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The Last Word: A Place to Be the First

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Bobby Cox (Photo Courtesy of Bobby Cox)

Bobby Cox (Photo Courtesy of Bobby Cox)

By Bobby Cox

I am especially pleased to inaugurate The Last Word in an issue of TC Today that focuses on the ways that the College is trying to change the world — including through new efforts to mainstream issues of gender and sexuality into courses in different departments. These kinds of efforts drew me to TC in the first place, and as I complete two years of study here, like the students quoted in the story on gender and sexuality, I find myself reflecting upon my prior expectations and how they match up with the reality of my TC experience.

I grew up in Port Fourchon, a small fishing town on the coast of Louisiana where no one viewed education as the key to success. My father was a fisherman with an eighth-grade education and my mother was a homemaker with a high school diploma. I didn’t even learn what college was until I was in high school, but I did learn about injustice very early in my life. As a gender non-conforming boy who preferred to play with Barbie instead of G.I. Joe, I was misunderstood and subjected to many slurs. I knew instinctively that this was wrong, and in high school, when I began working with undocumented immigrants from Mexico, I immediately noticed parallels between my own experience (and that of other gay-identified friends) and the discrimination that these immigrant families faced. All of us were victims of injustice that targeted immutable aspects of human identity, and all of us suffered depression, anxiety and fear. It was these observations that inspired me to become the first member of my family to go to college and to think about doing research that might help prevent the negative mental health outcomes that result from discrimination.

I chose Teachers College as the place to do that work because TC is a place where “firsts” happen — particularly when it comes to social justice. TC admitted aspiring black teachers from the South when southern states would not. The College’s Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology has been in the forefront of investigating the psychological correlates of prejudice and discrimination.

Today I can say, unequivocally, that TC has lived up to that legacy. In addition to providing me with a rigorous psychology curriculum, the College also has provided the atmosphere for me to develop as an immigrant advocate and student leader.

So, yes, Teachers College, like all institutions, can improve its game. I thank my fellow students for sharing their experiences and raising their concerns. But just the fact that we are openly discussing these issues in a magazine that goes out to thousands of alumni and friends tells me that I chose an institution whose values align with my own — and that I am making the right choice in staying on as a Ph.D. candidate in Counseling Psychology. At Teachers College, one truly can #bethefirst

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