Nov

7

Campus Character: Janine Balekdjian

Written by

Illustration by Alison Henry

Illustration by Allison Henry, CC ’16

In this piece from the Autumn issue of  The Blue & White, Anna Bahr, BC ’14, introduces us to the interesting personality of the president of the CU Dems.

You will probably hear Janine Balekdjian, CC ’13, before you see her. Though diminutive in stature, her voice more than compensates for her petite frame. As Peter Andrews, CC ’14, and fellow member of the trombone section in the CU Marching Band puts it, “When we play at games, one of our goals is to be loud. And, let’s face it: Janine has a built-in advantage.” Her distinctive laugh—forceful and unrestrained—interrupts otherwise half-hearted swells of giggling students in lecture.

No part of Janine is muted. Kaley Hanenkrat, BC ’11, describes it perfectly—Janine is “the opposite of apathy.” Her passion charges even the day-to-day. She is decidedly against lunch, both the meal and the concept (she resents her body for needing sustenance, because “It’s just such a waste of time!”), and will explain her aversion in a monologue punctuated with emphatic gesticulation. To describe her with simple verbs and adjectives would unfairly dilute her energy. She doesn’t talk; she rants. Injustices do not annoy her; they are infuriating. Halfway isn’t her style.

Janine is that imaginary student you fantasize about meeting after your Columbia acceptance letter arrives in the mail; her genuine enthusiasm is contagious. On a typical weekend you can find her phonebanking for President Obama, passing through Pennsylvania to canvass for swing voters, and walking women past hostile protesters at abortion clinics in the Bronx. Her writing is regularly published in The Nation and The Huffington Post. She accomplishes nearly all of this in heels.

In New York, a city in which indifference is often equated with sophistication, her unabashed excitement offers a refreshing break from post-adolescent arrogance. Janine advocates an alternative that makes engagement feel cool. Her need to share her thoughts feels closer to a compulsion than a conscious choice.

“I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb interested in politics,” says Janine. Truly, one conversation with her validates the axiom “the personal is political.” During her unprecedented two-year tenure as president of the Columbia University Democrats, she has redirected the Dems’ energies from an agenda grounded in discussion to one centered on activism. She is responsible for organizing the largest campaign trip in the Dems’ history: 200 students will trek to Ohio on Election Day weekend to “knock on all of the doors,” she says proudly. Peter describes her as nothing short of a “visionary leader.”

“If you tell her you are not a feminist, her feelings will be hurt. [These issues are] hugely important to her as a human, not just as a political apparatus,” says Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, CC ’15, fellow editor of the Feminist Mystique—Columbia’s first feminist publication, which was co-founded by Janine. This is the most confounding component of Janine’s character. For all her investment in partisan campaigns, she equally values personal connections. Hours after screaming at her Republican peers over ideological differences, she will kick back with them to share a game of baseball and a beer.

I had suggested that we get coffee for our interview. Janine does not drink coffee. She’d rather sip on one of her tens of Twinings varieties—“her fuel.” She serves our tea in dainty china and charming heart-shaped strainers. As we finish talking, Janine identifies her only concrete future plan: “I’m just going to keep doing whatever makes me excited and protesting whatever makes me angry. I’ll follow my passions.” She seems incapable of doing anything else, even if she tried.

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34 Comments

  1. Bs writing  

    'Hostile protestors' yea right

  2. BSGS  

    Allison Henry, I really hope Janine Balekdjian doesn't look like the swamp monkey you made her out to be in that "portrait."

  3. Anonymous  

    would you mind noting somewhere that the whole body-resenting body-should-not-need-sustenance thing against-the-concept-of-lunch thing is in here because um, eating disorder triggers hello. it's easy enough to believe that i do not deserve to eat and should be skipping lunch without other people confirming?

    thx.

    • Anonymous  

      Bwog, it's true. For anyone with struggling with an eating disorder this is definitely a trigger. Maybe put a trigger warning?

      • lazy college senior  

        Good lord, I hope you people aren't being serious right now. Maybe we should also do away with any comical references to not getting enough sleep, working oneself too hard, or not getting work done lest we trigger insomniacs, workaholics, and procrastinators, too!

        I'm only half joking. It's the internet, people. It's a big, scary place and if one girl sarcastically remarking that she doesn't eat lunch is too much to handle, then you don't belong online.

