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A long way from home

Doctoral student sees similarities between her native Nigeria and Richmond

Olubowale Emiola Oyefuga

Olubowale Emiola Oyefuga is a doctoral candidate in the VCU School of Education, with a concentration in educational leadership, policy and justice.

Olubowale Emiola Oyefuga is a doctoral candidate in the VCU School of Education, with a concentration in educational leadership, policy and justice, which is directed not only at identifying and analyzing social injustices, but also at researching and creating more equitable, inclusive societies through leadership and policy.

Olubowale recently spoke a little about her background; a presentation she gave last semester with Dr. Jeffery Wilson, associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership; and her hope for the future.

Where are you from originally?

I am a native of Lagos, Nigeria. I am also a first-generation university student with a master’s degree in Gender and International Development from the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK. I’ve worked in international development for a long time, particularly in justice and security studies, focusing on women and girls. Before I left Nigeria, I was working with a team on a study that compared the learning outcomes of children in different states across Nigeria. In one of our northern pilot areas, we presented results to the community that showed their children were not doing well. Members of the community came together and formed support groups for the children. Now, we’re looking at how we can spur action in other communities where the need is great, varying the methods depending on what the raw data tell us, so that more people are working for the common good.

"I believe all children in the world have the right to good education. I want to help define what 'good' is."

What brought you to the VCU School of Education?

I have lived in many places around the world. Last summer, I took a month-long course at the United Nations in New York City. The city had a nice mix of people; however, when it came to choosing a university to pursue my doctorate, VCU appealed to me because they offered me a graduate assistantship. Being so far from my home, it also helps that my brother lives here in Richmond.

Last semester, you co-presented with Dr. Jeffery Wilson at VCU’s 3rd Annual Social Justice Student Conference. What was the presentation about?

The topic was diversity research in the field of higher education, and the presentation was titled “Back to Basics: Moving Forward While Looking Back.” [Link to PDF] [Link to PowerPoint] We talked about the changing demographics in the U.S., the cycle of oppression in this country, and how to effectively confront stereotypes. We discussed local events such as one in Richmond last semester when an out-of-town group organized a rally to support preserving Richmond’s Confederate monuments.

Do you notice similarities in the way under-represented groups are perceived in the U.S. compared with your native Nigeria?

There’s a clear dividing line between the north and the south in Nigeria. They’re two completely different places. That’s due in part to what Nigerians have been taught as young people. Just as Dr. Wilson’s presentation focused on American stereotypes, older generations in Nigeria teach younger generations to ‘stick with your own.’ Older generations are comfortable with that, but it’s not helping the younger generations.

Boko Haram (a Jihadist militant organization based in northeastern Nigeria, known as one of the world’s deadliest terror groups) has achieved what it has because of what it teaches young people. It’s similar to other conflicts all around the world. It’s the education that younger people are receiving – not just in the classroom, but in their homes and from their friends – that keeps the society from achieving common good. That’s why I feel that education makes such a huge difference.

What do you plan to do after earning your doctoral degree?

I want to continue working in the field of research and education to make the world a better place. It’s a dream of mine. I believe all children in the world have the right to good education. I want to help define what ‘good’ is.

Learn more about the School of Education's academic programs.