Television staples like The Office and Parks and Recreation held little interest for Seyi Olojo growing up; instead, she spent her time watching documentaries. China’s Lost Girls, a National Geographic release exploring the gendered consequences of China’s one child policy resonated with her, and Olojo began to see the intersection of the environment and governmental policy—interests which would later blossom into her academic work.
On the eve of her graduation, it’s hard to describe Olojo concisely. She is a Mellon Mays research fellow and the first female president of Columbia Christian Union (CCU) and a geographer and a demographer and an aspiring essayist. “I’m a renaissance woman, basically,” she tells me. And while her core values and morals—ones that her faith and upbringing have instilled in her—have remained consistent, these identities have evolved during her time at Barnard.
Olojo came into college as a pre-med student, but found a work-study job in the Environmental Science department her freshman year. As an administrative assistant there, she partook in mundane tasks: making copies and putting up flyers. But the job also made her interested in the department for its small size and flexible course offerings.
Earlier in high school, Olojo watched An Inconvenient Truth, which also motivated her to pursue the human-environment interaction. “It was one of the first things I cared about deeply”, Olojo explains; “I thought I was going to be Al Gore through public policy”. Olojo, who is a major in environmental policy, explored how infant mortality rate (IMR) skewed in a variety of different indicators of social vulnerability to natural hazards in her senior thesis.
When she really becomes impassioned—delving into the statistical analyses conducted for her senior thesis or explaining the uplifting community fostered by CCU—Olojo rarely breaks her flow of speech, and her vitality feels refreshing in the middle of finals week.
Olojo’s scholarly ambition intersects with her faith: She’s constantly looking for ways to serve God through her passions. Specifically, she cites serving those who can not speak up for themselves and taking stewardship of the environment from scripture and views her geography and demography work—which points out spatially where environmental inequality exists—as manifestations of core Christian values. “My identity as a Christian has allowed me to view my scholarly work as my own kind of activism”.
Themes of grace, joy, and sacrifice permeate our dialogue; they are all words she attributes to Christianity, and it’s evident Olojo feels her understanding of the world and her place in it stems from her relationship with God.
In her freshman year, shortly after NSOP, Olojo joined Columbia Christian Union (CCU). She became Prayer Coordinator her junior year and its first female President her senior year.
Her role as a leader in CCU as not only resulted in her empowering others, especially black women of faith, but has also become incredibly empowering on a personal level. “My faith has kept me alive through really deep, depressive episodes growing up, my faith has kept me motivated as a minority student trying to make a way in academia. It’s my faith alone that has given me the strength to do a lot of uncomfortable things.” She laughs: “Consider Jesus, like please put that in there, consider Jesus.”
After graduation, Olojo will be working for a tech company in downtown Manhattan, but plans on pursuing a Ph.D. in demography in a year or two. As an “artist at heart,” she’s also excited to start reading books for fun, and to start writing personal narratives again.
Conversation periodically circles back to her childhood in Maryland. Ojolo feels fortunate to have grown up living in the metro area, where there was diversity of race, of ethnicity, of income, of religion. “It’s not normal for me to see any kind of homogeneity anywhere else,” Olojo adds, explaining her gravitation towards people with hyphenated identities. In her essays, she hopes to talk about these hyphenated identities.
Correction: May 17, 2018
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Seyi Olojo’s intended Ph.D. was in environmental science, rather than a Ph.D. in demography. Additionally, Olojo watched An Inconvenient Truth in high school—not after her first year of college, as the previous version of this article suggested. The Eye regrets the errors.