They Call Her ‘Mom’ ALANA Seniors Honor Security Officer Lavetta Cooks

Lavetta Cooks’s official duties as an on-call security officer include attending campus events and transporting students to and from the campus in one the college’s vans. But unofficially, Cooks has been performing another duty for students she has met over the past 12 years: on-campus “mom.”

Lavetta Cooks (center) celebrates her award with Council of ALANA Seniors Executive Board members Alysha McKenzie (left) and Brandon Small.Photo: Samuel Stuart

It is for this role that Cooks was selected as the 2019 recipient of the JTASK Award, given annually by the Vassar College Council of ALANA Seniors to a member of the college staff in recognition of his or her outstanding merit and dedication to Vassar communities of color. (The name of the award is based on the initials of the members of the Council of Black Seniors who created it in 2002.) Cooks accepted the award at the Baccalaureate ceremony in the Chapel on May 25.

“As we on the council discussed candidates for this year’s award, Lavetta’s name came up immediately,” said Council President Brandon Small ’19. “She has touched many of our lives during our time at Vassar. She has a ‘mothering’ quality that has made us feel at home here.”

Cooks said she was “honored and humbled” to receive an award for something she says has always come naturally. “I never expected to be recognized in any way for the work I do,” she said. “I think since I’m not a professor who gives them grades or someone else who can affect their lives here, they sometimes open up to me. As bright and talented as all of them are, they do have their struggles sometimes, and I like to remind them that they are just starting their lives and they all have wonderful times ahead.”

Council Treasurer Alysha McKenzie says she often refers to Cooks as her Vassar Mom. “Lavetta has always made the effort to establish connections with many of us,” McKenzie said. “When I was going through a depressing period, she took the time to figure out how I was feeling and let me know I had a lot to look forward to.”

Small said that when he told Cooks he was discouraged by the current political climate, “she urged me to work for change by participating in the process. She offered an optimistic outlook that was reassuring when I really needed it.“

Director of Safety and Security Arlene Sabo said she was thrilled to learn that Cooks had been selected for the JTASK award.

“What Lavetta does is the ideal we look for in everyone who does our work,” Sabo added. “She gets the job as a security officer done, but at the same time she’s making connections, and those connections enhance her ability to do her work. I was not surprised to hear that she was selected for this award. She’s being honored for the same qualities that I appreciate in her.”

Edward Pittman ’82, Associate Dean of the College for Professional Development and adviser of the organization since its inception, agreed. “The award demonstrates how students see and live their experiences at Vassar, how they view everyone as potential supporters and mentors,” Pittman said. “It's an award with deep meaning and value to the students. Lavetta Cooks certainly represents that spirit in her interactions with students and in how she listens and supports them.”