Writer Says of Her First-Year Self: “Bless Her Heart”

Dawkins headshot

Doreen Dawkins

Kyra Ann Dawkins ’20 is a writer, author, coach and editor who draws inspiration from the beauty of human voices. Her interests are wide and eclectic, which explains why she majored in medicine, literature, and society (now more succinctly known as medical humanities). After graduation, she noticed an intense pressure to construct her identity, an existential crisis faced by many in her generation. Enamored with oral tradition, her debut book, The We and the They, creates a narrative space where readers can escape the limits of individuality and experience a story as a member of a new collective. Dawkins had the pleasures of serving as Opinion-Editorial deputy editor for Spectator and being a ghostwriter for prominent community leaders in the greater Cleveland area.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

In fall 2016, which simultaneously feels like yesterday and forever ago, I was overly committed to presenting myself in a way that I felt would help people take me seriously. Since I went to a boarding high school, I wasn’t nervous about being away from home. I was really excited to take on the Big Apple, knowing that I had family close by in Newark should anything go awry. But alas, first-year Kyra was still a mess mostly because she was so busy trying to prove to herself and to others that she wasn’t one. Bless her heart.

My official debut on campus was dramatic to say the least. You know that moment when you drive through the beautifully crafted balloon arch and the Orientation leaders welcome you by helping unload your car? Well, as soon as my father popped open the trunk, some of my stuff spilled out and my hand-painted ceramic pencil holder shattered everywhere on College Walk. Everyone around us gasped. I still wince when I think of that embarrassing, ear-splitting sound. My parents and the move-in helpers made light of it and I tried to laugh too, but I internalized that moment as a bad omen of sorts. I decided that I couldn’t afford to let anything else break, especially not for the world to see.

I did everything possible to come across as astute and polished, which stifled me from being my full self. As much as I still love a nicely tailored suit, I wore way too many of them during my first-year fall. Maintaining that façade of neatness was exhausting and first-year Kyra was worried that she would shatter like that ceramic pencil holder. Thankfully, my College experience softened and humbled me a bit and I’m at least slightly less perfectionistic.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I lived in a single on the first floor of Furnald, which made move-in an absolute breeze. I also didn’t have to worry about the notorious elevator drama. What a blessing. I lived in a section of the first floor of Furnald that was supposedly allocated to be single-sex housing; with that being said, there was a strange war over who could use the bathroom at the end of the hallway. At the beginning of the school year, the sign on the bathroom indicated that it was for females only. But as months passed, people would rip down or tamper with that sign, so basically anyone started to use that restroom. A lot of my floormates got frustrated and would try to fix the sign, just for it to be taken down again by someone visiting the floor. I didn’t really care that much one way or the other, but the situation got a bit contentious. But on the whole, I really enjoyed living with my floormates. I will say that, since Furnald was so quiet and I am probably one of the most extroverted people you’ll ever meet, I spent a lot of time outside of my dorm. That really helped me to explore other aspects of the Columbia community.

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

All of my Core classes were legendary, but my Literature Humanities class was truly one for the record books. My class had a private Facebook meme group where we would document some of the more idiosyncratic elements of our class culture. For example, when we were discussing Don Quixote, my professor pulled up a famous Picasso sketch in relation to it, and she asked us, in all seriousness, “What visually runs with ‘windmill?’” Everybody just sat there with their mouths agape for a solid two minutes. And then, after that cringe-worthy silence, I finally quipped, “Solar panel?” And my professor exclaimed, “Absolutely!” I have never been more profoundly confused in my life.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

The Lerner ramps right outside of Ferris Booth Commons. I really appreciated that space for its versatility. I was the most comfortable eating, studying and hanging out there. I cannot focus in silence, and the Lerner ramps always had just the right amount of noise for optimal concentration. When I was hungry, Ferris was definitely my go-to dining hall. I became really close to members of the staff, they were all so incredible and we had a long line of running jokes. They actually gave me the nickname Miss Cleveland, since I’m from there and I would routinely laud LeBron James and the Cavaliers. (Oh, the memory of better sports days.) The ramps served as the nexus for core aspects of my college experience and the atmosphere of the space was quintessentially Columbian.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I wish that I had allowed myself to pursue what truly interested me sooner. I started at the College on the pre-med track. While I don’t regret any of the classes that I took, I enjoyed my humanities seminars about cultural and linguistic explorations of medicine and advocacy infinitely more than my science classes. I ended up studying three languages (Spanish, French and Twi), and tried to squeeze as many writing, journalism and linguistic classes as I could fit into my schedule without jeopardizing meeting my major requirements. Though I am still intrigued by medicine and will read burgeoning medical studies in a heartbeat, my true passion lies in the embracing the intricacies of language and leaning into productive discourse. With that being said, I wouldn’t have realized this if it weren’t for the more painfully hard science courses, instilling experiences in me that have changed me for the better.