By Gina Elbert
I walk into my local church gym to vote – fitting in some ways, considering how close politics can be to a religion in this country – and speak to the elderly ladies manning the check-in tables. Once I sign in, they hand me the obscenely oblong ballot paper that throws me back to all those tests we took in high school. As I darken the circle next to my choice, I force myself to realize just how important my task is. How it will change history. I can feel it, just a little bit.
I put the pen down, walk over to the ballot-processing machine, and ask which way to turn the paper. It doesn’t matter, so long as it’s the long way. I watch as the machine eats up the paper, processes the ballot, and tells me my vote has been cast.
My story is far from unique on the surface. Thousands of NYU students also voted for the first time on Tuesday, November 8, whether they voted in a church gym, a public school, or some other space. They touted their “I Voted” stickers (sadly, my village doesn’t give them out) and got together to see the results of the election. But my story has nuances that theirs do not, and theirs have shades of color that I lack. I entered that voting booth with a history that only a white secular Jewish girl born in Brooklyn and bred in Westchester by immigrant parents could have. I entered with a particular mindset that guided that ballpoint pen to my choice for President; another person’s approach would have been entirely different.
That’s what makes a vote count. It is the only vote that someone with your exact background and beliefs can cast. It is neither correct nor incorrect: it is the action you take in response to your reading of the current political situation. Sometimes there are better choices and sometimes there aren’t. Sometimes you are blind and sometimes you can see. Every vote is an equal mixture of hope, determination, and interpretation.
And there are few that put more value into multiple interpretations than the English department here at NYU. Here, examining texts from different perspectives is exactly what we strive to do. So long as there is evidence to back up an idea, it is valid. Every student that walks into an English classroom, or really any classroom on campus, has a say in how discussion and exploration will develop.
As we have learned in the past few weeks, as many of us have known all along, this philosophy is not limited to books. For me, the English department here at NYU has become a sanctuary for all of the emotions and ideas sparked by the election, both positive and negative. There is no room for hatred of anyone, be it based on race, gender, religion, or political beliefs. The staff has provided comfort at stressful moments. Mary Mezzano has sent multiple emails to keep students informed and to provide support. Professors have fostered discussion – they have no more answers than anyone else, but in the true spirit of critical thinking and the study of English, they knew that the best way to find a solution is to get a conversation going. The students listened, and they contributed. They provided hugs and companionship to those who needed it most.
In an English classroom, the only “teams” that are acceptable are Team Charlotte and Team Emily (because those Brontё sisters know how to stir up trouble). In an English classroom, every perspective is welcome. Every person brings their own baggage and insights. It is not only okay, it is expected. But, in an English classroom, we are all ultimately students first. We are here to listen and learn from each other.
I thank the English department for keeping the spirit of open-mindedness alive. I want to thank them for being there for me and for everyone. There is one thing that we can all agree on and that it is our generation’s turn to write history. November 8, 2016, may have been our first time voting, but it sure won’t be our last.