        • Anonymous  

          thank you for being a voice of reason, for once

        • As someone

          who has struggled--and often still does struggle-- with disordered eating, I do find the comment triggering. Of course, putting "trigger warnings" everywhere is completely ridiculous, but what's not ridiculous is acknowledging that something is problematic. Normalizing the idea of skipping meals IS problematic-- for some people more than others-- and I don't think that anyone is out of line in acknowledging that. Being put down for voicing anxieties, whether they be about food, sleep, work, school, whatever, compels one to internally delegitimize and swallow his or her problems, and that isn't good.

          But to return to the article's topic, good pick! Janine is such a character and has real character, too.

          • The Masked Phantom  

            3 meals a day is a social construct. In our native environment the total number of calories is all that mattered not how many times a day you eat. In fact studies show that caloric restriction (including fasting) has numerous health benefits and almost certainly increases your life expectancy. Any pre-med should know this. So skipping meals is not a problem unless you are not supplementing your diet with increased calories in your other meals. In fact I am an obese person and all this talk about not skipping meals is triggering my binge-eating, hold on a sec I'm gonna fetch a pint of good 'ol Ben and Jerry's from my freezer I'll be right back to finish this comment. As I was saying, there are many kinds of eating disorders which is why this article is so insensitive because if you assume that everyone can afford to skip a meal then you are ignoring the fact that some people have insatiable hunger which consumes their everyday activitys for example I have become considerably less invested in writing this comment now that I am preoccupied with this delicious Cherry Garcia pint (well actually a half-pint, I forgot I already opened it yesterday) so excuse me if my grammar and spelling slip a little bit, which is ironic for me to say because the spoon just slipped out of my hand and I had to search around on the floor for a good 20 seconds to find it, and I had to wipe it clean on my sweatpants because it got covered in lint (I really should clean under my desk). It actually looks like I wet my pants (or worse) but I don't actually have any problems with chronic masturbation which is rather surprising considering my sedentary lifestyle. I know that porn addiction/chronic masturbation is usually associated with poor dietary habits and large amounts of time spent stationary in front of a screen, but I seem to have dodged that bullet. The fact that I am am able to resist the urge to choke my chicken while unable to resist the urge to chow down on some chicken (if you excuse my poetic language) indicates to me that my crippling obesity is not due to akrasia or some overall defect in my character, but just an unfortunate outcome in the genetic lottery. I mean, neither of my parents are morbidly obese to the same degree that I am, but both have struggled to keep the weight off. It's certainly within the possibility of our current understanding of biology that I simply acted as a "combiner" for the bad genes that my parents had (look at the Tigon/Liger dichotomy to see an example of what I'm talking about). In any case I don't particularly care to stick to the article's topic, but I would like to further say that I think sometimes swallowing one's problems can be a good thing (unless your problems are similar to mine, in which case not swallowing would be equivalent to the metaphorical swallowing I am talking about). I mean, can we at least agree it's not categorically bad? We can debate about which problems should be swallowed (obviously binge eating is one in which you should not *literally* swallow, but rather metaphorically swallow, which in this case corresponds to literally not swallowing) but there are problems in which are illegitimate. Of course, this was a poor rhetorical move of me to bring this up, because readers will now automatically assume that I'm trying to say eating disorders fall into this category (au contraire). But all things considered I've done rather poor rhetorically anyway by speaking so candidly and openly about myself, which is a big no-no on the internet. The fashion nowadays is just to be "ironic", which is another word for disingenuous, and so the result is that if you posts anything too sincere everyone assumes that you are "new to the internet" or "trolling". Well I can assure you that I am not new to the internet (as my previous dissection of internet norms indicates), and I am not oblivious of the norms I am breaking; I am doing so as a deliberate act of social disobedience, because I don't care to hedge the bets of every word I use, and hide behind quasi-anonymous quasi-sarcastic self-conscious bullshit speak which has become the standard for internet comments but rather I speak to you as if I were talking to you in real life. I think the root of it is so many people are afraid to take themselves seriously on the internet for fear of judgement. Well I'm not afraid to take myself seriously. Here I am, this is me. This is what I have to say. I don't need to be snide and I don't need to be witty. How refreshing it would be if everyone approached internet commenting with the same un-jaded perspective that I do. In any case I actually took quite a few breaks in the middle of writing this comment so I've been finished with my icecream for a bit. I'm happy to hear what you say, but I have some Oceanography reading to do, so I won't be checking the comments section for a short while.

