Olina Stathopoulou: A STEM-Driven, Women's Rights Advocate With A Love For Theatre

The Deets:

  • Name: Olina Stathopoulou
  • Hometown:  Athens, Greece
  • Major:  Joint Mathematics and Computer Science major, minor in Dramatic Literature
  • Year: Sophomore

HC NYU: You are studying math and computer science– two fields that are typically male dominated. What do you think of this perception and how do you battle it? 

OS: You are right that these fields are typically associated with males. While there are so many gifted women in these fields, they do not get the same attention and opportunities as men. Growing up, my family didn’t limit me or discourage me from pursuing a career in STEM, so I never thought it was something out of reach. While at NYU, I have met an incredible amount of women pursuing a degree in Computer Science who are very involved in the tech community and are achieving visibility - and they actually outnumber my male friends who are studying CS. At the same time, however, I am extra conscious of my female identity in my math and CS classes. The male to female ratio is 3 to 1. I overthink before speaking in class. I save my questions until I can meet with my professor privately. I am scared that if I say the wrong thing, people will think I’m not smart enough, and that fear stems from the fact that I am in such male-dominated fields. Men automatically have a place in them, whereas women have to make their own space. It’s about how much you let others define you, really. I am continuously becoming better at getting what I deserve by showcasing my work, instead of letting the gender gap discourage me.

HC NYU:  Women's rights have been an important part of your NYU community life. Can you tell us what inspired you to pursue women's rights further and how are you pursuing it? 

OS: There was no specific event that inspired me to advocate for women’s rights; it was an accumulation of my experiences as a woman that sparked my passion. It is things that you start to notice when you reach adolescence and early adulthood – the jokes, the stereotypes, the female characters on TV, the models on commercials. My parents raised me to be open-minded and accepting and have always fostered my passions and curiosity from a very young age, so my parents, and my mom in particular, played a big role, too. She always talked to me as if I were an adult and started conversations about “grown-up” topics since I was in middle school. I remember she talked to me about eating disorders and body positivity and I was mind blown. Since then, I have been a strong advocate for women’s rights. For me, the most important form of activism that I am involved with right now is an NYU club called WYSE. WYSE stands for Women and Youth Supporting Each Other, and it is a year-long curriculum-based mentorship program where college women are paired up with middle school girls in under-served communities. We go to a school every week and talk to the girls about different topics, spanning from personal identity and nutrition to sex education and birth control. It’s mostly about establishing a safe, positive space for learning and empowerment. For me, this organization feels very personal because while I had parents who were very open and communicative, I went about learning what it means to be a girl on my own and I know how hard it can be, so helping these girls become comfortable in their skin is very important. I encourage anyone who feels the same way to apply to become involved as well!

HC NYU: You are extremely involved in CAST - the College of Arts and Science Theater. Can you tell us a little bit about your role in the group, and what made you get into theatre originlly?

OS: My mom always took me and my older sister to see plays and musicals, even when we were too young to understand them. Although I have seen shows before this, the first show I remember seeing is a Greek production of the musical La Cage aux Folles in 2009. Ever since then, I have been in love with theatre and consider it one of my biggest passions. Seeing my first Broadway show back in 2013 was seriously emotional. While I missed the chance to be involved in theatre in high school, I jumped on the opportunity once I got to NYU. I got involved with CAST, which is a student-run theatre group open to students of any school at NYU, pretty much as soon as I started classes my freshman year. I worked on three productions with them that year: two plays, Dog Sees God and Cloud 9, and one cabaret, Broadway Backwards. For the two plays, I performed production assistant duties, which basically means I helped build and paint sets, and also did the lighting on the days of the shows. This year, I am a production assistant for Forbidden NYU for the first time, which is a musical revue that pokes fun at our beloved university by using musical theatre songs we all know and love, now on its sixteenth year! We are currently preparing the set and getting ready for performances, which will begin on November 13th and will last through the 15th. In addition to that, I am venturing into costume designing for the first time for our fall play, The Motherf*cker with the Hat, which we have just announced! We are holding auditions this weekend, so make sure to check out our Facebook page if you’re interested. And if you’re just looking to see a cool play, we’re open on December 11th and run through the 13th!

 HC NYU: What characters in theatre typically resonate with you? Who are your favorite playwrights?  

OS: I am a sucker for well-developed female characters. I am interested in the stories of women. However, generally, I feel connected to characters according to how well the story is told, rather than what specific characteristics they possess. Some of the characters that have really resonated with me over the years are Heidi Holland from The Heidi Chronicles, Moritz Stiefel from Spring Awakening, Hedwig from Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Will from American Idiot, and Alison Bechdel from Fun Home. My favorite playwright presently is Annie Baker, whose show I recently caught and am currently obsessed with. Nevertheless, I have been trying to read more from playwrights like Caryl Churchill and Wendy Wasserstein, whose work I’m only slightly familiar with. I also like absurd theatre, so I am intrigued by plays like Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit. Additionally, I really love musical theatre so I admire composers like Jeanine Tesori, Tom Kitt, Stephen Sondheim, and Lin Manuel-Miranda.

HC NYU: You hail from Athens, Greece. How has the international experience been? 

OS: It has been amazing. The whole experience of living in a whole other continent than what you’re used to alone is something extraordinary. But New York has been my favorite place since I first visited when I was barely ten years old, so getting to live here has been an absolute dream come true. The cultural barrier hasn’t been very significant either. Occasionally someone will ask me where I am from, but generally people can barely even tell I have an accent! I love how diverse New York City is, though. Back home, there’s not much diversity. Here, I meet people from all parts of the world. I remember one night last year, I was walking home with my friends from a party and we ran into a group of college students from Kenya and we ended up hanging out with them for a while. That felt like such a New York moment to me. I still can’t believe I randomly became friends with people from Kenya on my way home from a friend’s house. That definitely would have never happened if I was in Greece.

HC NYU: What have been many NYU students reaction to the fact that you come from Greece?

OS: They usually get very excited about it! They tell me that they think it’s beautiful and that they want to visit, and I tell them that it is very beautiful and that they should visit. A lot of them ask about the economic and political situation there. I’ve met a lot of people who are willing to have a legitimate discussion about what I think of the whole situation, and some who just want to argue with me. I don’t think I’ve had a lot of people mention any stereotypes or ask me weird questions. However, my roommate, who is also Greek, has been asked if she believes in Zeus, which we both found very funny. Generally people want to talk about their favorite myths or philosophers that came from Greece. And then there’s the whole Greek life thing… It’s hilarious hearing Americans pronounce the Greek alphabet.

HC NYU: Just for fun: What is your favorite….

  1. Movie: Gone Girl 
  2. TV Show: Community
  3. Book: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  4. Quote: “Remember to learn to forget.”
  5. Food: Mashed potatoes and broccoli
  6. Person: My parents. They’ve sacrificed so much so that I can be where I am today.
  7. Go-to For Relaxation: The theatre

HCYNU: And finally, what is one fun fact about yourself?

I have tried to learn how to bike more times than I can count, but I can never get the hang of it.