Updated: Jul 18, 2021
You might not know the following figures—but you should. In Campus Characters, The Blue and White introduces you to a handful of Columbians who are up to interesting and extraordinary things and whose stories beg to be shared. If you’d like to suggest a Campus Character, send us an email at email@example.com.
By Sean Augustine-Obi
Cutouts of Eva Longoria’s face plaster the walls of Haylin Belay’s East Campus living room.
Haylin, a Columbia College senior, is the co-founder of “Eva Longoria for President,” a Facebook page with nearly 650 likes. Next to the heads are decals spelling out “A HOE NEVER GETS COLD,” from the oft-viewed Vine. Both have been themes for parties held in her suite.
“I’m super into witchcraft,” she says. “My feminism involves witchcraft—I have this really strong interest in the paranormal, pseudoscience, magical shit, and I’m reading a lot of books to that effect,” she said, motioning toward her coffee table.
An anthropology major hailing from Austin, Texas, Haylin had already committed to UT-Austin before receiving her Columbia acceptance letter. She quickly had a change of heart.
“Well, obviously, right? No question.”
Haylin originally intended to major in film. Her interest in the subject stemmed from a desire to use “popular culture and artifacts to trace the cultural, historical, and traditional lineage of a people.” However, she soon discovered that it was “not what the film department here is really about.” In contrast, she found that anthropology allowed her to explore a broad swath of her interests.
“I bounced around, took classes in every department, and joined clubs for brief periods of time,” she says of her early days at Columbia. “If you’re a naturally inquisitive person, you can easily get lost in a discipline or an interest, and then resurface, and then find something else.”
Her latest project has been a sex column on Spectrum, where she’s written about topics ranging from society’s perception of virginity to anal intercourse preparation (“lube, lube, and more lube!”). But unlike most sex columnists, Haylin often ventures into broader topics of health education and harm reduction. For instance, one recent post about Bacchanal mainly discussed the dangers of alcohol poisoning, something she says she’s witnessed firsthand working for the Columbia Bartending Agency. The column is in many ways a logical extension of the work she’s been involved in since high school, work that’s included involvement in Peer Health Exchange, Responsible Community at Columbia, and Alice! Health Promotion.
Her philosophy is simple: “If you really want to effect change and make people have healthier lives, you don’t tell people what to do or what not to do. You give them information and help them make healthy choices.” To her, “restriction from access to health education is a form of oppression.”
Haylin’s interest in health education is personal. After a two-year abusive relationship ended, she saw that people could use social media to spread positive emotions and began to curate her Facebook, turning her page into a treasure trove of links to articles discussing race, politics, and feminism. She’s also shared anti-violence resources to inspire others to seek help.
After graduation, Haylin hopes to continue writing and educating people. She’s been applying to editorial positions at publications with a health beat; her dream job is “being paid to talk about sex.” So she’s not worried about her sex column popping up in her search results—in fact, she says it’s a representation of her values.
“As someone who’s experienced a lot of slut-shaming and negative attention about sex, I think at a certain point I hit a nadir and said, ‘Okay, I’m choosing not to let this affect me anymore.’ As long as everyone’s being healthy and making smart choices and everything’s consensual, then sex should not be something that anyone’s ashamed of.”