In the ’80s and ’90s, Nigeria experienced one coup d’état after another. The authoritarian government identified students and their university campuses as likely centers of protest. To silence them, the government preemptively shut down universities, delaying classes for at least a year.
“All of this took place as I was preparing for university,” Ejim Dike ’94 recalled. “It convinced my otherwise reluctant father to let me go to the United States for school instead.”
Dike grew up in Nigeria as the eldest of five siblings, all of whom were influenced by the exposure to academics and scholarship. Both of her parents were professors at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. Education was a priority, and Dike had worked diligently through secondary school with the intention of attending college.
“It was nice to have educators as parents because we were immersed in a community of academics, inquiry and critical thinking,” Dike said.
Dike’s grandparents were living in Indiana and had a family friend who taught at Berea. While they were attracted to the College’s role in desegregation and its commitment to equity, ultimately it was the no-tuition promise that finalized the decision.
“I love Berea’s model, and I think that’s exactly what all colleges need to be,” Dike said. “I believe in the human right to a quality education, and Berea provides you with an amazing opportunity and education where you meet all kinds of brilliant people who come from backgrounds that wouldn’t have afforded them a college education.”
Dike followed her grandparents’ recommendation and was accepted to Berea. There were cultural expectations for her to choose one of three career paths: medicine, law or engineering. The last felt the most palatable, and thus, she pursued Industrial Arts, where she could work with her hands and learn physics and architectural drafting.
Post-graduation, Dike traveled to New York, where Berea alumna, Marie Runyon ’37, sparked her interest in a different course of study.
“She was an activist extraordinaire,” Dike recalled. “Columbia
University was trying to expand, and they wanted to kick her out of her rent-controlled apartment. She was really holding their feet to the fire, and somehow foiled every plan they had, and they ended up renovating her building around her apartment!”
Runyon was the head of an organization that provided support and housing for formerly incarcerated people, and she became Dike’s contact in the world of social justice.
“Marie Runyon introduced me to ways in which we could be more actively engaged in changing things we don’t like about society,” Dike said. “After that, I decided I wanted to do human rights work.”
After spending a couple years as a volunteer for Runyon’s organization, Dike went on to work for MDRC in New York, an organization committed to improving social policy. She felt dissatisfied with the lack of action and moved on to the Urban Justice Center with the Human Rights Project.
“I ended up running the project, and we published Human Rights Report Cards on the New York City Council,” Dike said. “We wanted to get international human rights passed at the local level.”
She also ran the U.S. Human Rights Network, which united grassroots and larger organizations under one network. “I did a lot of building United Nations (UN) literacy, making sure people understood how to use the UN to advance human rights and hold the U.S. government accountable,” she said.
Twenty years of service later, Dike wanted a job that allowed her to be more present as a parent. She now teaches as an adjunct professor for various universities in New York, where she introduces young people to human rights and how to implement them to fight for racial and gender justice. Between teaching and parenting, she’s earning her doctorate in political science at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Ga.
“If there’s anything I’m scared of, it’s the fear of not having tried something, as opposed to trying and failing,” Dike said.
The foundation Berea helped her build has followed her to the present. “Berea gave me an excellent opportunity to have a safe, nurturing place to learn and culturally adjust to the U.S. I continue to give to Berea because I continue to be amazed with how it’s grown and where it’s headed.”