So I can get a Chappaqua station pass?
AILISH ELIZABETH MCCARTHY!
Right. So you'll pick me up?
In what world?
The late train?
I'm going to Hunter in the fall. They let me in.
Any particular reason they wouldn't let you in?
My GPA. My SATs. My two semesters attempting to study Anthropology at an art school? If that doesn't cast doubt on my critical thinking abilities, I don't know what does.
You said that about Purchase. You know, the art school.
Yeah, well I was wrong and now we know why, don't we?
You can have a 2.1 GPA with a knockout portfolio and the GPA gets a little transparent? You do know, people like you are the reason they have so many academic programs; you knock the scores out of the park.
Oh. Is that why they let me into Hunter?
What if I don't make any friends?
Hunter College, part of the NYC CUNY system, is located at 68th & Lexington. It has its own subway stop. There are other campuses scattered across the island, but this is the big building. This is the hub of truth; vital information about the human condition that will not be taught in any book, but can hardly be missed in the hallways, stairwells, and at the fringe of the open spaces where the marginalized drift in and out of focus.
Elizabeth is almost always worried or frightened by the same two things. Will I be good enough? Will I make friends? These are the benchmarks she uses to ask the real questions. Will I left behind because I can't keep up? Will I be abandoned and alone, or never seen or found at all?
She was intimidated by the students rushing through crowded halls. She was nervous about the academic focus and read the room as Weston. The two things aren't related. Hunter students, for the most part, are not terribly privileged. The grade is not for the sake of the grade or the status. The academic focus was about an education. Later we talked about why she'd never considered Hunter. Hunter was a write off school. It didn't make the cut. Why would anyone go to Hunter when there was Barnard? One by one the lights started to come on.
There are people on campus without enough to eat. There's a girl I met; she looked totally normal and when I found out she didn't always know where her next meal was coming from, it didn't make sense. Do you know about Food Insecurity? It's a thing. It's important. It's when you don't have a reliable source of food. You might not be starving, but it's one of the things you have to think about constantly. There's a girl in my class who has to choose between lunch and the subway and sometimes she's late because she's saving the money for food.
The first protest Elizabeth attended was about MTA cost reduction or elimination.
She was picked up by NYPRIG and slapped into an internship. She found herself canvasing to get people to register to vote. Here's the thing about Elizabeth, she still thinks she's invisible. I don't think it's so much an issue of not believing she matters, as believing people won't see her. When the value of Elizabeth the Human so much as mumbles into the ether, she is snapped up. An instant and absolute resource.
For the first time in her life she had tangible evidence that she could change things. Something as simple as knocking on Park Slope doors, handing the resident a paper bag, and asking to have it filled with non-perishables for doorstep pickup the following week actually fed people. She did this thing.
It isn't as if doing this thing didn't come with a price. The number of people in wealthy neighborhoods that slam doors in the face of a request for food is indicative of who we have become as a culture. Maybe we've always been this way, but I don't think so; not to this extent. There is a separateness that divides us not just from the people we can't see, but also within our own communities.
By the end of the semester and into the next, Elizabeth went to war with the dean over the location and accessibility of a food pantry. She smacked herself hard into her first political wall, and she wasn't having any of it.
You want this woman to back down? Shoot her or sit down and negotiate.
The future of Elizabeth was knitting itself together.