The CUSFS President (and Bwog’s own Advertisement Manager) says: reject cringe, embrace whimsy.

Name, School, Major, Hometown:

Sasha Bonkowsky; Columbia College; Creative Writing & Political Science; Salt Lake City, UT

Claim to fame:

Started a cult of personality at the Columbia University Science Fiction Society. Calling our leader the ‘god-emperor’ was probably the start, but the Church of Sally (the name is a long story) is now locked in for the next four years at least.

Where are you going?

Working on my book! The fantasy revolution of Tzelvelik isn’t going to, uh, fantastically revolutionize itself.

What are three things you learned at Columbia and would like to share with the Class of 2028?

  • Don’t be afraid to reinvent yourself. If you know, you know why I’m giving this advice :). But I get it. It’s easy to feel “stuck” in who you are and worried about what people will say or think if you change; I remember agonizing that people would think it was weird to wear a different kind of shirt. But college (and New York City) is a weird and wonderful place, and people are generally so accepting of you presenting in a different way or joining them for new things. Do it if you think it’ll make you happy, or you think it might, or even if you’re curious.
  • Hang out with your professors. They’re people too! And often cool people at that. One of my professors edited basically every sci-fi or fantasy book you’ve heard of in the past five years. Another once had the KGB try to honey-trap him and is banned from Russia by name. Having professors who you’re on good terms with can be such a balm when things feel tough—they understand what you’re going through better than you expect, and they can help when you’re struggling or even get you a job.
  • Keep up with the community. One of the reasons I loved being in Bwog was that I felt like I had a deeper understanding of campus: I knew what events were being held in Pupin or why there were black diplomatic-plated vehicles on College Walk. More than that, I felt like in my role of ‘journalist’ I could ask questions of administration or student group leaders or random passerby if I needed to. Not everyone has to be a journalist, of course—but it’s useful to think like one. Read (or, yes, participate in) student news, follow events in your department or happening around campus, talk to people and ask questions. You’ll feel far more connected to the community, and you’ll know when to doubt the university emails, too.

“Back in my day…”

It’s cliché to answer with the online-only freshman year, so I’ll say: PrezBo! Remember him? The ‘free speech’ guy with blond hair that made him look like a Boris Johnson knockoff, controversial for Manhattanville and making life difficult for grad students. A different era.

Favorite Columbia lore?

The tunnels are real and you can go in them.

(Also: that the present version of Columbia isn’t as old as it feels. There’s definitely a vision, cultivated by the university, of campus being the same as it was in the Revolutionary War, Alexander Hamilton striding across the quad—but Morningside campus is barely a hundred years old. Butler Library is forty years younger than that. Gives you an interesting sense of perspective, imo.)

What was your favorite class at Columbia? 

  • Research Design: Scope & Methods with Daniel Corstange. The class that made me pick political science as my major, and also Corstange did a months-long bit to get us to think of the Queen of Hearts card in one particular lecture. Legend.
  • Corruption and the Rule of Law with Timothy Frye. The readings are the most interesting I’ve done for any class—UN parking tickets, mafia organizational structure, and videotaped bribes, among others—but Frye is also a professor who knows that students procrastinate. and so he makes sure you get work done on your final paper before the end of the semester hellweek.
  • New Worlds in Writing and VR with Joss Lake. Automatically one of the best writing classes by virtue of reading speculative fiction; also, we got to check out VR headsets for the semester and play around with them and build our own settings in them! So much fun, and lovely to see what everyone else built as well.
  • Apocalypses Now with Molly McGhee. A lot of reading (one book a week), but they were all highly entertaining books, so it worked out. Molly’s wonderful: oftentimes the class felt like sitting down with your far more knowledgeable friend and being like “Molly, what’s up with publishing, and also how do you write a good book?” She knows.

Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese?

Cheese is in almost every good food, and that’s the most I’ll say before dodging the minefield that is this question, lol.

Whom would you like to thank?

So, so many people. Thank you to Adi for quite literally pulling me into CUSFS at sophomore Activities Day—it’s no exaggeration to say you’ve changed my life since then. Thank you to Emory for helping me through the tough times. Thank you to Gi for always being kind. Thank you to Edward for being my longest friend here at Columbia (from during the pandemic!). Thank you to Lewis for aiding and abetting and being an early Church of Sally convertor.

Thank you to Cody, Dawson, Aryana, and Ameen for starting Minecraft Club, and to David, Carl, and Celeste for helping run it with me; and thank you to Jamie and Aron for being the best heresiarch and grand vizier of CUSFS I could ask for. Thank you to everyone at Bwog—we had to cover some wild times at the university, but I’m so proud of all the work we’ve done. Thank you to everyone in my creative writing workshops for reading my work and saying, on balance, more nice things than bad. Thank you to the wonderful advisors and professors who’ve been so supportive and who I’ve learned so much from—not least Genovee Dominguez, Prof. Timothy Frye, and Prof. Molly McGhee. And, of course, thank you to my family: my siblings, my parents, and especially my twin. We might have different majors and different paths, but you’ve always been someone I can lean on and turn to.

One thing to do before graduating?

Spend so much time with your friends, you will literally never regret it. 4 AM isn’t a real time of day and it can’t hurt you when you’re chatting with people you’re happy to have in your life.

Any regrets?

That I didn’t start doing the above sooner. Freshman year was a lonely year because of the whole ‘pandemic’ thing, but even then and afterwards I wish I’d put in more effort earlier to talk with my friends and get to know them better. It’s been so wonderful spending long hours with the people closest to me in spring 2024, and I wish I’d reached out more & been able to do that in previous semesters.

But regrets are only important as they inform the future. I’m happy where I am now, and “talk to your friends as much as you can” is advice I’m willing to take as well as give.

Sasha via Sasha