Self Improvement: A Final Reflection

The course epigraph for English 101 is a quote from the notes of Beth McCoy during a question and answer session held by Dionne Brand, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” This quote is the basis for successfully completing this class. Without being able to notice purposefully in the text and during in class discussions, there is only minimal acceptance and understanding of the material. Noticing can be applied to every piece of literature that comes into the class and is a constant wall present to bounce ideas and thoughts off of.

Specifically for me, the epigraph has helped me delve deeper into the studies and research that I learned throughout my biology degree process. Having the full ability to notice that medicine is rooted much deeper than the physical body is extremely useful information as I progress to dental school. I felt uneducated and ignorant about something I am otherwise very passionate about and this drove me to want to actively learn and become a better member of the dental community to spread awareness of the medical oppression I had been blinded from for so long. A better understanding and ability to notice throughout my career is what will hopefully distinguish me as being a great doctor instead of a good one. Noticing has also helped me push back on some of my initial assumptions about medicine and build ideas that I never would have constructed otherwise.

            In Kate Williams, Mary Wooliams, and Jane Spiro’s Reflective Writing, they list that a good reflection consists of being open, patient, honest, curious, transparent, and rigorous. These are the basis for being able to reflect on the course as a whole and were the key things I worked on to improve my writing and understanding. Without these pieces you cannot completely and thoughtfully reflect on all you’ve learned. Being open requires a circling back of past assumptions and ideas that have been altered from beginning to end of the semester as well as how views have been shifted throughout the process. Being patient means to read through the course material thoroughly and notice as much as possible in conjunction with the course epigraph to accurately reflect on revelations that occurred while reading. I packaged together honesty and transparency in that admitting to inaccurate assumptions and unpacking how you were wrong are not only relatable to others but create an understanding that learning is a process and trying to skip to the part where you know everything will prove unsuccessful. Taking the time to be honest will help grow the knowledge needed to make connections throughout the rest of the course. This was not only difficult for me as I have trouble being wrong, but once I accepted the fact that it’s part of a greater process of understanding I found that I was getting a lot more out of the course than I ever thought I would. Curiosity was my main source of questioning throughout my reading and acted as a basis for my various blog posts. Genuine curiosity was easily evoked throughout this course and helped formulate ideas that I didn’t think I was capable of forming. Rigor was found when writing the whopping ten blog posts throughout the semester which was a lot more writing then I am used to completing in my major of biology. The class setup pushed me to grow with the course and accept that my first few blog posts were not going to be my absolute best but, watching my growth has been inspiring and rewarding. It was awesome being a part of a classroom community that encouraged failure at first to reach a goal of improvement before the semester ends. Rereading my previous blog posts, I’ve realized that my noticing is most effectively applied when carried outside the classroom and the lessons I’ve learned here become a piece of a new and improved me as I navigate the world in the future. 

