School in Chicago Illinois, that's where I did my High School years. I also attended Suder Elementary School where I got my basic education from and both schools are in Chicago Illinois.

Kowolchuk - And those schools what were they in terms of racial?

Donna Cooper - Both schools, Suder Elementary and Richard T. Crane High School both is predominantly black as far as the racial status goes.

Kowolchuk - So did you live in Chicago all your life?

Donna Cooper - Yes, well I was born and raised in Chicago. I was born in Chicago, raised in Chicago always lived on the west side of Chicago. I grew up on the west side of Chicago. I learned about the University of Dubuque in High School, my Assistant Principal Delbert. And he took me and a couple of more students up to the University of Dubuque to visit the school over one summer. I was a junior in High School at the time, he kind of encouraged me and another student to attend the University of Dubuque.

Kowolchuk - Did you look at the other schools in Dubuque or any other schools in the area or was it just UD?

Donna Cooper - It was just strictly UD because he is an Alumni at the University of Dubuque so he took us to the University of Dubuque only.

Kowolchuk - What was his name again?

Donna Cooper - His name is Delbert Bodon. D-E-L-B-E-R-T, B-O-D-O-N. But um, that's the gentleman that got me introduced to UD. Then when we tended that summer. Actually I had fun that weekend up there. There were no students there because it was over the summer but me and my two friends that were there we made a little fun there so, and I like the school.

Kowolchuk - Did you choose UD just because that's what you were shown or was there a specific reason outside of that? Why UD?

Donna Cooper - No I told you UD. Actually it was gonna be, one of my friends that went down with us she was an upperclassman. So she wanted to go the other girl, we were both gonna come here together as freshmen and at the last minute, we was looking at other schools, and at the last minute one of my friends that was supposed to come decided to go to Tennessee State because she ended up with a music scholarship at Tennessee State. I actually was gonna follow her to Tennessee State but my other friend that was, already did a year at UD wanted me to come up there to be with her so she wouldn't be the only black girl at UD. So I was torn between the two and um UD was closer than Tennessee State and I had never looked at Tennessee State or had any contacts with them and I made a little imprint in Dubuque so I decided to go to Dubuque.

Kowolchuk - What did you study when you came here?

Donna Cooper - Well when I first came in I was undecided and then I wanted to go into social work and I ended up splitting between social work and sociology. After I got there I met a professor by the name of Doug and he was a really good guy and he taught sociology so I got interested in the sociology aspect. Of my degree that's why I leaned towards that.

Kowolchuk - So you just got excited and eventually decided over sociology or did you go through other degrees before that?

Donna Cooper - No I did sociology and I stayed with the social work as a minor and then I was looking at psychology too. I did a lot of psychology courses while I was there so I was looking to sway between, so it was between actually those three sociology, social work and psychology that's basically mainly where my background of education come from.

Kowolchuk - Do you think like UD helped you formulate like after school there?

Donna Cooper - You Know what, UD has made a great impact on my life. Coming from a predominantly black environment with school and in my neighborhood. If I can say it was kind of like a culture shock when I came there. When I was a freshman and I came in it was 23 black students that came in UD in 1983 in the fall of 1983. 22 of them was male and the one female and that was me so I actually was the only black female freshman there, I was the only black female sophomore there so for my first two years there at the school it was only two black females there. It was me and my friend, she was an upperclassmen so she would have been the only sophomore and the only Junior there at the time. So UD has made a great impact on my life because I never had to deal with different races and that type of setting and I dealt with it. So actually the gentleman that got me there, my Assistant Principle Delbert he encouraged me, after the first year I was thinking about transferring and out of Dubuque and he talked to me and he told me one thing that stuck with me he said, "Listen I understand" and he said "I know where you come from" because he taught at my High School, and he said "I know where you come from and I understand, but if you can just stick it out two years I guarantee you anywhere you go in the world you you will be able to deal with different type of people" he said "The diversity that you will receive in UD will help you along in life" and that has stuck with me I came back my sophomore year and actually he was right, it got easier and easier to deal with the different cultures I was encountered with. I actually got a little comfortable and I started to like it and you know I end up staying my whole four years at UD only because of that conversation I had with my Assistant Principal from High School. so that changed my life greatly.

Kowolchuk - Because you talked about how many black students were at the school, what was the racial atmosphere on campus that you kind of saw.

