Say what you will, Lina Mamut ’13 has been keeping busy. A first-generation citizen, child of immigrants from the Soviet Union, Lina is a member of Alpha Delt, involved in Active Minds, a club tennis player, and, most recently, has become a key participant in need-blind activism. She loves talking about Judaism, the social media generation, and the intersection of neuroscience and philosophy—oh, and Tetris. She fucking loves Tetris.
The Argus: Why should you be a WesCeleb?
Lina Mamut: I actually thought long and hard about this question ’cause I knew it was coming! And I don’t want to give the standard “I don’t know” answer.
A: Well, you just said it.
LM: Damnit…I thought I had something witty to say, but I can’t remember now. That’s my life. Try again later. I like squirrels! I feel like a lot of people hate the squirrels, so for you to like the squirrels you have to be pretty fucking weird.
A: You came to Wesleyan wanting to be pre-med, right?
LM: Yes, I wanted to be a film and history major and be pre-med. I’ve never taken a film class here.
A: You’re way too Wesleyan for your own good.
LM: Yeah, that’s pretty fucking Wesleyan. But I guess I became a lot less Wesleyan over my career because that’s not what I ended up doing. But I did declare neuro[science], MB&B [Molecular Biology and Biology], Science and Society, and philosophy, and I whittled them down. Then I decided after I failed Organic Chemistry that I should not be a doctor. It’s a really fucking stupid way to weed out people. I’m still bitter. [laughs]
A: But you ended up with Science and Society?
LM: Yeah, but I get to concentrate in neuro and philosophy, so all the neuro classes and philosophy classes I took all count toward my major.
A: What do you think about the relationship between neuro and philosophy?
LM: They’re very connected in weird ways. People don’t actually realize because they think “Oh, philosophy and neuro; those are completely unrelated things.” And actually, they’re not. I just think they’re very different ways of looking at the same problem. I’m very interested in consciousness, and philosophy looks at that from a very macro perspective and neuro looks at it from a micro perspective. So it’s really interesting pairing the two to get to lots of weird conclusions.
A: You tried to write about Facebook for a potential thesis topic.
LM: I took this really tight class a year ago; it should’ve been called “Cultures of Consciousness” because it was all about history of consciousness. I was very interested in how this generation—we are so reliant on social networking and the Internet and having an instant gratification of knowledge—and I was interested in how that affects perceptions of the world. But no one wanted to be my thesis advisor. Sad times.
For a while I thought I would work for Facebook—that was funny!
A: What do you actually want to do?
LM: I’ve applied to a bunch of consulting jobs because I’m a major sellout and an asshole. Wesleyan is making me hate Wesleyan!
A: You got an adult B’nai Mitzvah in your sophomore year; what inspired you to do that?
LM: I felt very ungrounded in my own existence. It was actually the same time that I was deciding to not be pre-med anymore because I thought I was doing a lot of things to satisfy everyone around me but not myself. I had no idea what the fuck I wanted to do, who I wanted to be friends with—the general, “Oh my god! Angsty college experience! Need to declare philosophy; maybe [there are] some answers! Oh wait, there aren’t any answers, only more questions!”
A: That’s Judaism too: all about questioning.
LM: Yeah, but I like that. Me and the rabbi are really tight, and I loved that he never tried to give me pre-packaged answers.
A: Could you tell us about your family?
LM: My parents are immigrants from the Soviet Union. They immigrated right before the curtain fell, back in ’89. I was born in the States, but I only learned English when I was six. It was actually really lame because in kindergarten the teacher actually thought I had mental problems because I couldn’t speak English, and my parents were like, “No! She just literally doesn’t know English.” I really want to send her a letter even though I don’t have her name and be like, “Fuck you bitch! Look at me now! Yeah!”
Am I allowed to curse in these interviews?
LM: Sick! I recently got really into Tetris Battle; I got introduced to it at Alpha Delt. It’s a horrible, horrible abyss. I do not recommend sitting next to me when I play, ’cause I’m always like, “Fuck you cocksucker! Motherfucker I’ll kill you!”
A: How does your Russian background impact your identity?
LM: Well I can speak Russian, which is kinda cool. I can be a Russian TA, which is also fun. It’s just a very interesting culture because it’s like, “Oh my God, am I Eastern, am I Western, am I Asian? What’s going on?” I mean everyone has inner conflict obviously, but having that dichotomy in my life was interesting. It led to a really interesting experience growing up, which culminated in me being an emancipated student. Just because there’s very different expectations as to what I should be doing.
A: Would you like to talk about being an emancipated student?
LM: I could. Basically it means that I file my taxes as independent, so I’m considered financially independent, which is righteous because I get mad tax breaks! And Wesleyan has been really, really awesome about supporting me through the process. I’m definitely a lot happier than I was my freshman year. Everyone who knows me freshman year commented on the difference that they’ve seen about me growing up through college. Like I used to be crazy and super into work. Not that I’m not into work now, but I feel like I’ve realized there’s so much more to life than studying all the time. I feel like I’m giving very generic answers!
A: Not at all; your life is interesting!
LM: Yeah! That’s why I’m a WesCeleb! [Laughs] Actually, I’m involved in a lot of different things on campus, so a lot of people see me, which I don’t think is normal on this campus because it’s in a weird way kind of cliquey. People don’t often drift off from the spheres that they’re involved in.
A: You’re quite involved in the need-blind activism. What do you think the next steps of the need-blind movement are?
LM: It’s definitely lost a ton of momentum, and I’m kind of disappointed. I was disappointed that the student body didn’t pick up more on the issue because I personally thought that it was such an egregious act by the administration….But about the actual problems, I definitely feel that the conversation has shifted from “Let’s go back to need-blind” to “How can we just be more fiscally responsible,” which I think is great.
I really like the committee I’m on because we’re actually looking at hopeful alternatives. And it’s actually been really amazing being on the committee because I’ve been able to look at a lot of budgets and documents that aren’t available to the public, and I’ve seen how lean our budget actually is. So, I do have to actually commend Michael Roth and the administration for cutting everything that could’ve been cut, even though there are still things we can cut.
For example, we could have a completely different housing model where we don’t have as many senior houses and woodframe houses because the University spends so much money on those every year. Or we could have a model where students have to do a certain amount of community service hours, and that could [include] groundskeeping work. I just think people are stuck with how things are in the status quo, not willing to question that, which is kind of shitty. I definitely feel like the fight is not over, but it just needs to be looked at differently. Because for me, it was never that need-blind was the final goal; in my eyes, going toward need-aware was not the first step to be taking. I think need-blind is a really fucked up policy; I think need-aware is even more fucked up. That’s a simple way of putting it, I guess.
A: Why is need-blind screwed up?
LM: Mostly because it doesn’t allow for budgetary planning, so the University cannot say how much money they are devoting to financial aid until they accept the whole class. But then, also there are so many other ways to see what economic status the student who is applying is coming from. Like SAT scores, where do they come from, what school are they going to. Even their grades, things like that. I totally went to a New York City private school, so I’m guilty of the same things, but it’s a lot easier to hire people to help you out—SAT tutors, SAT prep. So there is always discrimination involved. Some people say that having the discrimination more upfront is a good thing, and I’m kind of like, “Well, I don’t think we should be discriminating at all!”