Although I’ve learned to notice things beyond the literature and examine the applicable ideas, the readings were the glue that held everything together and provided evidence for my claims. Percival Everett’s Zulus helped me identify myself with the main character Alice Achitophel. It was a relief to see myself in her because I was constantly searching for an identity throughout the semester as the literature slowly took what I thought I knew from me with each book. As the reading began, I had more questions than answers. Everett wrote various scenes that were abstract and hard to picture, “Her liver and spleen had expanded to twice their normal sizes, engorged with blood and yellowish with infection, pulsing in rhythm with her heart.” No human person could realistically expand to become the size of a room and break open so this made imagery challenging for me. Although this book would have been one I’d give up on in the past I cycled back to the themes I saw her display and made connections in myself. At multiple points throughout the book, Everett portrays Alice as feeling trapped, “The hollow-eyed faces in the bleachers watched the canisters, studied them with a kind of reverence and measured indifference. Alice Achitophel walked down to the level of the tanks and viewed them from about fifty feet, feeling at a distance closer to power, though she understood nothing about the containers, nothing about the stares cast upon them…She rested there, breathed slowly and found an easy rhythm, looking up and finding comfort in seeing the sky.” She felt trapped in her body and once she had broken free from that, she was yet again trapped on the court for her impending suicide. I connected with her on many levels as I’ve had to escape my many “trappings” and assumptions to push myself beyond my original thoughts. An assumption that I carried with me throughout the reading was that this book was meaningless and abstract and too complex for me to understand. This is where my assumptions became burdens on my ability to make connections with the text, but during the discussion of the end of the book I connected in a big way. Some made the connection that Alice Achitophel was “stuck in the book” viewing the people reading her story which was supported by Everett’s words, “The angular woman gave warm laughter and told Alice Achitophel to realx and let things happen as they would…” Looking back on this quote I noticed that my mind had corrected the misspelled word relax and it wasn’t until I reread it that I noticed the incorrect spelling. This got me thinking about how if Alice were writing the book herself, words would be misspelled as she is human and not perfect. I again broke through my assumptions that there was this overarching obvious theme or “Aha!” moment and interpreted her story from my perspective. I realized that each reader that delves into Everett’s Zulus will gain something new from it depending on their individual thoughts and experiences that connects them to the book in one way or another. I began to make connections that if Alice wrote this book chapters A-Z, she must want the reader to start again, as the infamous alphabet tune states, and use their new perspectives to gain something once again from each reread. I had to read over many different parts of the book a couple of times to try and grasp what was happening, and I confused my multiple connections with confusion when in fact it was just me creating different interpretations. Everett has taught me to trust my abilities of interpreting and admit when I’m lacking confidence so I can improve my growth mindset. 

On the other hand, Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid has validated my carrying of assumptions with more concrete tangible evidence. Her evidence has not only opened my eyes to the truth about the medical profession but has made me a more understanding biology major as I progress into the medical field as well. Washington’s subtitle, “Finding the Truth in Plain Sight” describes exactly how I felt while reading her work. All the information in her book is out for the public to read yet I had gone my life without knowing medicine’s racial past. In previous blog posts I discuss the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment where treatment was withheld from dying participants in search for good data as well as the dark and twisted history of P.T. Barnum, who until reading this book seemed to be a fun creative circus inventor. I wasn’t just wrong, but I was confused and embarrassed when others had known that he, in the words of Washington, had exploited “black bodies” for his own gain. I had walked into this class feeling confident and believing that I had a leg up with my interest in medicine and biology background. Again, my assumptions had been completely wrong. I had to accept that maybe I wasn’t one of the most knowledgeable people in the room and that literature and novels can maybe teach me more about myself and medicine then the textbooks I had trusted for so long. I had neglected to pick up books such as Washington’s Medical Apartheid until now because I couldn’t break this assumption and once again prevented myself from gaining more knowledge without even realizing it. I had to break away from facts that I made the basis for all my assumptions and dig deeper and be more open to being wrong and push myself. Washington ironically used more facts to help me achieve this and I used her book as a reference while reading the fiction-based works from the course. The only thing Washington mentions that is more shocking than Medicine’s dark past, is it’s dark present, she states, “Old measures of health not only have failed to improve significantly but have stayed the same: some have even worsened. Mainstream newspapers and magazines often report disease in an ethnocentric manner that shrouds the true cost among African Americans.” If it weren’t for Washington exposing this information, clearly it would have never been relayed to me in the media either. She continues with, “Three times as many African Americans were diagnosed with diabetes in 1993 as in 1963. This rate is nearly twice that of white Americans and is sorely underestimated. The real black diabetes rate is probably double that of whites. As with most chronic diseases, African Americans suffer more complications, including limb loss, blindness, kidney disease, and terminal heart disease. Cancer, the nation’s second greatest killer, is diagnosed later in blacks and carries off proportionately more African Americans than whites. African Americans suffer the nation’s highest rate of cancer and cancer deaths.” It’s sad that this is a statistic I will have to tackle entering the medical field in the twenty first century. Like many I had to break my previous assumption that everyone receives equal care, because those that don’t are too afraid to ask for it. This deep mistrust is rooted in so much evidence which Washington has compiled, and I’ve learned that it will become my duty to attempt to repair this. 

