“I think that in particular, on this campus, most of the confrontations that I’ve had with white people always just prove what I was saying in the first place,” says Dunni Oduyemi, CC ’16. “It’s just so predictable at this point. You know every time you say something related to race that you’re signing yourself up [to be perceived as automatically hostile].”
Last December, Oduyemi, together with Tracey Wang, published an op-ed in the Spectator “about the ways Orgo Night is traumatizing and represents the larger culture of not giving a fuck about how students of color feel on this campus,” she says. “When we wrote that article we knew everyone’s going to hate us for this ... literally instantly people would read [the op-ed] and then think ‘huh, what should I do? I should find Dunni on Twitter and tell her that I should throw a bucket of water over her head,’” she says. (Her Twitter bio at the time read “using white tears to moisturize my hair since 1994.”)
We are sitting in a common room in the Intercultural Resource Center, where she lives. Much of our conversation is punctuated by exasperated sighs, pauses in which she rubs her temple or slowly traces the length of her hair, or nods at her housemates rolling luggage past us, back from Thanksgiving break.
Oduyemi, an African-American Studies major, was born in New York, but having lived in Geneva, Switzerland, since age eight, says she is not American—an identity which also seems to inform her point of view. “It’s sometimes frustrating to be in America and see how U.S.-centric discourse about all racism is, and the way that just erases black people’s experiences outside of the U.S.”
As editor-in-chief of The Eye, Oduyemi prioritized identity-based stories, notably a piece about race in the anti-sexual violence movement, which made the New York Times’s recommended reads, and “Studying While Black,” about the widespread and under-acknowledged issue of Public Safety’s policing of black students. That piece, though, Oduyemi recused herself from as a core organizer of Columbia Prison Divest. Formed early in 2014, CPD used actions like awareness weeks, rallies and an over four hour sit-in and teach-in in Low Library to campaign against the University’s investments in the private prison industry. By June of 2015, they had succeeded. Though it was her only formal experience organizing, she says, “My parents, my dad specifically, has always been radical and taught me to challenge things and question things. I think I learned a lot more from him than from some of my teachers in high school. He has always thought really deeply about colonialism and I think that has been really helpful in shaping my sense of politics.”
Oduyemi says that “linking education, as a concept even, to liberation work is really what I am interested in.” Going forward, she’s looking to extend her activism to other forms than organizing. She is currently working with her friend, artist Marc Jeremy, CC ’15, on a project called Suede, billed as “an installation and performance space for black and brown artists.” The idea, says the project’s description, is to “transcend old or typically patriarchal models which involve protesting and confrontation.”
Oduyemi herself is of course not all protesting and confrontation: Jeremy corroborates Oduyemi’s affinity for cooking and cooking shows (she lists more show names than I knew existed), as well as English rapper and grime artist Skepta, which Oduyemi calls her “number one obsession right now.” Skepta, she tells me, did actually tweet her a kiss-face emoji once. She smiles the widest she has during our entire talk.