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Opinion / Analysis / Essays

Victim Looks for Meaning In Random Subway Slashing 

AMHERST, Mass., Jan. 12, 2003 - A few days after being slashed on her head and left hand by a man wielding a blade on a Lower Manhattan subway platform, Yael Leopold vowed to return to New York and realize her dream of becoming a sixth-grade teacher.

Ms. Leopold, 21, a University of Massachusetts senior, said today that she saw the attack, for which she received more than 50 stitches, as more of a bump in the road than a serious deterrence to her goal.

Resting at her parents' home here overlooking a frozen pond, Ms. Leopold said the experience might give her more insight into the lives of the children she hopes to teach someday in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. And it might help those students relate more easily to her.

"They might think I've earned my patches," she said, "that I'm not just some suburban person coming into their lives."

Ms. Leopold went to New York for her January break to volunteer in the class of her best friend, who was a year ahead of her at UMass and who now teaches courses in English as a second language in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. This week, Ms. Leopold was planning to teach some lessons that she had prepared.

Ms. Leopold still does not know what motivated the man, who she said was acting erratically, ducking behind posts as he approached from the north end of the subway platform, to attack her with what she thinks was a box cutter. She was on her way home from Webster Hall, an East Village nightclub, at 5:30 a.m. Friday. She said there were at least five people on the platform waiting for the J train at the Chambers Street station.

Contrary to published reports, Ms. Leopold said she does not drink and had not consumed any alcohol in the hours leading up to the attack. The man started slashing her, she said, after she laughed off a question he asked about whether she worked for an escort service.

During an interview in her family's home -- a large gray house on a semirural road, not far from the town's two private colleges and the flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts -- Ms. Leopold was wearing flannel pajamas, and her bandaged hand was wrapped in a gray foam rubber casing. Dark black stitches trailed across the hairline between her forehead and her scalp.

There is still a constant throbbing in her thumb, she said, and "it feels like I had a face-lift because my face is stretched."

Ms. Leopold said she planned to return to New York next week to have some of her stitches removed. She has another checkup scheduled for the following week, and if she feels up to it she will stay in the city until she has to return to her dormitory at UMass at the end of the month.

She said she would return to New York City in March to take the last exam she needs for teacher certification. And, she added, she hopes to land a job in the city for next fall.

"I see myself teaching for as long as I can make a difference," said Ms. Leopold, who is studying sociology and education and also wants to be an advocate for social causes. "I am a very outspoken person when it comes to issues of racism and sexism," she said, "and New York is a good place to do that."

She has been attracted to urban life for as long as she can remember. "I've always loved New York, and I've always been into the city," Ms. Leopold said. "It's the opposite from here. It's exciting and there's things to do."

All articles © Eric Goldscheider

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