            I’m not only extremely grateful for English 101, but I am grateful for the person it has made me today. I started off arrogant and confident in my fast-approaching medical career and have truly been humbled. I am so excited to move forward in my studies having all this knowledge and continuing to work on being a more open minded and understanding person. I’m confident that this class has provided me with tools for my career that I would have never gained elsewhere. I will always keep in mind that even if I think I know it all, there will always be so much more I still haven’t learned. Thank you, Professor Beth McCoy for helping to open my eyes and my mind to the importance of this literature and teaching me that it’s okay to ask for help. I will always remember all that Washington’s Medical Apartheid has taught me and will keep it forever by my side throughout the rest of my studies.  

The Importance of Accountability

Personal responsibility and accountability to the world around us is a concept we all have to believe in to some extent. Intrinsic to our understandings of ourselves is our ability to control our own affairs, to manage our impulses and desires. We understand the importance of standards, we make efforts to adhere to those standards in order to live healthy and productive lives. People for the most part want the same things. We want to live peacefully and in accordance with each other. We want to be valued and liked within our social structure. We want to avoid being hurt and doing harm to others. It’s easy to lose connection with reality and with each other in the modern world. We’re smart animals and we know what we want, to escape. In the modern world, escapism is easier to engage in and more readily accessible than it has ever been. When we escape, we avoid accountability. Accountability being a theme throughout this semester, the narratives present in the literature, and the ideas we have engaged with as a class this semester, have made me notice and think about what happens when people avoid accountability. 

Working as part of a group made me realize what I am capable of when part of a team. Because I was accountable for others beyond myself, I thought about the consequences in terms of how they would affect my team rather than just myself. It’s easy to give up when no one is depending on you, when no one cares and no one would notice but yourself if you were to stop trying. With others, I am driven forward to mind my conduct and apply my efforts in ways which will benefit those who depend on me. Through having a team, I am made accountable to something outside myself.

Throughout the course, I found myself relating and empathizing with the characters in the literature we read as a class. Their journeys and personal growths were painful and difficult at times, just as mine has been. They weren’t in control of their own lives until something shook up their passivity toward the world around them. The characters in the literature we have read and the people whose lives we have discussed all deal with the concept of control. Central to the theme of this course has been autonomy over our own affairs, the power that it can bring when utilized effectively and the chaos it can lead to when it isn’t. Unable to continue being idle, they were forced to engage in the situation they’re faced with in life. They are compelled to get up and start anew after being knocked down if they’re given the chance. By failing on my own terms, I have been taught a valuable lesson about accountability and what it takes to govern myself in healthy and helpful ways. In failing and experiencing the consequences of those failures, I am accountable to the results of poor decision making and a passive attitude toward what needs doing. Witnessing the growth of characters in the literature we read ran parallel to my own personal growth of accountability in experiencing the course.

Evidence for growth of a character I identified most closely with came with Ci in Home by Toni Morrison. Reliant on her brother and everyone to help her out, in the end she is dependent only on herself, capable of holding herself up without the need of others to be responsible for her. Her journey is one of finding strength through personal accountability. Only by confronting her dependence on others and overcoming it can she hope to live on her own in a way which allows her to be self sufficient. Her ability to take care of herself and live on her own terms comes only after great trauma and loss. Her ability to trust and care about life must be repaired after being betrayed and grievously injured. Despite the way harm is inflicted on her, she bounces back stronger and does not allow her trauma to define her.

Growth can also be observed in Alice Achitophel from Zulus by Percival Everett lives a life which is structured for her. She is forced to take control of her own life and confront dangers that she has been sheltered from. She deals with forces beyond her control and undergoes a very real and literal transformation as a result. Transformation and adaptation to difficult circumstances is something Human beings must be capable of in order to survive. I too have had to adapt and change in order to achieve what I truly want for myself and others.

During my time in this course, I did not perform as well as I had intended, but I did produce work I am proud of. This strain I am feeling at its end, the cause of it is a lesson learned. I need to balance my life in order to get what I want in it. Responsibility and self control lead to the ability to make good decisions for myself. These decisions improve my values by giving me more to appreciate in life. Regardless of whether a choice I make has a good or bad outcome, I learn something from making it. From this I can take a lesson and in the end, I am left with wisdom I did not have before. My journey ran parallel to those we read about where characters grapple with life and are put through many trials before realizing their strength. In finding that strength, our perceptions of ourselves are altered for the better. In experiencing what it is like to produce work I can be proud of, I was made intrinsically accountable to myself and my desire to feel that kind of success and pride for my own reasons.

