Take Five with Elisabeth Porter ’91

Elizabeth Porter
Elisabeth Porter ’91 is a real estate attorney in Boca Raton, Fla. After completing a master’s in art history at CUNY/Hunter College in 1997 she relocated to Florida, working in advertising at the Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald while attending law school in the evenings. Porter worked as an assistant public defender in West Palm Beach, fighting for the rights of juveniles and working in the appellate division. Her claim to fame is E.A.R. v. State, decided by the Florida Supreme Court on January 30, 2009; it is still one of the preeminent cases on juvenile sentencing in the State of Florida.

Porter is a proud member of her PTA and chair of the PTA Reflections Program at her son’s elementary school, as well as an active PTO board member at Temple Shaarei Shalom in Boynton Beach.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I arrived at John Jay with my parents and all my gear from Conran’s Habitat. I immediately bonded with my 13th-floor neighbor Augustine Flores ’92, now a doctor in New York State. I fell into the habits of first-year student life, including classes in Hamilton Hall, studying at the library and in my dormitory room, finding study groups and going on first-year excursions. Through these experiences I made my best friends for all of my college years. While I arrived inexperienced as to what to expect in the next four years, by the end of the first semester I felt ready to master what was to come at the College.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I remember the University wiring the John Jay hallways for computer use in the dormitory rooms; only a few students had access at that time. Most of us had typewriters, or used the computer centers or wrote by hand. I would often stay up, snuggled in bed with my head on my pink dinosaur pillow headrest, reading the classics and delving into math theory. These were fun times with friends but also intense times of studying and learning, so having a single room was ideal.

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

Literature Humanities with Robert Belknap SIPA’57, GSAS’59. Professor Belknap mostly specialized in Russian literature and culture. I asked him how he graded, expecting a reasoned answer based on which assignments were important and counted toward the grade as well as some sort of curve. He answered, “Subjectively.” At that moment, I knew I was no longer in high school and that Columbia would be a challenge, where we as students used our minds and voices to engage other students and the professors in meaningful discourse.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

I had multiple favorite spots; of course, I liked the Steps, but I also liked dodging puddles in the rain walking across the bricks in front of the theater building or the math building. I loved The Thinker posed in the courtyard. I loved that if you dared, you could ring the bell at St. Paul’s Chapel. I loved the open spaces on campus. But perhaps the most, I loved the white holiday lights along College Walk in the wintertime.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I might show more openness to the experiences of my fellow students who came from different backgrounds. I had my own suburban experience, and I believe now, as someone who tends to eat vegan, I could have been more respectful of others and their eating habits.