5-minute read

Kaia Woodford is driven to topple barriers

Kaia Woodford took on lofty challenges at Ohio State. She doesn’t plan to slow down after graduation.
Kaia Woodford
Kaia Woodford (photo: Jodi Miller).

Kaia Woodford’s time at Ohio State has been trailblazing, breathtaking and remarkable.

As a student, she was a loud voice for racial equity, scaled the Rocky Mountains, traveled to Paris and was a finalist for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship.

“It’s all been at Ohio State and it’s been quite a ride,” says Woodford, a Morrill Scholar who became an advisor to the program. “I’m heartbroken it’s coming to an end.”

Woodford will graduate in May with degrees in political science with a specialization in democracy and law, and African American and African Studies. She will then study art and history abroad this summer in Siena, Italy, through Ohio State’s Pathways program. She will return to Columbus this fall for an additional semester to fulfill the requirements for her studio art minor.  

As she wraps up her final spring as a Buckeye, she recently looked back on her time at Ohio State while looking ahead to what’s next.

You’ve certainly taken on some big challenges in your time at Ohio State. Where does your fearlessness come from?

Since 2016 I’ve lost my mother, my grandmother, my aunt and most recently my grandfather. That was difficult. Grieving is hard. So comparatively, I’m happy to do these things. It’s not so taxing. I’ve faced personal hardship and that informs my toughness and ability to respond in challenging circumstances and environments.

But also, living the Black experience is knowing intimately about death. We’re constantly exposed to graphic displays of Black death in the media and its normalization.

So I know intimately about death, it’s a part of my life, but I want to carry on. I want my action and the legacy of those lives I’ve lost to be meaningful and speak to their lives and their values. I feel their spirit within me. I have also grown in my faith as a Christian since the beginning of my undergraduate career. I believe that I connect with the spirit of my lost loved ones through God.

Education is a brilliant way, in terms of policy, to address deeper societal issues. Who can proudly say they oppose addressing issues of education? But education extends far beyond the classroom.
Kaia Woodford
Graduating student in political science and African American and African Studies

With that in mind, what do you aspire to do?

I’m passionate about education. I come from a long line of educators. I’m happiest working with people. But I’m not doing it for myself, it’s bigger than me. If I can instill confidence in young Black girls as soon as possible, I’d be happy to spend all my time doing that.

Above all else, I have compassion for humanity, and recognizing the humanity in every individual regardless of their circumstance is important to me. But I believe those who ultimately occupy positions of less fortune suffer from a lack of quality education. I aspire to remove barriers to access so young girls can enjoy life and live.

Education is a brilliant way, in terms of policy, to address deeper societal issues. Who can proudly say they oppose addressing issues of education? But education extends far beyond the classroom.

Did anyone inspire that drive in you?

My grandfather, Dr. Stacy Woodford ’74 PhD, was an inspiration to me. He passed last spring. He instilled a passion for education and I feel his spirit in what I do, working toward equity in education.

But also my mother, Deidre Woodford, who was an intervention specialist at Champion Avenue Middle School in Columbus. She passed when I was 15 in 2016. Her compassion for her students was an inspiration. These were the most vulnerable students, children of low socioeconomic status. She’d instill a sense of respect and reverence for education in those students. She engaged them as people deserving of recognition in their humanity.

I aspire to be like my mother, to make her proud, to make my grandfather proud, serving the disadvantaged and those not receiving recognition as humans in our society.

From left, Austin Smith, Kaia Woodford and Max Dresbach, who worked together with the Bexley Anti-Racism Project (photo: Office of Diversity and Inclusion).

Were there any Ohio State faculty or community members who made a major impact on you?

A number of individuals. First, sharing community with fellow Black students at a predominantly white institution, people I can confide in about my experience, was incredibly important.

As far as my intellectual development and growth, Franco Barchiesi was incredible, brilliant, so compassionate. He recognizes students are more than students, they’re people. He’s been so intentional about taking me as I am and encouraging me to expand my intellectual horizons by providing me with theory and philosophy I can apply to make sense of and navigate my own lived experience. He has been a constant.

Tim Judge, he led the Rocky Mountain Leaders Expedition over the summer. I dealt with mental health challenges and questioned my ability to remain in the expedition. But he encouraged me and showed me I was capable of something like summiting a 14,200-foot-plus mountain. I’ve never done anything like that before and it was a transformative experience.

Also, Hasan Jeffries and his Civil Rights and Black Power movements course revolutionized my perspective as a Black woman. And Maurice Stevens is a fantastic instructor who supported my intellectual, personal and creative growth last semester in their course Intersections.

You’ll be graduating soon. What are your thoughts on leaving Ohio State?

I’m a Buckeye, my family were Buckeyes. I’ve experienced so many incredible things at Ohio State. I found community here. I’ve been so fortunate to study at this institution — Ohio State is an amazing school.

I served on homecoming court (Fall 2022) and it really reinforced my spirit and how proud I am to be a Buckeye, and understanding that leadership as a Buckeye extends beyond the campus to the community.

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