BOONE, N.C. — As a child, Cashae Cook ’14 said she was always glad to see police officers arrive at her house — because it meant she and her siblings would be safe. Now, as the new diversity, inclusion and community engagement officer in the Appalachian Police Department (APD), Cook wants to make sure the Appalachian State University Community also experiences positive interactions with police officers.
Cook, who grew up in Lexington, said she spent most of her formative years in foster care due to the substance abuse and domestic violence in her home. “Because of my background, I think I’m better able to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds — those struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse or food insecurity. I can relate to them,” she said.
Some of the experiences in her young life inspired her to major in criminal justice, the App State alumna said. The ACCESS Scholarship Program gave her the opportunity to attend App State, providing her with financial and academic support, mentoring and additional resources, Cook said.
After graduating, Cook worked as a paralegal, and in December 2018 she joined APD as a patrol officer — where building relationships has been key to her role. While the first priority of the department is to keep campus safe, community engagement is also a focus, Cook said.
“I love walking into the student union or the dining hall and just going up to students and initiating a conversation. I’ll join them at the lunch table or for coffee. That kind of interaction helps students get to know police officers in a positive manner,” she said.
Cook said campus police departments such as APD have opportunities to help transform law enforcement dynamics over the long term. “We have a fresh population of students each year — which presents us the opportunity to have positive encounters that help shape the views they’ll take with them when they graduate,” she said.
In the newly created APD position of diversity, inclusion and community engagement officer, Cook will work in partnership with university offices and student organizations to foster meaningful relationships and build trust with all members of the campus community — with a primary emphasis on students from underrepresented groups. Some of her responsibilities will include:
- Serving on various university boards and committees.
- Conducting new student orientation sessions.
- Ensuring a diverse applicant pool for the Appalachian Police Officer Development Program and for APD personnel.
- Enhancing partnerships with all of the diverse communities served by APD.
Cook was one of 15 High Country police officers certified in September 2020 to provide implicit bias training to other sworn officers. Training in implicit bias — the attitudes or stereotypes that affect actions and decisions in an unconscious manner — is offered to all new recruits in APD’s Appalachian Police Academy.
A first-generation college student
Cook, a first-generation college student, said she had several barriers to overcome when she attended App State — including caring for her two young children as a single parent. In addition to the support from staff in the ACCESS scholarship program, Cook described Dr. Cathy Marcum, assistant chair of and professor in the Department of Government and Justice Studies, as a “lifesaver.”
“When I had trouble attending class because I hadn’t secured child care, I reached out to Dr. Marcum and she said she’d do anything to ensure I’d be successful. Her support and dedication to my success made all the difference,” Cook said.
Cook has continued her relationship with Marcum and visits her classes to speak about her job as an APD officer.
“For anyone who wants to be in law enforcement or a first responder role, I tell them extensive continuing education and training is a big part — so make sure you enjoy studying and learning. I also advise students to participate in a ride-along program to see what’s involved in the day-to-day job, to make sure it is a good fit,” Cook said.
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About the Appalachian Police Department
Appalachian State University’s official policing agency — the Appalachian Police Department — supports the university’s academic mission by working in partnership with the campus community to prevent crime, solve problems and improve the quality of life on campus. The department’s philosophy is one of proactive community engagement, collaboration and customer service, holding the safety and health of App State’s community members as its top priorities. State-certified police officers, security officers and civilian employees compose the department, and this team of professionals helps to create and maintain an inclusive sense of belonging for all members of the Appalachian Community — students, faculty, staff and visitors. Additionally, through its efforts, the department aims to be a leader in innovative public safety ideas and strategies. Learn more at https://police.appstate.edu.
About the Department of Government and Justice Studies
Appalachian State University’s Department of Government and Justice Studies offers undergraduate programs in political science and criminal justice, and graduate programs in political science and public administration. Housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, the department has over 600 undergraduate majors and more than 70 graduate students. Learn more at https://gjs.appstate.edu.
About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) at Appalachian State University is home to 17 academic departments, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. CAS aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university's strengths, traditions and unique location. The college’s values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of its students as global citizens. More than 6,400 student majors are enrolled in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing App State’s general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at https://cas.appstate.edu.
About the ACCESS Scholarship Program
Appalachian State University is committed to making higher education affordable for every North Carolina student and developed the Appalachian Commitment to a College Education for Student Success (ACCESS) Scholarship Program as a method to ensure that first-year students from low-income families in North Carolina can attend Appalachian debt free. Along with financial assistance, the ACCESS program offers recipients a comprehensive program of academic and personal support that includes orientation and academic advising, mentorship and professional development opportunities. The scholarship supplements federal financial aid grants, state grants, scholarships and other forms of financial assistance. Learn more at https://universitycollege.appstate.edu/access.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the Southeast, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls nearly 21,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.