The course was also deeply engaged in showing us the harm that can be done to others when accountability is not present in a position of power. Works such as Fortune’s Bones showed the reality of guilt and what it does to the mind of someone who has done evil to others. I never want to be forced to look back on my life and realize that I hurt anyone through irresponsible or cruel behavior. With great power comes great responsibility. People with power but no responsibility become villains. There were no shortage of villains in the literature we examined as a class. Learning about horrors such as the Tuskegee medical experiments, Nazi-era warping of medicine, and the evil deeds done by Japan’s Unit 731, have taught me about the extent of harm which can be done by those in power being unconcerned with the rights and feelings of others human beings. Through learning that history I have gained insight into accountability toward what is ethical and right for someone in a place of power over others. I will never allow myself to be a villain. These themes, connected with previous lessons I took away from the Art of Steve A. Prince, taught me about how misuse of authority granted to us can harm the people accountable to it.

Both and is the idea that ideas can be distinct and interconnected in a given stream of thought.  Personalizing our arguments and making connections to our own lives is important for producing writing of value. Likewise, the importance of reflection is not lost on me. By looking at the past, the history we share of hatred, violence, and cruelty, and apathy, we can be better than that. I can take this lesson and apply it to other aspects of my own life. When facing a barrier which needs to be overcome, or seeing wrongdoing in the world, make it personal. I will not stand idly by when something bad is happening. Though that lesson I needed came too late this semester for me to succeed in the way I had originally intended to, I am nevertheless thankful that it came. What I have now are the tools I need to do better. I will do better going forward because of this class. I will be accountable for myself and to others.

Overall, this course has greatly aided my ability to write and read in ways which will show my audience that I am competent and capable of writing well. This development has been valuable. As a result of taking the course, my knowledge of a very overlooked history has been made greater as has my ability to relay it to others in writing. I have learned a great deal in this course, not only about history and racism in medicine, but about myself and who I ought to be. I want to be an accountable person, someone who can be trusted by others. I want to be trusted not only to do what needs to be done, but to do what is right in any situation I am faced with.

The Black Experience: Final Thoughts

The thought of attending Suny Geneseo, and even when registering for this course, I had difficulty facing my own self doubt and skepticism. Dr. McCoy has always challenged me, even when I didn’t want the push. I took an English course (Reader & Text: Interdisciplinary) with her my freshman year, in similar, those uncomfortable feelings stirred up on the first day of this class. Pondering what to write for this paper, I looked back at prior work from her class. I came across my final reflective essay (from freshman year) emphasizing that, When I sat down in Professor McCoy’s class back in late August, I wanted to run. I immediately felt intimidated and surrounded by many white faces. The confidence that I built throughout the summer slowly faded as I took that seat. Four years later, I questioned if those feelings lingered. I didn’t want to remain in the same place as freshman year. I knew that I made significant progress as a learner, but was it enough? As a first-semester college student, I noticed that I disassociated from the content I learned in my experience with Dr. McCoy’s Reader &Text class. I excluded myself from peer conversations. I remained silent during class discussions Dr. McCoy facilitated. For months, I just sat there and observed. Truthfully, I wanted someone to see my pain. I was one of the few people of color in my class learning about my own history. In my prior educational experiences before Geneseo, I can only remember learning about basic black history like civil rights. I always knew my teachers weren’t telling me everything. Even though I was frustrated with my classes in my adolescent education and it’s lack of, I still felt uncomfortable because I didn’t feel connected with my own history. Dissociation seemed easier then acceptance. 

