LOGAN – Last week, Alexis Cooper, a junior Agricultural Science major, was crowned Miss Utah State University 2018. Part of what may have swung her to the top of the pageant was her poem entitled “Who Am I” that she wrote about her experience: what it’s like to be a woman of color at a predominantly white school.
On KVNU’s For the People program on Thursday, Cooper said even though she has other pageant-worthy talents like dance and playing the viola and piano, she wanted to use her platform as Miss Diversity to communicate a perspective that she says not many people understand in Utah.
AUDIO: Miss USU Alexis Cooper talks to Jason Williams on KVNU’s For the People
“With that poem I wanted to share my experience as….a person of color here on this campus and kind of shed light and open people’s eyes to my everyday experience here,” Cooper said.
She said throughout her entire spoken word performance she could not see or hear anybody. She did not expect to win and that her poem would have the result that it did.
“I was up onstage and I got out there, the lights are so bright. The crowd just was a black abyss and I said my poem and, I swear to you, it was silent for at least 10 seconds and I honestly was like ‘Oh my gosh…this is it…all of your fears have come true right now in this moment’. And then I heard the claps and the cheers and then I later won and it was amazing.”
Cooper received a standing ovation from the audience. She said she carefully wrote her words in a way that people wouldn’t take any offense or feel like she was blaming them for something that they can’t control.
She also said she worried she would be stereotyped as another ‘angry black woman’. But what has been expressed to her so far is that people have not taken it that way and she’s received a lot of positive feedback on her poem.
The headline of an Associated Press story about her accomplishment stated “Woman of color wins Miss Utah State University pageant.” The headline received quite a bit of negative feedback on social media, but Cooper said she’s totally fine with it.
“I think it’s important to acknowledge people’s cultures,” she said. “I do identify as a person of color. I’m not offended by that term at all. I think it was very key to my whole talent, it was about being a person of color, about being a black woman, a mixed race woman on this campus.
“I was not offended by that title and I’m not offended by the term ‘woman of color’ because that’s who I am and that’s part of my culture.”
She also said she appreciates that people care enough to say something about it and not perpetuate old stereotypes.