“All of us are consumers or creators. Sometimes we’re both,” says Syracuse University senior Ifetayo Dudley ’22, regarding the growing influence of social media. “Thanks to platforms like TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, almost anyone can control their own brand while communicating directly with their audiences. This creates potential for collaboration with traditional media, like TV, radio and print.”
An aspiring journalist and creative strategist, Dudley hopes to ply her skills at a large ad agency or in a marketing department, like Disney’s or Paramount’s. She also has her eyes on Refinery29, a leading feminist media and entertainment company. “I’m committed to celebrating the beauty, strength and power of Black people,” continues the Harlem-born journalist and fashion model, who majors in communication and rhetorical studies (CRS) in the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA). “I think we’re going to see more mainstream media outlets embrace community-generated content, with stars and celebrities playing bigger roles as ‘influencers.’”
A keen interest in haute couture inspired Dudley to enroll in the Fashion and Beauty Communications Milestone, a sequence of courses for students in VPA and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. The program complements her various roles at Renegade, Syracuse’s first-and-only student-run, Black general interest magazine. In addition to the campus Fashion and Design Society and WAER radio, she has worked for The Daily Orange, Femme Noir Magazine and the Women’s Empowerment Project.
The CRS department is highly interdisciplinary, teaching communication skills that are useful across a range of industries, including the media, public relations and marketing.—Ifetayo Dudley ’22
We recently caught up with Dudley to talk about Syracuse’s impact on her academic and professional development.
What led you to Syracuse University?
I went to Promise Academy I, a high school created in partnership with the Harlem Children’s Zone. Although I did well in STEM, I was really into journalism, and my interest in it grew stronger through various college programs in New York City and Washington, D.C.
I eventually had to choose between Syracuse and a historically Black university in Virginia. Since I used to run track and had brothers who played basketball, I knew all about Syracuse Athletics. But I was more interested in our academic reputation, especially in journalism and marketing. Syracuse made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
When did VPA come into the picture?
My passion for writing and fashion led me to VPA my sophomore year. The CRS department is highly interdisciplinary, teaching communication skills that are useful across a range of industries, including the media, public relations and marketing. CRS also deals with various modes of persuasion in speech and writing. I now have multiple career options instead of just one.
A friend tipped me off about Newhouse’s milestone program, which I started the second semester of my first year. It’s been incredible.
Who are some of your favorite professors?
I have several, but at the top of the list is Newhouse professor Harriet Brown, who co-directs the milestone program. One of her courses looks at recurring themes in the fashion industry—racism, tokenism, underrepresentation. She’s pushed me to think more broadly about these issues as well as my own standards of beauty and self-worth.
I’ve also taken classes with Erin Reimel ’16, an editor at ELLE magazine who teaches fashion and beauty journalism, and Joanna Nikas, a fashion and style editor at The New York Times who is skilled in the art of story pitching. They’ve taught me that writing and pitching are personal experiences, that I’m ultimately selling myself.
What’s an important lesson you’ve learned?
If you want to fix something, you need to understand it. That’s why I’m grateful to Syracuse for teaching me about the fashion industry firsthand. I’ve done everything from writing for student-run magazines like Renegade and Femme Noire—Syracuse’s only publication by and for women of color—to participating in various runway shows.
Racism has been at the heart of the fashion industry since the beginning. It’s systemic, affecting people who make clothes as well as those who model them. I’m using my education to help make a difference.
How do we foster a culture of change?
If we’re going to combat inequality and discrimination, we need to talk to, inspire and educate one another. Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Role models are also part of the process. I’m inspired by people like VH1’s Gia Peppers; track star Allyson Felix; and Oladotun Idowu ’14, a Newhouse grad who has founded Sisters in Media, which supports minority women in the media and entertainment. They’re the kind of people I want to surround myself with.
What will you miss most about Syracuse?
I’ve made a lot of friends and memories here, but I’ll never forget participating in my first African Student Union fashion show. Although “Ifetayo” is Yoruba for “love conquers all,” I’m part-Bahamian and part-Trinidadian. That’s why organizations like ASU appeal to me.
What lesson would you share with incoming students?
Grades are important, but they’re not everything. I’ve grown a lot in the past four years because I’ve opened myself up to new people and experiences.
If there’s one thing that my professors have in common, it’s their willingness to go the extra mile for me. I know that they have my back and are invested in my success.—Ifetayo Dudley ’22
Teachable moments aren’t limited to the classroom. They happen anywhere, anytime—in the hallway, over coffee, at an internship. If there’s one thing that my professors have in common, it’s their willingness to go the extra mile for me. I know that they have my back and are invested in my success.