It took Dapo Akande a while to realize the importance of celebrating diversity. Growing up in Nigeria, he never really thought about identity and belonging as his colleagues and teachers were just like him. But when he got to the UK some decades ago, he came to understand that it was important for people to see others like them doing great things.
And those were the same thoughts Oxford University had when it decided to unveil portraits of Black alumni in 2019 in its colleges. That October, Akande, Professor of Public International Law at the University, became the first Black professor to be honored with a portrait at St Peter’s College, Oxford.
“I began teaching at St Peter’s College in 2004. I found it, and Oxford, to be a very supportive and welcoming academic environment,” said Akande. “It is my hope that this will be everyone’s experience of Oxford. I also hope that the diversity of portraits now to be seen across Oxford will help to ensure that everyone with potential, particularly prospective students, will be able to visualise themselves being here, and being at home here.”
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The unveiling of his portrait at the halls of St. Peters, Oxford was part of the prestigious university’s initiative in 2017 to highlight the full range of diversity at Oxford. The initiative came on the back of calls for brands to be more diverse. Many Black people were then making the covers of high fashion magazines, becoming brand ambassadors, collaborating with various international brands and also getting significant appointments in different international companies.
Akande’s portrait followed the 2016 unveiling of two prominent women in the University’s history, Rt Revd Libby Lane and Professor Christine Greenhalgh. His portrait is also opposite photo portraits of well-known BAME alumni that were unveiled earlier in 2019 celebrating their achievements and contributions after having persevered to have a place in white-dominated spaces.
Akande, a distinguished member of academia in the United Kingdom, has been at Oxford for over 20 years and has throughout the years been encouraging students and staff that they are welcome and needed at the University no matter their backgrounds. The 47-year-old is currently a Professor of Public International Law at the Blavatnik School of Government, Fellow at Exeter College and Co-Director of the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (ELAC).
He has been an educator for most of his life, starting off as a part-time lecturer at London School of Economics and then at Christ’s College and Wolfson College, Cambridge from 1994 to 1998. He then became a lecturer in law at the University of Nottingham School of Law and University of Durham before moving on to the University of Miami School of Law. In 2009, he left for Yale Law School as a visiting associate professor and Robina Foundation International Fellow.
Being a professor of public international law, he has acted as a policy advisor to states and international organizations and also been a counsel in cases before courts such as the International Court of Justice, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, and the UK Supreme Court. Essentially, Akande has become an authority in foreign affairs, and this is not surprising.
“Growing up I would listen to a lot of BBC World Service, and always thinking about what is going on in the world as a whole, which has led me to where I am now — something as simple as that has shaped my life and career,” he told Medium.
In spite of his many achievements, what he cherishes most is being the founding editor of EJIL:Talk!, the scholarly blog of the European Journal of International Law read by thousands of people. Akande knew he was ready to become an academic and a lawyer, having come from a family of academics, so he never thought he could be entrepreneurial to even start a project like EJIL:Talk!
“It started out as a passion project, and has really blossomed to allow serious analysis of international law across very different spheres of academia, policy, and NGOs,” Akande explained.
Throughout his life teaching and mentoring students, what he is most proud of is when he makes a contribution to someone else’s life. Specifically interested in how international cooperation works and having looked at the various issues facing the international community, he said in his interview with Medium that he hopes the world will shun the ‘us first’ mentality and recognize the need for international cooperation.