‘He made the institute a home’: Carleton students, faculty remember Ottawa professor Pius Adesanmi
Colleagues and students at Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies remembered the department’s late director Pius Adesanmi on Monday as an engaging, approachable and passionate academic who was “pivotal” in promoting the institute’s growth and making it a place where its students felt welcome and appreciated.
Adesanmi was among 18 Canadians who died when an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed shortly after taking off from the Bole Airport in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, on Sunday morning. The plane was en route to Nairobi, Kenya. All 157 individuals on board were killed in the tragic crash.
For Kagiso Lesego Molope, a published writer and student at the Ottawa university where Adesanmi worked, the Nigerian-born writer felt more like “family” than a professor.
“He made the institute a home for me and for all the African students here,” Molope said as she and others gathered to pay their respects on campus.
“It’s just such an enormous loss. We’re all devastated. I can’t quite imagine this place without him.”
Adesanmi was a member of the university’s English department in addition to his role as director of the Institute of African Studies. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.
A tribute posted online by Carleton University described Adesanmi as a “towering figure” in francophone and anglophone African and post-colonial literatures as well as in politics and cultures.
Adesanmi came to Carleton in 2006, according to the university’s statement, and “quickly made his mark on the campus and was an integral part of the groundswell that led to founding the Institute of African Studies.”
His ability to stand out, however, preceded his arrival at Carleton, according to his friend and colleague Nduka Otiono. The two men met at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, where Adesanmi pursued a master’s degree in French studies.
Thanks to his “energy” and “vivacious nature,” Adesanmi became “a very strong part of the Ibadan literary circle,” said Otiono, an assistant professor at Carleton’s Institute of African Studies.
Adesanmi later lent his voice to intellectual debates and “hot controversies” in Nigeria as a political commentator, including during a period when the country experienced a “massive brain drain,” Otiono said.
“Pius, at the time, didn’t know he was also going to ‘brain drain,'” Otiono chuckled.
Adesanmi moved to Canada to pursue his PhD — also in French studies — at the University of British Columbia and then taught in the United States before accepting a position at Carleton in Canada’s national capital. Otiono said Adesanmi heavily influenced his decision come to Carleton, where the two longtime friends scored offices close to one another.
They saw each other regularly, he said.
“That’s Pius’ office,” Otiono said, gesturing down the hallway. “I can’t come to terms with the possibility … that I am not going to see him again.”
In those hallways, Adesanmi helped build a “unique” institution, Otiono said, describing it as “a vital essence and a missing link in Canadian academics.”
“The big thing … is this happened when he was in full bloom,” said Otiono, noting that his colleague’s death comes just as the institute is preparing to celebrate its 10th anniversary.
“It’s hard… it’s very hard.”
Otiono also described the institute as a “home” for many students of colour. Molope attributes this directly to Adesanmi.
“It is because of the energy that he has created around him and the professors around him, and he was just this incredibly supportive person,” she said.
Fourth-year student Ahmed Omer echoed that sentiment.
“Every time I walked into his office, he’s always had a smile,” said Omer, a student of the African studies and religious studies programs, who most recently took one of Adesanmi’s classes last term. “He would give you guidance on how to perform your assignments and stuff like that. … He was always there for his students and his community.”
“We’re deeply grieving together.”
Otiono described Adesanmi as having an “electric” and “adaptive personality” — a man who embraced “his Canadian culture with his Nigerian culture.”
This was also evident to his students, who said they hope to “carry forward” Adesanmi’s mission and strive to “build bridges” between different cultures.
“I think he is a man who not only celebrated his heritage but he celebrated African intellectualism in the west, and I hope that we can continue to do the same,” Molope said.
“He made a place for us here, and I hope that we can continue to feel at home even without his physical appearance.”
—With files from Rebecca Lindell
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