Donna Cooper - You know I was just talking to one of my other friends about that. We came in the 80's, the early 80's and what was shocking to me was that there was still a lot racial tension back then. That was very shocking to me so the small group that we had, we always stuck together. Like a little buddy system kind of thing because of some of the racial things we had encountered there. I know for an example, I will share this with you. My first encounter with racism and I'm from Chicago, Illinois, so its all types of people here in Chicago. But my actually first contact with racism was in Dubuque, in Dubuque, Iowa. I was going to the cleaners on Grand VIew. I stayed at Aitchison dorm and I was walking up to the cleaners and a white male was coming in the opposite direction of me and he stopped me, he asked me "can I ask you a question?" and I was thinking he was gonna ask for some directions or something like that and I was like "Okay yes you can ask me a question" and he said "wat if someone called you a nigger?" and it kind of blew me away that he was literally was standing three feet in my face ta ask me something like that. No one ever asked me that, I never had to worry about that. And when he asked me he had this strangest look on his face when he said it, so I didn't know if he was gonna taunt me or attack me or what but I was so scared that day and I uh kinda blew him off 'Oh I'd just ignore them and I kept walking real fast and I went into the cleaners and there was a lady there and she was like "what's your problem" cause she seen the fear on me and I told her what just happened so she kind of like calmed me down and she waited and she allowed me to call some of my friends back on campus. So the guys come up to the cleaners to get me. Because I told them I didn't want to go back out there because I didn't know where he was. So that was my first real contact with racism and it like I said blew me away because I never had to deal with it, no one being that blunt with me before. You know, I didn't know how to handle that question. Because I was never in that situation before.

Kowolchuk - DId you do any sports why you where at school or involved in any of those kind of activities?

Donna Cooper - No I didn't do any sports while I was in school. My big thing is, I was the captain of my pep squad back in High School, so my thing is my mouth. I'm very loud so I always attend all the games, always participated in the background with the chanting and the encouragements of them but I never physically played the sports.

Kowolchuk - Okay so you've been like went to McCormick a lot right?

Donna Cooper - Oh ya.

Kowolchuk - We're actually having a separate exhibit that is memories of McCormick. I'd ask you do you have any memories, like specific memories of McCormick? Like good, bad, weird?

Donna Cooper - I have one ya. It's kind of weird. It was kind of weird. And let me say this for the record, I had some good times in McCormick at the gym and at the games and with my friends. But this one is, this is another thing in Dubuque that kind of caught me off guard. We was at a basketball game and um, I'm gonna share this with you though. We was at a basketball game and um, it was a lady and her son, I say the little guy had to be about. I want to say about 7 you know, something like that. And you could tell that he wasn't used I guess to being around black people. We where sitting in the bleachers like right behind them. So me and a few friend we was just sitting there we were watching the game, we cheering, you know "GO SPARTANS" the whole big bill. And the little guy kept turning around and looking at me and I caught his eyes. So I looked at him a little bit, so we end up in this little staring thing so I'm looking like waiting for the little guy to turn around so he would turn back around and he did it about 3 or 4 times, kept looking. And finally he said, "Did you know your skin was brown or black?" and you know he asked me the question and his mom is sitting right there and she's kind of like, you think she's not paying attention kind of thing. So I said "Okay, well did you know your skin was white are pink?" you know. So he would turn back around and then he'd come back and look at me again he said "Did you know your nose was round or fat?" so I was like okay, I said "did you know your nose was long or pointy?" so he turns back around. And he got ready he turned around and I said okay I'm feeling to nip this in the butt because right about now I know his mother is listening and she had not said anything to him. So when he turned back around and before he got to ask me the question, I asked him a question, I said "Did you when you go to sleep you turn my color?" and the guys eyes got so big and his mom said "Turn around Johnny" and then I was like I knew it, I knew she was listening. And it was kind of funny to me, after that I said now she need to go home and explain that to Johnny. I said, because she could have stopped it when he first started asking the questions, she could have stopped it. But she didn't so I played the little game with Johnny and you know at the end I got the last question in before he could ask me anything else and I just thought that was so hilarious and we laughed, I laughed about that all the time when I think about that. But it was just strange and that was because, and it was no fault to the little kid, and I wasn't trying to be malicious to the little kid. What I did felt that his mom should have just stopped it or whatever but that was back then how Dubuque was, they wasn't used to having the black people around in the community and I was probably the first person that he ever seen up that close. I was actually told that by one of the girls in the dorms. We became really good friends, she was from New Richmond, Wisconsin. She was like "Donna" she said "I know you're gonna think I'm crazy, but you actually the first black friend I ever had" and I'm like "what?" she was like "Ya, you're the first black friend I've ever have and I just thought that was just the craziest thing but then I had to think about it. I'm from Chicago and yes I lived in a predominantly black area but I know once I step out of my area I see other people. But for somebody to tell me I'm the first one that they ever came that close in contact with and was able a friend with. It kind of blew me away and it's like, this is the 80's, we ain't in the 60's or you know the feeling. This is the 80's what do you mean? But you know things like those little stories like that I think about and everything like that and it kind of helped me be the person that I am and not just this someone that everyone knows or everybody is aware of, of my culture or what of they should. People think`that at that time that they only seen us, it was on t.v. you know or whatever. I said "you can touch me I'm real, we friends". I have some really good friends, I made some really good friends up in Dubuque, Iowa. I wouldn't trade it for nothing in the world. Nothing in the world.

