Oluronke Taiwo says she knows only too well the sting of racism.
The successes in her career in medical microbiology in Nigeria, where she taught and published at the University of Lagos, didn’t go far when she moved to Canada in 1998.
“I knew the racism that I went through,” she says. “After having a masters for 17 years, having to go back and start. That is a barrier I had to cross.”
In Africa, she had been a lab technician and then a lecturer, working with pharmacy students. The United Nations sponsored her to bring her research about antibiotics to Dalhousie University. After the sponsored term ran out, she wanted to stay in Canada.
Her family joined her after a year, but she couldn’t find work in her field. At that point, she started a bachelor of social work.
And last year, only weeks away from her graduation from the Master of Social Work program, she was hired to become the next advisor at the Black Student Advising Centre.
Now, her office is decorated with signs of her journey. Two cuddling giraffes, carved out of a piece of blonde wood, sit atop a filing cabinet. Her certificate of counselling skills from International Correspondence Schools is displayed, along with her degrees from Dal and her Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers registration.
More than a year into her job, she says it has not been easy settling in.
“To me, the greatest challenge is actually being accepted by the indigenous black,” Taiwo says.
“Because I am the first non-indigenous black (students’) advisor. I cannot explain the reason why,” she says. “My goal since I came is: ‘How do we unite, as blacks?’”
She says as fellow victims of racism, they have more in common than they have differences.
“If they believe that, ‘Oh, nobody understands me, nobody has gone through my problem,’ this will be an ongoing thing, and it will not end.”
“Bitterness will start to evolve in anger,” she says. “The generations that are coming after us, they follow what they see, and they will pass that on.”
Even though becoming a social worker was not her first plan in life, she now says she enjoys being a counsellor. She says the best part of the job is talking to students.
“Because I am also a social worker, I am able to use my theoretical understanding and skill to get through cognitively to students.”
She says her style of counselling consists of setting herself as an example to students.
“If I can go though full-time work, full-time school, and family – you can. And I’m not young.”
“I’m able to use my experience to empower people, to encourage people,” Taiwo says.
In last week’s Gazette, the Black Student Advising Centre’s move out of the Student Union Building, and into an old residence at 1400 Henry St., was examined through the words of students. Many of them are worried about this move.
Taiwo says this negativity was a surprise to her.
“In my own silent way, I let the Student Services and the VP know that the house is really important for the students, because it would give them their own space,” she says.
“I was flabbergasted to hear that now that they get it, they don’t want to move.”
She says that students haven’t given it a chance.
“Only (the) few that have gone in are probably (the) ones telling tales about it.”
“If you are given something, appreciate that first,” she says. “I will say, let them move, and let them see.”
Last week, the centre celebrated their 20th anniversary. Taiwo was one of the main organizers of the banquet and dance, which brought dozens of people from all over the university to the celebration in the McInnis room.
She says the job as Advisor has given her an opportunity to get to know faculties and departments in the university that she wouldn’t have otherwise.
“I get to know, I get to meet, I get to be involved. That’s really fun.”