        • Anonymous  

          Wow, you're so upset by someone asking for ONE whole sentence at the top that tells them that this may flare up symptoms of a major psychological disorder that could LITERALLY KILL THEM that you write off this screed? You're that committed to fucking people over? Wow, dude. It is a tiny little effort, a minuscule thing, that could literally save a life.

          I really don't think /that/ person is the one who "doesn't belong online."

        • Anonymous  

          I definitely see your point. Though, I think this circumstance is a little bit different because these actions are being affirmed by donning Janine as a Campus Character. I will disclaim, that I am probably too sensitive about this topic as it hits close to home. But when you go through your day constantly trying to frame a healthier perspective on food and your body, seeing this sort of description of a person in a revering context (though innocent in its intent) is a lot more damaging than you might think. I know to expect it on certain places on the Internet and in life in general and I do my best to either avoid those places or take them with a grain of salt but I have always considered Columbia to be a place that respects mental health and thus was not really on my guard. Especially, considering the context of these actions is a positive one.

          I do of course understand that Bwog meant no harm. I just hope it doesn't set anyone back on their road to recovery. And I don't meant to detract attention away from Janine, who does like a good person.

      • BC 2013  

        I'm currently struggling with an ED, and found that comment a little triggering, but you know what? That's life. Life is triggering. There are infinite potential triggers in this world, and it is our job to learn to work through them. That's why we go to therapy -- to learn to coexist with a world that may often feed our disorders and allow them to thrive. It's hard to hear people say things that trigger disordered thoughts, but it can't always be avoided, and while exposure may be difficult, I find it to be therapeutic.

        • The Masked Phantom  

          Pardon me if this seems rude, but I am not sure what "ED" stands for besides erectile dysfunction. Considering that you are from Barnard I know that this is highly unlikely (although not impossible), and so I am curious what you originally meant. in fact, this raises an interesting question as to the nature of "erection". We all know that the clitoris can become erect to some degree, and so while the outward physical change in appearance may not be as stark as a man's erection, it still can count as an erection in the strict sense (and certainly if you were to ask a gender studies major, this would it would need to count, as a matter of principle). But while women can get erections, your comment above was not about erections per se, but rather erectile dysfunction, which is a more complex phenomenon. While we could agree that a particular woman may encounter difficulties achieving an erection, it is not clear that this qualifies for "Erectile Dysfunction", esp. considering all the connotations of unacceptability that the word "Dysfunction" implies. A man unable to achieve an erection is limited in the sexual activities he may partake (although not completely, lest we forget oral and other pleasures), whereas in the dominant western sexual paradigm, the female erection is inconsequential (although I do challenge you to present an alternative paradigm in which it might be important; it would be a rather interesting situation, although I suspect it would have to be far removed from the reproduction-focused paradigm we see in Judeo-Christian culture). So a woman who has difficulties achieving an erection, no matter how severe those difficulties would be, would nevertheless never qualify for the label of "Erectile Disfunction", at least in some sense. But on the other hand, the labels we have for illness are inherently artificial. Everyone feels bad, but at what point do we start labeling it "depression", or likewise for *any* illness. Our uncertainty about these conditions does not arise from an inability to make sufficiently accurate measurements to determine which side of the line one falls on, but rather that the line is inherently fuzzy. There is no thin line one crosses to transfer from "well" to "sick", despite the tomes we write on the proper classification of illness. After all, to a woman who highly desired erection, who are we to say that her difficulties do not constitute a disease? Such a claim is purely a belief judgement, something which has no place in the hard sciences.

  4. Fellow Dem  

    Love you Janine!!!! Your awesome!!!! <3 Constitutional Law got nothing on you.

  5. Van Owen

    Eating disorders aren't a bad thing. Please, no fatties.

  6. shrinking violet  

    Fatties are the worst thing in the world, they make the eyes of men burn. All women ought to subjugate our own desires, beauty, safety, and health toward making men sexually aroused. After all, women are only holes with legs. So starve yourself woman, retch until your throat is raw, don;t eat, lose your body, your life and your health, maybe one day a man will reward your efforts with a delicious gallon of cum.

  7. Anonymous  

    who the fuck is this bitch

  8. Anonymous  

    Janine is amazing and so inspiring! Thank you for choosing her as a campus character bwog!!

  9. Anonymous  

    why are we talking about eating disorders? JANINE IS AWESOME

  10. dsdf  

    i've been told personally by a counselor at cps that anorexia is a common disorder among Columbia students.

  11. Anonymous  

    Bwog, why don't you just use photographs for campus characters?

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