On December 11, 2004, the board of trustees of Kalamazoo College unanimously elected Dr. Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran the 17th president, the first woman president, the first African-American president of Kalamazoo College. She began her duties some six months later, in July 2005. She will retire as president, after a long and distinguished in higher education, on June 30, 2016. The decade she led Kalamazoo College is one of the most extraordinary in the institution’s nearly 200 year history, characterized by the revitalization of the K-Plan, student-focused capital improvements and program changes, strong new connections between alumni and their alma mater, an inclusive campus that is one of the most diverse in higher education, and the College’s most successful fundraising campaign ever. Thank you, Eileen! Your legacy will affect K students forever.
The best leaders have and use a sense of humor. We’re grateful to President Wilson-Oyelaran for taking few minutes for October 2015 BeLight’s “Lighten Up” interview.
What’s the best song ever recorded?
“Light My Fire” by the Doors.
What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?
I so much liked Pokey the Little Puppy as a kid that, much later, I purchased a copy for each of my own children and grandchildren. I also loved Ferdinand the Bull, about the bull who wouldn’t fight.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“Well done. Come and get some rest.”
What’s your favorite word?
What’s your least favorite word?
What turns you on?
Well, I love music, dancing, and nature, so I guess it would be an outdoor party that combines all three.
What turns you off?
What sound do you love?
What sound do you hate?
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
A field biologist in a national forest
What profession would you not like to participate in?
I wouldn’t enjoy being a pastor.
What’s been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts education?
A seminal moment for me was when my undergraduate advisor said, “I don’t see you at anything outside of class.” He went on to explain that you learn from engaging with speakers and concerts and plays, and readings and then by connecting these with what you are learning in class through a process of self-reflection. That conversation transformed my undergraduate experience.
Who’s the person (living or dead) with whom you’d most like to spend a lunch hour?
The Dalai Lama. I’d want him to speak with me about peace of mind.
What memory from childhood still surprises you?
In first grade we were asked to cut out and color pictures of the Pilgrims for Thanksgiving. The class was over half African-American, but I was the only one who used a brown crayon to color the skin of the Pilgrims so that they would look, well, like me. That was a source of amusement for the class and I was hurt that the class made fun of me. I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Only later did I come to understand how psychologically healthy (although historically incorrect) it was for me to have made my Pilgrims black.
What is your favorite curse word?
What is your favorite hobby?
I love to read novels about people of other cultures.
What is your favorite comedy movie?
Probably one of the send-ups of the “Airport” movie.
What local, regional, national, or world event has affected you the most?
The Watts riots in the summer of 1964. That was my community.