In first grade, my teacher had a talk with me about spending too much time with her before class and not enough time with my fellow first-graders. I was a huge teacher’s pet, so that was presumably part of the problem. But honestly, I also really loved grown-up talk. As I got older, my friends were always older than I was. Sure, I participated in activities in middle and high school that allowed me to interact with older kids quite often, but there were kids my age there, too. The older students were the ones I grew close to.
College has not been much different. On the NYUDC campus, especially, I rarely interact with the freshmen who live on the top three floors of the building. However, this week, I sat down with LS freshman Cole Stallone, who is spending his first year at NYUDC. He had stories and ideas; he was thoughtful and poised. The discussion left me wondering if maybe I shouldn’t have clung to my teacher. Maybe I should have just talked to the first-graders — or even, God forbid, the kindergarteners.
Emily Fagel: How do you identify politically?
Cole Stallone: I politically identify as a communist.
EF: Have you always identified this way?
CS: No. I grew up in a single-parent household. My mother’s a Democrat. I grew up [as a Democrat]. My first political awareness was in the  election, and I essentially followed my mom’s line of thinking with Barack Obama. I supported his candidacy and the whole idea of change. And then right around the same time, obviously, was the economic crash. I grew up in New York City — lower Manhattan — so I’m middle-class as hell. I like to tell people this: I grew up three blocks away from the projects, and three blocks away from Wall Street. So, it’s quite literally in the middle. And I grew up just a few blocks away from Occupy Wall Street. So I always had that kind of looming protest against capitalism. So, as time went on, and especially in the 2016 election, [a] kind of dissatisfaction with both sides led me to explore that avenue. Obviously, Bernie Sanders came out with [his] whole socialist platform, and I liked the things he was saying. I looked up socialism, and when I did that, I realized two things. Number one, Bernie Sanders wasn’t a socialist. And number two, that that’s what I wanted to pursue. So that’s kind of how I’ve gotten to where I am now.
EF: Did the people you grew up with influence your political views? What were you surrounded by in high school and middle school?
CS: I mean, I went to Catholic school, so I think they did more than I’d like to admit. My high school, in particular, was run by Jesuits, which is a religious order, and they’re very — I don’t wanna say social justice-y, because I feel like that word gets thrown around so much — but that’s really what they are. They have a strong emphasis on social justice, and they lean left. Like farther left than…
EF: Than most Catholics, yeah.
CS: So I think they definitely influenced me in some way. My junior year [high school] history teacher was a Jesuit priest, and he made me read a book called “A People’s History of the United States.” It’s by Howard Zinn, and it’s an incredible book, and I think it probably influenced me the most [of everything] that was a part of my formal education. I learned a lot by myself. But [of] anything I was given by a teacher, that was probably the most important.
EF: Interesting. Do any of your other identities — like your gender, sexuality, race or ethnicity — influence your views?
CS: Not in particular. I mean, I’m a white guy. I identify as bisexual, but that’s not really as important politically, because you can straight pass, you know?
CS: If I was transgender, it’s a different story. You know, if you’re transgender, you walk out [of] your house, people know. I don’t walk out of the house and [have people say], ‘Oh, he’s bi, let’s go beat the shit out of him,’ you know? So my identity isn’t that influential. I think, if anything, it influences me in a sense of responsibility. Kinda like a white man’s burden in a way. Definitely.
EF: Do you have any career goals influenced by your political views?
CS: Well [with] my career, I just wanna be a history teacher.
EF: Really? That’s so cool.
CS: Yeah. I wanna go [to graduate] school and then teach college. I certainly have political ambitions, but I don’t believe in the established institutions for change. I don’t think they’re adequate.
EF: So you don’t wanna be a part of them. That makes sense. How do you feel in the NYUDC community, at least so far, based on this political identity? Do you feel accepted, do you feel like you’re surrounded by the same things you believe in?
CS: I mean, the fact of the matter is we go to school with some pretty wealthy people. This is a hefty price tag to pay, even if it’s a struggle for some. And I would say this — I would say I don’t feel not accepted, but I’m not looking to appeal to my classmates with my political views. You know what I’m saying? I’m not looking to convert anyone here. I don’t believe in communism so I can convert rich kids, you know? It’s about the working class, it’s about the marginalized. And I don’t think, aside from identity-wise — I think class-wise there’s not a lot of marginalized people at NYU, at least that I’ve met here.
EF: Do you have anything else you feel like I should’ve asked you, anything you wanna tell me?
CS: No, definitely not anything you missed. But I would just like to say — I feel like people have a perception of my beliefs. And it’s not based on anything they know themselves. It’s regurgitation from, like, the Cold War. Just Google ‘communism,’ see where that takes you. Like, I remember, one of my friends here, her mom had visited, and she had found out I was a communist, and then on her way home, she looked up communism because of something I did for her. You know, just [out of] general politeness. And to hear that was kinda interesting, because she associated what I believe with something so negative, when [I showed her that] it’s really not that. So I would just encourage education.
Email Emily Fagel at [email protected]