Like her light wash, cuffed jeans, Nadine Fattaleh, CC ’17, is laid back and low key. She’s soft-spoken, but with a coolness that makes you want to strain to hear her every word, as if everything she says is going to be important. She doesn’t get excited about things, not even when I ask about cats. “I love cats and everyone knows it,” she deadpans, “Sometimes I pretend to be a cat.” Nadine has an almost disconcerting ability to switch from talking about felines to capitalism to the Syrian refugee crisis without missing a beat or changing tone.
Originally from Jordan, Nadine says she came to Columbia for the “wrong reason,” mostly the name, but that it’s “turned out really nicely.” She’s found a niche studying Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies (MESAAS) and Economics, a pairing where one often conflicts with the other, but in ways that Nadine believes are ultimately necessary for the humanitarian work she hopes to do. And while she says many people here are quick to dismiss Econ majors as corporate sellouts and the like, she has enjoyed some fascinating conversations with her Econ classmates over the years.
“I’m taking a class called economics of art and you go around the table and people are like ‘Yeah, I’m interested in art. I want to create art investments,’” she says. “Like, hello kid, what kind of things have you been exposed to in your life that make you think art should be an investment?”
Perhaps Nadine’s most prominent mark on campus is helping to found Students Organizing for Syria, a humanitarian activist group that to aims to raise awareness for the Syrian refugee crisis. Building a club from the ground up—to address a problem that came about almost overnight—was not easy.
Students Organizing for Syria has grown exponentially since those initial meetings, regularly drawing crowds to their events. By the end of October, the organization expects to launch a scholarship fund to provide educational opportunities at Columbia for refugees who have not yet had access to the United States or Europe.
Despite her activist work, Nadine is not a fan of the big humanitarian organizations working on the ground right now in places like her home country. “In principle you agree with everything they do, but they’re insanely inefficient. It defeats the purpose of this work and it becomes inconsiderate to the actual culture and people it’s ‘helping.’”
Nadine is so interested in how these monolithic organizations interact with refugees that she spent last summer filming part of a documentary in the refugee camps. The film will focus on displaced musicians and the culture of the camps. During her interviews, she found that the musicians talked about their experiences in a very scripted way, apparently afraid to speak out against the aid organizations. She says aid workers are “basically including them [the refugee musicians] as free labor to sing and dance at their parties and celebrations.” This imperfect system has jaded Nadine, and now instead of working for the same type of aid organization one day, she has changed her tune and instead plans to study for a masters in humanitarian studies.
I ask Nadine what she thinks makes her a Campus Character. “I always thought that this would be my life,” she says. “I always thought that I would do a Bwog whatever.” When we arrived at the UTS courtyard, we walked in on some sort of wedding or event. As we got up to leave, Nadine marched right up to a woman we assumed was a bridesmaid and asked what was going on. Turns out we actually walked in on the filming of a new Netflix original series. So keep an eye out for Nadine Fattaleh and her mom jeans in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, due out in 2017.