“In the Ranks of Incredible Political Figures”: Remembering Anastasia Golovashkina

Friends and classmates remember Anastasia Golovashkina (A.B. ’15), who passed away this summer from brain cancer, as a fierce political advocate who never lost her tenacity or personality.


Anastasia Golovashkina

Golovashkina served as social media director for Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign.

By Eric Fang and Kelly Hui

Eight years ago, an undergraduate stood first in line to ask a question to former Senator Rick Santorum at an Institute of Politics (IOP) event. She had auburn-dyed hair in what would later become her signature asymmetrical bob. “Thank you for coming,” she said evenhandedly. That day, she ditched the headphones that were constantly around her head for a microphone. She then asked the former senator to specify what exactly he thought a heterosexual couple could provide a child that a same-sex couple or a single parent could not.

Her name was Anastasia Golovashkina. She died at age 28 of glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer, on July 18, 2022. After graduating from the University of Chicago in 2015 with degrees in economics and public policy, she went on to serve as the social media director for Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign and as a senior director at Trilogy Interactive, a digital consulting firm.

In conversations with The Maroon, several of her former classmates at UChicago and colleagues spoke to Golovashkina’s fierceness, thoughtfulness, and her lasting impact in the political world. They knew her to always stand up for what she believed in, whether arguing for what she thought were the top five music albums of 2012 or, of course, challenging political figures on contentious policy issues.

“I just remember standing there just kind of already laughing, smiling to myself, as I was waiting for her to get to the microphone, just knowing that this guy had no fucking idea what was about to come this way out her mouth. And it was perfect,” her former classmate and friend, Alex DiLalla (A.B. ’16), said as he recalled Golovashkina’s confrontation with the former senator.

Santorum has previously likened same-sex marriage to bestiality and the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “She did her best to not only rightfully embarrass him, but to really ask the questions that he deserved to get asked, that were hard to ask, about why he didn’t believe in rights for LGBT people,” DiLalla said.

Former IOP Director David Axelrod recalled Golovashkina’s desire to change the world for the better both during and after her time in the College. He also remembered Golovashkina’s interaction with former Senator Santorum, calling it a “really bracing question.”

“There was a picture of her up at the microphone at the [Santorum] IOP event,” Axelrod said. “She was making a very firm point…and she was the personification of what the IOP is all about.”

During her time at UChicago, Golovashkina was also involved with other political organizations on campus. She was active in the University of Chicago Democrats and co-founded the College’s Organizing for Action chapter. She was also a columnist for Viewpoints, the opinions section of The Maroon, and contributed news and arts reporting. Between 2011 and 2015, she published 53 articles, ranging from arguments for more expansive gun control to an interview with a Celtic punk band. Her most impactful piece of opinion writing, however, came six years after graduation. In a moving op-ed published by Elle Magazine in 2021, Golovashkina shared her journey with glioblastoma and implored President Joe Biden to lead on the movement to cure cancer.

Ankit Jain (A.B. ’15) first met Golovashkina when they both campaigned for former President Barack Obama, among other Democratic candidates, in 2012. Together, they founded a UChicago chapter of Organizing for Action, a community organizing project and nonprofit organization advocating Obama’s policy agenda.

“I think she was exactly the kind of person that the IOP hoped to create when it was formed,” Jain said. “She was kind of like the IOP thesis proven in human form.”

Jain also served as a news editor on The Maroon at the same time as Golovashkina was an opinions columnist. Although their work rarely overlapped, Jain described Golovashkina as a fantastic writer with an even better work ethic.

“She was so on top of everything that she had a tough time understanding when people weren’t,” Jain said. Aside from work, Jain enjoyed gossiping about staff drama with Golovashkina during their shared time in the office.

DiLalla first met Golovashkina through UChicago Democrats during his first year in the College. He said Golovashkina was like a “big sister” to him and emphasized her ability to continue fighting with an undying spirit until the very end.