Prior to my college career, my classrooms were filled with students who looked like me. I felt uneasy discovering those untaught truths at a predominantly white institution. In angst, I was not comfortable with unpacking the learning material with my peers because I assumed they couldn’t understand. I failed to notice that my presence in class could possibly help my peers become more conscious of material. I failed to notice how much my opinion mattered. Throughout this semester, I began to realize that my fears and doubts were blinding my ability to see clearly: the skill of noticing. For so long, I have normalized the feeling of being uncomfortable, it has failed me to see when I’ve actually grown. I have come to the conclusion that I was self-conscious (my freshman year) about my black identity; my black experience in our society. Had you asked me, “What is the black experience”? I can’t give you an answer because of the assumptions I previously generated. I am grateful though that the reading material in this class has helped me identify with the black experience on a deeper level. 

While glancing at the syllabus on the first day, I didn’t notice the course epigraph. I can be very oblivious at times, instead of focusing on the big picture. I didn’t pay attention, simply because I let my eyes glaze over and didn’t care to figure out what it meant. As usual, I was more focused on the books I needed to purchase, the grading rubric, and the assignment due dates. Little did I know, the course epigraph, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice”, would be my greatest take-away from this semester. While shifting through the material we read in this course, each novel carried its own connotation of the black experience. Whether the novel was fiction or nonfiction, each story embodied a different layer. As I began to familiarize myself with the black experience through the books, what emerged for me was a history of struggle. It was the story of people who had been stripped of their rights and their humanity by a structural system of racism. It was the story of a people who, in spite of oppression, never gave up nor did they lose their sense of self.

When reading Percival’s Everett’s Zulus, Everett explores the black experience through the critical lens of a post-apocalyptic world. The characters in Zulus are mostly women, deal with a devastated post-apocalyptic world doomed to no return. People are undeniably scarred by an environmental catastrophe making all women unable to bear children. All except for one: Alice Achitophel. In her attempt to grapple with reality, she must decipher what’s real from what’s not. Readers, like myself are submerged into the life of Alice, an obese government clerk, rejected by society, and the only fertile woman in her world. Alice is both insider and outsider in a world where state violence transforms life into a dystopia. On this dying planet, Alice must cope with being grotesquely obese, impregnated, alone, and afraid. Similar to Alice, many African-Americans feel isolated, alone, and unable to be understood by society. At the end, readers see how Alice realizes that she is the fate of the planet and her resilience and struggle is clearly noted. African-Americans throughout time did not yield (like Alice) in time of strife, they fought through. Everett’s work becomes apparent in his take on the black experience, urging that his readers notice this. 

In the eyes of Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans by Harriet A. Washington, my fourth blog post touches base on the maltreatment of African-American inmates in the medical field. Why were prisoners universally desirable subjects for medical research? African-Americans have always been dramatically over-represented in jails and prisons. During this era, prisoners were powerless, uneducated, poor, feared/hated by their communities, and expendable. According to Washington, “Prisoners had been commonly used as research subjects, and after the Civil War, the United States was the only nation in the world continuing to legally use prisoners in clinical trials. Federal, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic companies’ money catalyzed a thirty-year boom in research with prisoners” (p. 249). Inmates were only seen as steady influx of profit. Unfortunately, this is another take on the black experience. They were treated like property. Alas, reading Medical Apartheid uncovered another layer of what it meant to be black in America.

The most insidious and dangerous experiments included injections, flash burns from heat radiation, drugs that would cause hallucinations, and skin tests that produced painful rashes. Edward Anthony, a black Holmesburg inmate during the mid 1960’s attests to his experience and stated that, “Some drugs caused temporary paralysis or helplessness, or even placed [me] into a catatonic state, from which [I] could neither communicate nor react to [my] surroundings. Others caused prolonged nausea… and provoked long-term violent behavior” (p. 251). Despite the history and evidence of using black bodies as caged subjects, jailed African-American research subjects “remained largely invisible in the medical and popular literature until the 1960s” (Washington, 254). The same exclusion of black history exists in our educational system. I can conclude that this is another layer of the black experience. African-Americans can be so resilient, but still face immense amount of oppression. The black experience is ambiguous, yet complex. There are many layers to the experience that I’m even still learning to grasp. To be black in America is an enigma in and of itself.

Looking back at this course, I have learned so much about my history and the many layers of the black experience. What it means to be African-American is an ever-changing definition that encompasses so much of my life. I’m still learning just like my peers. Dr. McCoy’s classes have taught me valuable lessons about growth, strength, and courage to unpack the layers of the uncomfortable.

