The first thing you find when you search Google for Toni Airaksinen’s name is an extremely active Twitter account with countless tweets linking to news articles; a whole host of different publications fill her bio. Airaksinen, BC ’18, is an extraordinarily prolific writer who focuses on hot-button campus issues at Columbia and around the country. When I asked about who she writes for and how frequently, Airaksinen told me, “Right now I write about eight or nine articles a week, mostly for Campus Reform and PJ Media.” Airaksinen also wrote several articles for the Columbia Daily Spectator, most prominently an op-ed column called “The Ivory Tower: Deconstructed.”
Illustration by Jennifer Bi
Airaksinen is an Urban Studies major with an Environmental Science concentration, but she’s quick to acknowledge that “my major has nothing in accordance with what I write about. It’s completely separate.” Airaksinen considers herself a diehard fan of the liberal arts, fully absorbing the amount she’s learned at Barnard, not only in her declared fields of study but also every other subject, from English to Women’s and Gender Studies. Though these academic forays don’t necessarily relate to her editorial work, they reflect a deep set of interests that go back to her earlier high school years. She told me, “I started taking college classes full time when I was fifteen at Cleveland State, through a state subsidized program; I started really young and my first classes there were Urban Studies.” Her academic pride is apparent, but she qualifies her achievements with the opportunities that have supplemented her hard work, “I’m the first person in my family to get past 10th grade, I’m very lucky and very blessed.”
Airaksinen finds her penchant for writing tad ironic in retrospect. “I didn’t learn how to read until I was in third grade, which isn’t actually that uncommon. Both of my parents are basically functionally illiterate… their education was so bad that they never learned how to write. In third grade they said, ‘If you don’t learn how to read now, you might never learn.’” But as Airaksinen got on with school, she fell in love writing, and has developed the passion throughout her college years.
While Airaksinen initially imagined doing non-profit work after college, she quickly found that she does “a lot better with the creative aspect of writing,” and has since only ramped up her efforts. Recently, Airaksinen made the decision to increase her writing volume even further, continuing in all her current positions through graduation and tacking on a couple more. While many of the opportunities relate to education, near her current focus, Airaksinen also hopes to branch out and pursue more advanced writing work. She described her current growth in detail, “It’s the typical freelancers grind. You start your career writing shorter articles and as you get better and better you transition into writing longer more thoughtful pieces.” The excitement in Airaksinen’s voice is plain, she already works 40 hours a week on top of her classes to write as much as she does and seems positively thrilled to graduate in order to spend even more time on it.
To call Airaksinen’s writing ‘right of center’ on the Columbia/Barnard spectrum could not be more of an understatement. She divulges that her experience on campus changed almost overnight with the publication of her provocative Spectator column: “I got a lot of pushback. And I have to say I went from being able to wave to people around campus, to where no one would wave to me ever again.” However, she remains steadfast. Even if everyone on campus disagrees with everything she writes and what she represents, she maintains that she enjoys writing every single piece, and hopes she will continue to reach conservative audiences elsewhere. “I’m in finals season right now. It’s so much more gratifying to spend a bunch of time writing an article and have people read it than to spend a few days writing a paper and have only your professor read it. And then to have it just sit in your Google Drive for the rest of your life.”
— Ryan Mohen