Fitting in and truly belonging at Mount Holyoke

“[Mount Holyoke has] given me the confidence and space to explore myself in a way I haven’t been able to before.”

Growing up, Shiloh Cooper and his mom, Krystiane Cheetham Cooper ’92, would take trips to New Jersey to visit Krystiane’s Mount Holyoke roommate, Becky Elden ’92. During those visits, there was a focus on community and the lifelong friendships Cooper’s mother forged while at Mount Holyoke. 

But it wasn’t until Cooper decided to visit a friend his senior year of high school that he realized how well he could fit in at Mount Holyoke. “[My friend] seemed to be having such a great time,” he recalled. “That stuck out to me because in high school we didn’t fit in with the other students.” 

For the first time, Cooper felt like he was in a place he truly belonged. By the time he visited campus again for admitted students day, he knew this was the place for him. “We went to the dining hall, and a bunch of strangers crammed into a booth and had these really deep conversations after barely knowing one another,” he explained. “I could talk to these people in a way I hadn’t been able to talk to people before. It was amazing.” 

After just six weeks on campus, Cooper declared anthropology as his major. He was drawn to the critical thinking and exploration of cultures that is prevalent in the coursework. The perspective that studying anthropology has given him is something he expects to take with him wherever his career path leads. “No matter what profession I end up in, what I’ve learned through the anthropology program has given me a valuable way to look at the world and the differences among people,” he said. 

Outside the classroom, Cooper has been active in Renegades, the College’s role playing club, and the College’s choral ensembles. Since sophomore year, he’s been part of Glee Club and Chamber Singers, two of the College’s choral groups that require auditions. Additionally, he participates in a cause-focused, student-run a cappella group called The Nice Shoes. The performance group uses the money they receive to support charities and causes the group cares about, such as homeslessness. The proceeds from their final concert this year will go to Increase the Peace in Chicago.

As he prepares to graduate four years after his first visit to campus, Cooper is reflecting on the open-mindedness and culture of acceptance at Mount Holyoke that has impacted him most and helped him discover who he is. Cooper started his time at Mount Holyoke identifying as a cisgender woman. After journaling, self-reflection and conversations about gender and sexuality with friends and other members of campus, Cooper began identifying as male at the end of 2020. 

“Despite the fact that Mount Holyoke is known as a ‘women’s’ college, it is very accepting toward people with trans identities. Because a large part of the student body identifies as queer, it is a safe place for students to explore their sexuality and gender,” he said. “It’s given me the confidence and space to explore myself in a way I haven’t been able to before. It’s a very supportive community.”

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