Last Tuesday, newly-appointed Dean of Students Kristina Bethea Odejimi led a morning spin class while the regular instructor was on vacation. Why? Because there was a problem to be solved, because Odejimi really likes to cycle and because the class gave her the chance to do what she enjoys most: meet the individuals who make up the community she has been hired to serve, while getting in a tough workout.
“I think they were all dead by the end of the class,” Odejimi said. “But that’s OK. That’s maybe how you need to start off a Tuesday.”
Whether she is clipped into bike pedals in the Peter Buck Center for Health and Fitness or installed in her Moulton Union corner office, Odejimi’s conception of what it means to be Dean of Students is hands-on, individualistic and intensely student-focused. Odejimi’s job, which she began August 1, is to oversee the Title IX office, Health Services, Counseling Services and the Student Accessibility office—in other words, the services and professionals that help to shape our experience as students of the College.
Odejimi knows that building relationships with students is essential to her job, but also emphasizes the need for students to engage with her.
“I recognize that the second floor of Moulton Union is not a place where people just come on their own, so really trying to make sure that students understand we have a lot of resources that we offer [and] we want to make sure that students are aware of them … that is really important to me,” Odejimi said. “Even as I move up in different capacities, I think that the student interactions are at the core. It is why we are doing this work.”
To this end, Odejimi is making an effort to designate times for students to meet with her, just to talk, as she put it, “eyeball to eyeball.” Around a dozen have taken her up on this offer.
“They are able to come and meet and to just chat and exchange, nothing serious in nature—just for [me] to meet them,” she said.
These interactions can be the highlights of Odejimi’s tightly and meticulously packed schedule. She tries to see the individuals that make up her constituents, to see students as complicated and singular people rather than mere members in the crowd.
For Odejimi, the key to this task is names. She learns students names by repeating them over and over: a technique that is effective, if a bit unsettling. To demonstrate, she leaned toward me, across the circular table in her office and opened her eyes wide.
“Alyce. Alyce. Alyce,” she said, deliberately. “What’s your last name? I try to make these associations because I think names are important.”
Her name, in case you were wondering, is pronounced “o-DAY-jimi.”
Odejimi comes to Bowdoin from Tappahannock, Virginia, where she was the Dean of Students at St. Margaret’s School—a private boarding school, as well as her alma mater. The transition, she says, has been smooth: staff members are welcoming, students are competent and Brunswick has exactly what she needs—a Five Guys.
“Look. I love french fries—really good french fries. It’s kind of my weakness,” she said. “But I’ve visited Five Guys only three times since I’ve been here.”
Odejimi advises students to follow her example and find their “thing”—something in their daily life that brings them joy, whether it’s spin class or french fries.
“If you don’t have joy, it’s hard to navigate the ins and outs of every day,” she said. “So just finding that peace that keeps you motivated, whether it’s one thing or one activity, but figuring that out for yourself is, I think, critically important.”