by Emily Vontom, Published January 23, 2013
Eastern Michigan University junior Tolu Olorunda's childhood education in Nigeria was less than ideal. Schools were in bad shape, and there were often not enough books and desks to go around.
In 2004, Olorunda's wish for a better education came true when he moved to Muncie, Ind. with his mother and brother and attended Muncie Central High School. One of his first classes was with a young English teacher who inspired him to write short essays and poems. In his senior year, his American government teacher encouraged him and took his ideas seriously, even when they disagreed politically.
"I had just begun becoming more aware and conscious of the social and political complexities of society," Olorunda says. His teacher's encouragement gave Olorunda the confidence to keep prodding.
After high school, Olorunda continued to write, and started reading the works of authors like Chekhov, Maya Angelou and Tennessee Williams, and the work of cultural critics including Henry Giroux. It was Giroux who first put Olorunda in touch with Chris Robbins, an associate professor in EMU's College of Education.
Olorunda was admitted to Eastern and began classes in January 2011. He is working on an individualized studies program, completing three minors rather than the traditional major and minor combination.
"I try to tap into as many different fields as possible to get a fuller grasp of reality," says Olorunda. "Put differently, I'm looking at the same frame through multiple angles. In my program, I'm studying elements of sociology, political science, art and education."
In 2011, with the help of Giroux, Olorunda released "The Substance of Truth," a compilation of essays exploring social issues within the U.S. and beyond.
"It is an examination of our current dominant cultures," says Olorunda. "Mass media, Disney, youth culture, hip-hop culture and neoliberalism. It also comments on political culture in terms of identity politics, social networking, civic discourse, and, of course, the Obama administration."
Olorunda was invited to present his work at the 2012 Belfast Book Festival in Belfast, Northern Ireland. While there, Olorunda talked about the importance of listening to the voices of invisible members of society.
"Art should be a medium for youth to define themselves in a society that renders them disposable and redundant," Olorunda says. "They should be able to talk back, to document their struggles. Societies should treasure these critiques as the duty of every citizen: to make the world ever more democratic."