Diversity on Campus, Part 2: Armenian Students’ Association provides home away from home


The Association at the 2017 Student Involvement Fair 

Meaghan Bedigian

“Vanillanova?” my Armenian father joked when I told him that I would be attending Villanova in Fall 2014. “We used to call it that when I was in college, but it’s probably different now.”

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but when I stepped into my first class in Bartley Hall freshman year, all I saw were whales and sunburns. I soon learned what Vineyard Vines was, and that if paired with the perfect pair of boat shoes, fitting in at Villanova would be easy. Right?

“Are you going to rush a sorority? Are you trying out for Blue Key?”

I didn’t know the answer to those questions, but I did know that you could stalk your class rosters on BlackBoard. I scrolled through all six of them—twice—and found only one last name ending in the Armenian ‘-ian’ suffix. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Kim Kardashian, but instead Lena Christianian from Boulder, Colorado.

It took me a whole week to build up the courage to make the biggest freshman move of all time – I stopped her as we left our microeconomics class.

“Hey, Lena, right?” I asked, as if I hadn’t already stalked all her social media accounts. “Hopefully this isn’t a weird question, but are you Armenian?”

She wore a silver necklace of her first name in Armenian letters. There was no way she was saying no.

We bonded over ‘choeregs’ and ‘lahmajoun,’ which church we attended and where our families fled to in the Diaspora after the Armenian Genocide. As a freshman who didn’t have anyone to eat with in the Spit, it was a gamechanger.

We had both seen online that there was an Armenian club at Villanova, but it hadn’t been active in years. Lena knew another Armenian freshman who wanted to start it up again. They talked about holding weekly language classes, having Armenian family dinners and organizing a protest in Philadelphia for Genocide Memorial Day.

“Dad, I found the Armenians!” I exclaimed on the phone that night. I couldn’t believe I had found a piece of my culture at Villanova so quickly.

A few months later, Lena and co-founder Mel Derderian held the first meeting of the newly revamped Armenian Students’ Association.

“Having an Armenian background is something that is really unique in its ability to bring people together and it helps build a smaller community within a larger university,” Christianian said.

Members tend to be in the highest attendance for language class, according to Christianian.

“For many students, the language wasn’t passed down from their parents or grandparents after moving to the United States,” Christianian said. “Teaching Armenian is rewarding because I see how excited people get when they engage in a full conversation in Armenian which they can later have with their families.”

Christianian’s favorite thing about her heritage is the bond instantly created with any Armenian she meets.

“Even as new members join and attend meetings for the first time, there is an instant connection through our heritage that makes us all feel at-ease and linked,” Christianian said. “In fact, two of our members who had never met before joining the club got to talking and discovered that they were actually related.”

One of those members was me—I came to Villanova knowing no one and I am coming out of it with a long-lost cousin and an entire network of fellow Armenians.

“It’s these kinds of things that [I’m] so happy to see—two people who might have never met getting to know each other through the club,” Christianian said.

As President, Christianian wants to use her platform to expand the Armenian connection toward other Villanova cultural groups that share similar cultures and values such as the Middle Eastern Students Association and the Hellenic Association.

“As a united front, our ethnic groups can have a larger influence on campus to bring more awareness of our cultures to the general student body,” Christianian said.

Look for part three in our series on diversity organizations on campus in next week’s issue of The Villanovan.