“She didn’t die until she died,” DiLalla said. “Anastasia was a bright, capable, funny, thoughtful person until she left. She got weaker and some things changed, but I think the biggest mistake people could always make about her was counting out this small, maybe easily under[estimated] Russian girl from the suburbs of Chicago who would quickly prove you wrong. I imagine many people probably underestimated just how much capacity she continued to have throughout her battle with cancer.”

Even throughout her incredibly difficult battle with glioblastoma, Golovashkina never lost touch of who she was. Friends described her as irreverent, funny, and skeptical of authority. “She was through and through an emo pop punk girl of the 2000s,” DiLalla said. He recalled her ever-changing appearance: the deep red hair she had when they first met, then a blond, and finally an eclectic platinum and brunette mix. “Our last conversations over the past couple of months were around what her favorite hair color had been, and discussing whether or not I should dye my hair blond, which she was in favor of.”

Megha Bhattacharya (A.B. ’19), a friend and former colleague on the Warren campaign, recalled the times they shared together on the campaign trail, from their late-night vlogs to Golovashkina’s constant prodding for Bhattacharya to teach her a TikTok dance. “She was just very genuine. If you ran into her in the bathroom, or if you were walking to the Dunkin Donuts in the middle of nowhere over in Somerville, Massachusetts, she was always down to chat. Always down to say kind words, always would tell you to take care of yourself.”

Despite getting her diagnosis in 2019, soon after beginning her work with the Warren campaign, Golovashkina continued to work full-time while simultaneously undergoing chemotherapy.

Alicia Oken first met Golovashkina in high school. While Oken attended Georgetown University, she and Golovashkina were able to maintain their friendship primarily over text. It was in 2020, during the Democratic presidential primaries, that the two became close friends. Although they worked for different campaigns, Kamala Harris and Warren respectively, they often traded jokes, memes, and advice.

“She was very good at social media and did so much for the Warren campaign in terms of working on selfies and boosting interaction,” Oken said. “I know the Democratic Party was a little spread thin at that point with staffers on every single campaign, but she always had so many creative ideas. People like myself who work in social [media] are going to take these ideas and use them in the next generation, the next campaign, and the next reelection.”

Oken praised Golovashkina for effectively leveraging videos and social media to spread awareness of Senator Warren’s selfie line. Sofia Rose Gross (A.B. ’15), a close friend of Golovashkina, agreed. Gross worked with Golovashkina on social media campaigns for Senator Warren’s 2020 presidential bid and for former First Lady Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote nonprofit organization. She characterized Golovashkina as a “fierce leader” who tirelessly worked to further the groups she cared for, whether that be a social media campaign or the IOP alumni committee, which they were both a part of.

“It’s really been quite powerful and also inspiring to see how much the IOP alumni community has leaned on each other in this moment in support of remembering her,” Gross said. “I know that would have made her really proud. We will find a way to honor her memory for the future of the IOP and so many more people who will come through those doors who will smile as brightly as she did, and make as much impact and changes as she did.”

In 2015, before working for the Warren campaign, Golovashkina moved to Berkeley, California to work for Trilogy Interactive, a digital political strategy firm. She returned to Trilogy in 2020 after the Warren campaign ended. Her colleague Jake Levy-Pollans remembers her as an accomplished strategist during work and a close friend afterward.

“Even as she was winding down her work to focus on her care and treatment for cancer, she was still so dedicated to her work,” Levy-Pollans said. “Our last interactions were thinking about her clients and what she wanted to make sure they received from Trilogy. We also spoke about how to continue building the social media practice she was in charge of in her absence.”

“If anyone was gonna beat this type of cancer,” Oken said, “it was going to be her. She was truly one of the strongest people I knew.”

Ted Kennedy, John McCain, and President Biden’s son, Beau Biden, also passed away due to the same type of cancer. Glioblastoma patients are expected to survive eight months. Golovashkina lived for nearly three years after her diagnosis.

“She is one hundred percent, in my eyes, in the ranks of all those incredible political figures. She’s right up there with them in terms of what she has done for democratic politics in the country,” DiLalla said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that she would have gone on to be as big of a household name. She just had that incredible ability and spirit; it was all to do the big, important things that needed to be done. Because she believed in them.”