Kowolchuk - Well that's good. Were you part of any clubs on campus? Or organisations?

Donna Cooper - We had the black presidium that was going on up there. That was the only culture club that I was affiliated with while I was on Dubuque was the black presidium. Actually that's what, that's another thing that got me so on to Dubuque. They really, the recruiters and the administrators they really emphasised the fact that we have a minority culture center for you guys and I guess that was there way of making us comfortable so we wouldn't be so homesick or whatever and just a place to go just to be around other people with our backgrounds. And I'm saying that because Dubuque was predominantly white environment at the time I was there. So they wanted to make the minority students more comfortable and trying not to show the differences and everything like that. So the presidium was the only club I was involved with while I was at UD.

Kowolchuk - You talked about the teachers. Do you have any other teachers other than the Doug that kind of stood out for you?

Donna Cooper - Doug and this one professor and I can't remember his name, it's been a while, I can't remember his name, I can see his face. He was good professor, I used to like him cause he had this thing when we was going over our exams or a test, we were doing our review and he told us "when I say I will remember" that's what you need to remember, you need to write this down kind of thing. So he was kind of like, his teaching methods where, he taught you, he gave you the information you needed, but then he made sure you focused on exactly what was actually going to be on the exams and no other professor or teacher I ever had in my life ever did that so I loved him. He would say "I would remember, Christian iss 6 feet tall" or something like that and so you write that down and you get to the test and it would say "'christian is" and I would say oh, 6 feet tall. So that was like a pretty good thing. I liked him, I liked Kelly Haucksmire, I know she's married now, I can't remember her last name, her married name but at the time I was there her name was Kelly Haucksmire, she was the English professor. I loved that lady, she took me in as I was a freshman and she like really broke it down to me and she got me straight on how to write a paper, with all her little red markings on my paper. So she like took time out to make sure I had all the things I need when I was going towards deciding what major I was getting in to. She took care of all my electives and made everything easy for me where when I had transferred from her to Larry Odagart ended up being up my counselor because I went into Social Work. She made sure I had everything I needed before I transferred over to him. So I appreciate that from her.

Kowolchuk - You kind of talked about you had friends I mean, what friends stick out the most you made over at UD.

Donna Cooper - What friends stick out most? Lot of good friends coming to UD. The one girl that was from New Richmond, Wisconsin. She was a really good friend of mine. I know I met UD Alumni which actually still lives there in Dubuque and she came over to the dorm and totally took me in and right now today she's the reason I still go back to Dubuque 2 or 3 times a year, we became really really good friends so I have since I graduated in 87 I come back every year on the homecoming since them I have probably only missed 3 and that was due to probably work. I couldn't make the arrangements to get off work. But I missed only 3 in the the past 30 some years. So I think I have a good track record. Ya, but I have good friends that still live there, that live in town.

Kowolchuk - Where there like any events while you were there kind of like dances or anything stuff like that that stick out like that?

Donna Cooper - Ya. Oh you know we partied. You know we had to do that. The homecomings used to be really good and actually they used to rent a hotel or a spot at the hotel and we had the homecoming dances there. We had a whole lot of good events on campus too. I don't know what it is called now but down by Peters Commons down in the bottom, is it still like a social area down there?

Kowolchuk - They changed that to offices I think halfway through last year. Fairly recent, we call it the underground. When they had it it was called the Underground. The little social area with the grill down there

Donna Cooper - They used to throw little, we used to throw parties down there and we used to have movie nights down there and it was really relaxed, it was like, say you were at home it was the living room or the family room so that's the way we looked at that right there. Everybody met up there. But ya we had a lot of parties in Dubuque, a lot of good parties in Dubuque.

0:11 - Journey to UD

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4:09 - While at UD: Academics

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5:27 - While at UD: Diversity

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11:34 - While at UD: Stories about Racism

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17:26 - While at UD: Black Presidium

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18:46 - While at UD: Faculty

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21:18 - While at UD: Relationships

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24:19 - Conclusion

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