Take Five with Jen Gatien ’97

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Jen Gatien ’97 is a producer and writer of narrative and documentary films that focus on criminal justice. She is the vice chair of the Board of Directors of The Lower Eastside Girls Club, which connects girls and young women to healthy and successful futures.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I came to the College after a turbulent summer. I was really unsure of my path and found it hard to adapt to the rigors of the Core Curriculum, the demands of classes with TAs to meet, advisors overseeing me, checking in with the dean — I just wanted to go to Tunnel and dance to deep house! I struggled but thankfully made a few friends on campus who rooted me in school.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I missed out on campus life, sadly, by vacating a single in John Jay because it was incredibly isolating. I left after about two months and then commuted from downtown. I spent an enormous amount of time on the 1/9 train.

What class do you most remember and why?

My most memorable class was with Michael Taussig. He would be barefoot and lecturing about shamanism — I was mesmerized. For me, academics were steeped in tradition and were a place to observe proper decorum. Taussig blew up that notion. By interweaving observation and participation, theory and storytelling, I shifted how I approached academia; he was the catalyst for me to combine the majors of film and anthropology. His radical approach expanded my consciousness. I recognize just how much of an impact he had on me because I still explore the themes of his class in my work as a filmmaker and my travels to the jungles of Peru.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

I loved walking through the Gates after getting off the subway. It gave me an immediate sense of entering another world, full of nature and possibility.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I feel like I missed out on a lot of things when my father [nightclub owner Peter Gatien] was indicted during my junior year. Thankfully, the Dean’s Office encouraged me to graduate while also preparing me by giving me a book for children of the incarcerated. It gutted me to be faced with the harsh reality of what could happen, but it gave me the fortitude to get my diploma no matter what obstacles were in my path.