The Heights

Updated: March 13, 2017

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Foothill student trustee fights for student rights on and off campus

Foothill College student trustee Courtney Cooper has been selected to receive the Rising Star award at this year’s 2017 Women of the Year of Senate District 15 event, hosted by Senator Jim Beall. Senator Beall will present the award to Cooper at the event on March 16.

Courtney Cooper

As a foster youth and current community college student, it’s great that a representative who has advocated for both of those communities has taken notice of my work in recent years,” said Cooper.

Cooper was advocating for students long before she was elected student trustee. Last year, as vice president of the Associated Students of Foothill College, she fought for a food bank on campus. She advocated for an Umoja Community on campus and chaired the Black History Month planning committee. Through her work with the ASFC, Cooper got involved with the Student Senate for California Community Colleges (SSCCC). She is currently president of the statewide organization.

“I’m putting this work in because if we don’t step up no one else will,” said Cooper. “If I see a gap somewhere, I have a right to step in and ask how I can help.”

For Cooper, learning how to step in and step up wasn’t easy. She was a foster youth with Santa Clara County. When she aged out of the system, community college was the recommended next step. Because of gaps in her education, Cooper had to re-learn how to be a student and navigate the higher education system. She left her first community college with a GPA of 1.5.

Cooper decided to try Foothill because of the radio station and journalism program. Within the first year, she was on the dean’s list. “There’s such a difference here in culture and types of support services,” Cooper added. “And that’s before I even found my way to the Disability Resource Center.”

In addition to the DRC, Cooper discovered counselor Daphne Small’s leadership classes. Through Small’s classes, Cooper began volunteering for then-Congressman Mike Honda’s reelection campaign. She worked her way up from fellow to deputy field organizer.  That experience prompted Cooper to run for office on campus.

Since taking on leadership roles on campus and statewide, Cooper has fought for gender-inclusive restrooms, changing stalls in men’s bathrooms, changes to the Board of Governors fee waiver and other issues to improve the lives of community college students. She testified before the state legislature on AB 1995, a bill to allow students to access showers on campus without registering for PE classes. That bill was made into law.

“On-campus and statewide advocacy have complemented each other well,” said Cooper. “Foothill helped to grow my advocacy and it often comes up as a model for people looking to take the first step.”

This quarter, Cooper has taken a step back. She still travels to Sacramento a few times a month for her SSCCC duties, but she is increasingly focused on transferring and entering the next phase. So far, she has received acceptance letters from San Francisco State University, CSU Channel Islands and Sacramento State University. Wherever she ends up, Cooper will continue to fight for the voiceless. She plans to earn a law degree and eventually run a nonprofit. The work she has done at Foothill is only the beginning.

"I just want to plant the seeds so others can also do some heavy lifting," said Cooper. "If you're waiting for permission to be involved or take on leadership -- this is that moment. The things you give your time to will be better off if you get involved. "


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