An Unlikely Scholar

By Chew, Cassie | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, December 14, 2006 | Go to article overview

An Unlikely Scholar


Chew, Cassie, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


Iraq War veteran and law professor Christopher Cooper's path to the academy has been anything but traditional.

The only outward sign that Dr. Christopher Cooper is sick is a small round patch behind his right ear. It looks like a bandage you might put on after being nicked by a razor. It isn't.

The patch contains medicine that keeps Cooper from getting dizzy. The assistant professor of criminal justice at St. Xavier University, began experiencing dizziness and a host of other physical ailments two years ago, after sustaining injuries while serving in Iraq.

In February 2004, Cooper left the small suburban Chicago university to begin training at Fort Stewart, a U.S. Army base in Southeast Georgia. A few months later, he was deployed to Baqubah, a city just northeast of Baghdad that in June 2004 was the site of some of the heaviest fighting between U.S. forces and insurgent groups. It was in Baqubah that Cooper was injured.

"I got thrown from a Humvee and dragged," he says. He was flown to Germany, where he had an operation on his right leg. Since returning to the United States, Cooper has been plagued by a number of recurring illnesses.

"I'm sick.... I'm always sick... but I'm not contagious," he says.

From all outward appearances, Cooper looks well. But under the surface, he says he suffers from viral and sinus infections, gets migraine headaches, blisters on his tongue and has a condition that requires him to make frequent trips to the restroom.

"I have had [numerous] surgeries and am on about eight medications," he says. "[With] the type of illness I have, I don't look sick People look at me and say 'Come on Chris, who are you kidding?' I could have a good day [today], and tomorrow I can be as sick as a dog."

Iraq isn't the first time Cooper has taken up arms to protect others. A native of Brooklyn, he patrolled the streets of New York City and Washington, D.C., as a police officer. He was living and working in Washington on Sept 11, 2001. After watching the news footage of the terrorist attacks, he decided to drive all night to the World Trade Center in New York to help search for survivors.

Before that, Cooper spent seven years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He says memories of the camaraderie of military life began to resurface during the initial days of the United States occupation in Iraq.

"It was a great life. I miss it. Sometimes I wish I still was a part of it," he says. Those memories were the catalyst for his decision to volunteer for the National Guard reserves. He didn't plan, however, to ever don combat gear again. He signed up to become a Marine Corps lawyer, hoping to defend court-martialed Marines.

A criminal defense attorney, Cooper says, "I actually had been granted a commission to become a military lawyer, but after he saw my record, the commander decided to send me to Iraq as an infantry soldier."

An Alternate Route to the Academy

Cooper came into his current career as an unlikely scholar.

At 13, he lied about his age to land jobs loading liquor bottles in warehouses and unloading packages from airplanes at John F. Kennedy Airport He brought the money home to his mother.

"I never went [to high school]," he says. "It was overcrowded and I didn't feel like it was productive."

At 17, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and earned his GED. After finishing the initial three-year commitment, he re-enlisted for another three-year tour in the reserves and enrolled at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Cooper earned a bachelor's degree in government and public administration, then joined the New York City Police Department. But he wasn't yet done with education.

"I got interested in the psychology of policing and how to better police communities," he says.

After moving to the nation's capital, Cooper decided to study law at the University of the District of Columbia, eventually earning his juris doctorate from the New England School of Law in Boston. …

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