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Alumna and Professor Seeks to Represent All Identities While Teaching U.S. History

A double Bear with years of experience teaching on UNC’s campus, Kelly Langley Cook, ’20, M.A. ’18, devotes herself to teaching the lesser-known parts of United States history.

Coming from Cheyenne, Wyoming, Kelly Langley Cook, ’00, M.A. ’18, did not expect to immediately feel at home when she arrived at the University of Northern Colorado campus. Yet that is exactly how she felt. 

“When I came here, I felt like folks rolled out the red carpet for me,” said Langley Cook, “I got a specific meeting with the department chair and had such a great tour. It just felt like home from day one.” 

Beng a social butterfly, Langley Cook took no time to find her community on campus. Everything from being involved in campus leadership, an orientation leader and exploring the edges of campus, like Margie’s Cafe, Langley Cook committed herself to living her life at UNC to the fullest. 

After graduating, Langley Cook taught in District 6 for 15 years, the last ten of which Langley Cook spent volunteering with Dr. Fritz Fischer in UNC’s History department. He had been nudging Langley Cook to pursue a master’s degree for years, encouraging her that a history MA would be a great addition to her history education undergraduate degree. Finally, Langley Cook returned to school in pursuit of a master’s degree in History. 

“I would put up [UNC’s] History Department against any department in the country as far as quality of instruction, how challenging and edifying it was and how much they supported me,” said Langley Cook. 

Through a stroke of good timing, Langley Cook joined the History department as a faculty member in 2018 and now serves as the director of Social Studies Education. Her favorite part of the assignment is how closely she gets to work with future teachers, loving every minute of it.  

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Growing up, Langley Cook’s parents raised her to fully accept others. What set her mind to studying LGBTQ+ history, however, was the students she’s seen who have lost their lives within the queer community. 

“I have lost four students to suicide ... Two of them have been because of their gender identity, and their lack of support at home. This does not need to be such a high number. We can do something about it. Here’s an amazing statistic: it takes one trusted adult in a student’s life to cut down suicidal ideation by 50%. That’s it,” said Langley Cook. 

As a straight, Christian, middle-class, white woman, it might seem paradoxical for Langley Cook to teach LGBTQ+ history, and she is aware of that. 

“I come in the first day of my History 250 class and I ask: ‘May I have your permission to teach this class? I don't hold any of these identities,’” said Langley Cook. ‘I want students to know that I feel honesty needs to be there. I want students]to have permission to correct me and help me.” 

Making all students feel seen, welcome and a part of UNC’s community is a core value for Langley Cook, which she takes seriously. 

While teaching History 101, her goal is to shine light on often overlooked historical figures from various backgrounds. Through highlighting a different person that represents U.S. history each day, Langley Cook can show a much more complete picture of the people who have positively impacted the U.S. 

On the first day of class, Langley Cook dives into the story of Robert Brown Elliott. Elliott was a House of Representatives member after the Civil War, he was a Black man who was an immigrant. Students have often never heard of him. Yet he helped to pass one of the first civil rights bills and shaped early civil rights legislation in the U.S. 

“The history of slavery and the history of civil rights are usually the only two Black histories American students hear.  Robert Brown Elliott’s is a story of power and influence. We need to learn the truth about history and the hardships like slavery, but we also need to learn about Black triumph and Black joy,” said Langley Cook. 

As she has taught the class, students have approached her to request more history from their cultures. Langley Cook takes this as a compliment. Students feel comfortable enough to approach her, and it makes Langley Cook a better professor. More than ever, student-centered, honest, and informed approaches need to be centered in the history classroom, which Langley Cook and her colleagues are proud to offer. 

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