You might not know the following figures—but you should. In Campus Characters, The Blue & White introduces you to a handful of Columbians who are up to interesting and extraordinary things and whose stories beg to be shared. This issue, we bring you two people with interests in social justice. If you’d like to suggest a Campus Character, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s grizzly out when I spot a North-Faced figure clutching a Nalgene, smiling goofily, and sheltering inside Mudd. Noah Zweben, SEAS ‘17, has one of those stances you can make out a mile off in dense fog. His voice is even more distinctive, a perfect portrayal of his wider character: warm, effervescent, and, as he would put it, “out-there.”
Noah graduates this year with a degree in Computer Science and will then participate in “Venture for America,” a program which partners grad students with startups in various cities across the country. He is this year’s SEAS Valedictorian, which he modestly describes as a “surprise.” Upon receiving the email from Dean Boyce, he “was like, ‘what is she talking about? The only thing I’ve done this week is [redacted].’” He tells me about the user interface work he’s done in the major, combining technology with visual and musical arts and thus melding computer science with his two great passions: music and dance. Noah is a valued member of Notes and Keys, the “oldest and most famous” a cappella group on campus, and he urges me to take West African Dance before I graduate.
However, by far and away Noah’s biggest joy at Columbia is being a COÖP leader. His eyes sparkle as he recounts his experiences and friendships within the program. “COÖP has really shaped my time here,” he explains. “It bookends the year. We go on a trip with freshmen at the beginning of the year and a trip with just leaders at the end. It’s such a privilege to be surrounded by such a group of weirdos and passionate people who just care about each other and Columbia and making that experience great for everyone.”
For Noah, since “Columbia doesn’t have a built-in community,” he thinks “the most important thing you can do at Columbia to guarantee a great time is just pouring energy into the communities you’re in and creating events that bring people together, because that benefits you since you’re surrounded by people you care about. Events lift up everyone in that community through bonds and memories. Surrounding yourself with happy people and contributing to their happiness seriously contributes to yours.”
Noah’s eyes gleam once more as an example of this springs to mind: “can I please talk about my ‘Bar Mitzvah Party’ Party?” I barely say yes before he begins: “Set the scene: I’m 21, Bar Mitzvah was eight years ago but my parents never let me have a party, so, obviously, I needed to relive that. And one of my suitemates never had her Bat Mitzvah. So we organized a 200 person Bar Mitzvah themed party with Shirley Temples (alcoholic this time, never making that mistake again), grape juice galore, Coke and Pepsi, the Horah, which is like a Jewish dance, we lifted people up on chairs, the limbo. We even had a slow dance. So it was all I could ask for. I feel like that really exemplifies what I mean by saying ‘put things together and pour energy in them’ because then both you and your friends can reap the rewards.”
The last thing Noah adds is that he’s become more comfortable with the absurd through his time at Columbia. “It’s such a privilege to be surrounded by so many passionate people at Columbia and to engage with their viewpoints through conversation, lurking on Spectator op-eds, all of it. Even if you don’t agree with them, it’s so incredibly important to listen. Especially for me, coming from an all-Jewish background growing up where I literally had one non-Jewish friend, and coming from a pretty observant family. The amount of difference in views and the number of diverse people I’ve been exposed to had been a huge gift, and I’m very thankful for that.”
— Alex Swanson