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Duke renames Soc-Psych building after one of first Black undergraduates

Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke had a distinguished career both at Duke and beyond.
Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke had a distinguished career both at Duke and beyond.

A building at the heart of West Campus is now named for Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, one of the first five Black undergraduates at Duke and a distinguished academic.

The Board of Trustees voted unanimously on Saturday to rename the Sociology-Psychology Building after Reuben-Cooke, who died last October. Reuben-Cooke is the first Black woman to have a campus building named after her, according to a news release announcing the renaming. 

“This iconic building—which predates our campus’s integration by three decades—has stood on Davison Quad as our university has evolved to more fully realize its inclusive values, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke and her classmates,” President Vincent Price wrote in an email to the community announcing the renaming. 

The renaming of the Reuben-Cooke Building followed the recommendations of the President’s Advisory Committee on Institutional History, according to the release, which identifies “members of the Duke community who have made extraordinary contributions worthy of permanent recognition.” 

Reuben-Cooke, Women’s College ‘67, came to Duke in 1963 as the University desegregated. During her time at Duke she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and chair of the Freshman Advisory Council, and she participated in civil rights protests in Durham and Chapel Hill.

After her time at Duke, Reuben-Cooke worked as an attorney and was a law professor at Syracuse University and the University of the District of Columbia. She also served as UDC’s provost. 

She remained connected to Duke, becoming a trustee of both the University and The Duke Endowment. In 2011 she received the Duke University Distinguished Alumni Award, and in 2013 a $1 million scholarship fund was announced in honor of her and the other four first Black undergraduates. 

After Reuben-Cooke’s death, Chandra Guinn, director of the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture, called her “the standard-bearer and a model” for students who feel challenged at Duke, citing her role as one of the students who desegregated the University and how she found ways to contribute in different fields throughout her life.

“I am delighted that with this decision, my classmate Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke will have a permanent legacy on Duke’s campus,” Board of Trustees Chair Jack Bovender said in the news release. “There are few people who have given so much to the university—and those of us who knew her were so grateful to call her a colleague, friend and adviser over the years.” 

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin was editor-in-chief of The Chronicle's 116th volume.


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