Zoe Ridolfi-Starr

With the last weekend of the semester wrapping up, we bring you yet another senior wisdom to inspire you to push through the rest of finals. Today we begin with some wisdom from Zoe Ridolfi-Starr.

Name, School, Major, Hometown: Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, Columbia College, Political Science, San Jose CA

Claim to fame: Your friendly neighborhood angry feminist! Organized to fight gender-based violence on campus, founder of No Red Tape. Helped create the Prison Resistance and Education Project and the Books Not Bars programs for incarcerated youth. Worked for reproductive justice on campus, got free emergency contraception provided at Health Services, and secured the creation of the Columbia Emergency Health Fund to subsidize, among other things, abortions. (You should check out this fund–it’s a little-known but important resource! https://health.columbia.edu/about-columbia-health/special-health-fund)

Where are you going? I will be staying in New York and charting a path through the anti-violence organizing world, hopefully towards a job at the intersections of gender-based violence, civil rights, and prison resistance. I’ll be raising my own salary for the next few months, so hit me up if you’re feeling generous :)

What are 3 things you learned at Columbia and would like to share with the Class of 2019?

1. Balance is essential. Seriously, I know this is the kind of lame advice that everyone gives you when you start college and then everyone ignores for 3 years, but it’s so important. You should really try to eat well, exercise, and aim for 8 hours of sleep a night. If you’re going to compromise one of those things, make sure it’s for a good reason so that your overall happiness can stay balanced. For example, if you’re going to pull an all-nighter, make sure it’s for something you’re truly passionate about. Your energy-balance will be zapped, but your meaning-in-life-balance will be full. It’ll help you stay motivated. Try to find balance in other aspects of your life, too: Get off campus regularly. It helped me to have an off-campus job or volunteer position, or even just walk into Harlem or to the park. Spend time with people who are not your age–brilliant 20 somethings have a tendency to be somewhat self-absorbed and it’s good for you to spend time with people who are thinking about the world in different ways. Make some old lady friends and learn what they’ve learned. Play with children and answer their questions as they try to piece this world together. The same goes for spending time with people who are from different racial, class, political, or geographical backgrounds from you. Spend time in spiritual places if you’re not religious, spend time sitting with doubt if you are. Relax and watch a movie, but also remember to get out of bed and get some fresh air at least once a day. And remember to breath–it’s going to be okay.

2. There is meaning in just being. We learn to shape ourselves against things: people, places, relationships, particular goals, involvement in student groups. We craft a mold from these elements and pour ourselves into it, forging a sense of our own identity and meaning in the world. These things we form ourselves against, they are important. But when these fixtures fall away, as most things inevitably do, it can be hard to feel like your existence means anything. We feel adrift, shapeless, detached. As I am preparing to leave Columbia, I am watching nearly everything I have worked to shape myself against fall away: I have felt valuable because I was fighting to end sexual violence, building a tutoring program, or succeeding in school. I have found meaning because I was someone’s lover, someone’s daughter, or someone’s best friend. But these things are all changing rapidly; no longer will they be fixtures against which I can form a sense of self. It is more challenging to accept that there is meaning in my life not because I am an organizer or a leader or a lover, but simply because I am. I have learned–and am still learning–how to find meaning in this kind of formlessness. The older (!!) I get, the more I recognize how important it is to have a sense of self-worth that is not dependent on validation or constructed against external goals or affiliations. When I feel adrift, I am working to enjoy the ride rather than searching desperately for the next shore. I am trying to embrace the opportunity to see what I will become when I’m not forming myself against, towards, or away from someone or something specific. What shape might I take? How do I fold out into the world? How does it feel to be exploring uncharted parts of my own inner life, with no goal other than self-understanding? These are questions I wish I’d taken time to reflect on sooner. Like most things in my life, answering them is a work in progress.

3. International delivers. Don’t forget to tip well!

“Back in my day…” Bernie’s was Havana and the mojitos were slightly cheaper. Consent ed was optional. Bacchanal was the one day each year where we actually stopped taking ourselves so seriously.

Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer: I fight for safer, healthier communities and give great back rubs.

What was your favorite class at Columbia? Gendered Controversies with Janet Jakobsen or Pre-Columbian Histories of Native America with Severin Fowles.

Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? Sex is amazing. And there are few things better than oral sex performed with enthusiasm, talent, and attentiveness. If you are tempted to give up “oral sex” for this question, I strongly suggest, for your own benefit, that you expand your sexual horizons before making this commitment. Explore, learn what you like, communicate with your partner or partners, do some research, practice with yourself, and get into it. It can help to have lots of sex with just one person; when two people know each other’s contours and delights so intimately, both learn so much about what they like and how to please current or future partners. It can also help to have sex with many different partners; you will try different flavors, rhythms, shapes, and moods; you may discover some wonderful new things, and will definitely have fun. I would, without hesitation, give up cheese, chocolate, air conditioning, Netflix, and Christmas before I would give up good oral sex. Columbia friends, my sincere hope is that someday we will all get to enjoy the kind of awesome, consensual sex that we would never give up for curdled milk. (However, crappy oral sex is tedious. I once ordered dumplings on Seamless while getting eaten out.)

One thing to do before graduating: Fall in love, and then fall out of it.

Any regrets? I regret not forming better relationships with professors. I regret trusting the Columbia administration; I had to learn the hard way that, as a whole, it does not give a fuck about its students. I regret that deep love and great passion often lead to disappointment and bitterness. I regret some things left unsaid. I regret ever reading the comments, they hurt. I regret time I spent not being my full, complicated, authentic self or hanging around people who couldn’t or wouldn’t have my back. I regret not having more time to get to know all the intelligent, kind, brave, interesting, and exceptional people here.

I can tell you for damn sure, I do not regret a single time I sacrificed my schoolwork for late night conversation with friends, the work I’m passionate about, adventures around the world, or sleep. I don’t even remember what the academic impact of any of those decisions was–but it was definitely worth it.