I Can Notice and Grow, Can You?

Signing up for this class was not something I particularly had in mind. As a freshman, I was just looking for an English class because English was one of my best subjects in high school that I also happened to enjoy the most. Little did I know this would be one of the most interesting English classes I have ever taken. Sure, I am only a freshman in my first semester. However, none of my English classes or any classes for that case in high school made me think like this class has. This class has changed the way I think and notice things. Never before had I thought about racism, medicine, and literature’s connections. Looking at those three words, I never would have made a connection between them before this class.

Part of this class that was really brought to my attention was the connections between literature, medicine, and racism. When I signed up for this class, I assumed it was three different topics. I thought maybe the semester was going to be split up into three different sections. One for literature, one for medicine, and one for racism. Before coming to class my first day I did think maybe these three topics were connected but I honestly could not think of how any of these could connect. At first, I just assumed they didn’t connect and there was really no reason for me to try and connect them.  I soon realized in this class that literature informed us and taught us about all of these things in the world of medicine. We read many books such as Medical Apartheid, Fortune’s Bones, Home, Seed to Harvest, Zone One, and many articles as well. For me, literature kind of ties all three together because literature is the source that taught me about the connections between medicine and racism. Racism was all over the medical world and even today there is still racism and discrimination in the medical world. Literature taught us about racism in the medical world and I think that is a super important connection to make. 

In one of my first posts I did make a connection between Zulus and our world and the people in it. In my blog post called Mutato Nomine I said “To me Alice represents all of us sitting here letting the earth go to waste. At some point it’s going to be too late to fix it and all we are going to be able to do is sit and watch it happen just as Alice is. I think the author is showing us this as a warning before it is too late.” While I was making connections, I was not making the right connections. In my mind I was mostly thinking about the pollution and other things that are ruining the earth and then I tried to make a sort of meaningless connection to medicine. I think in a lot of my blog posts I made connections to worldly things and then I could not come up with a real meaningful connection to racism and medicine through the different books. 

In my lowest scoring blog post called The Unknown, Professor McCoy commented on it and said, “You have the evidence, Olivia—why aren’t you using it?” and another thing she said was “I can make room for the personal in the writing, but the writing can’t be limited to the personal. I can’t grade manifestos, political positions, or personal beliefs, no matter how much I might agree and/or disagree with them, share and/or not share them.” This definitely made me think. It made me think about what exactly it was that I was thinking about and what I was noticing. Up to this post and even a little bit in my posts after this one, I was mostly just writing about my opinions. I was talking about my feelings about how people were treated and how wrong certain things were. In my blog post, The Unknown, I wrote “For me, reading and learning about all these secretive things that have happened in the medical world make me not trust doctors. How am I supposed to trust doctors when they have such a bad reputation? How can anyone trust these people? How can I trust anyone? It is really hard to figure out how to live your life in peace and trusting people when there is such a horrible reputation of people not respecting our bodies.” And I continued in this post talking about how I felt instead of noticing the meaningful connections between the books having to do with medicine and racism.

In my most recent blog post, Value, which I received the highest grade out of all my blog posts, I realized what I was finally doing right. I couldn’t just talk about my opinions I had to have a thought and find evidence to support my thoughts. In this blog post I talked about valuing human beings and I found evidence to support this from two of the books we read and then from an article that I found on my own as well. I was finally making the right connections throughout the books and I had the evidence to support my claims.

In Medical Apartheid, Harriet A. Washington says, “We must acknowledge the past in order to regain trust and to seize the future”(page 386). To me this is super important because a lot of literature is about the past or is based off of things that have happened in the past. So, to me reading literature is a way to inform people such as myself about things like racism in the medical world. People need to be aware of things like this so it will not continue to happen in the future. This class has taught me to notice and make solid connections. Never before was I able to make these kinds of connections and I never thought I would make connections such as the connection between literature, medicine, and racism. And I think it’s really important that others can learn to make these connections too.

In high school you are not taught to actually think about things and notice. You are taught to sit down and remember the information. Or you are given a topic and you are supposed to relate your ideas to this topic. But the type of thinking and noticing that I have done in this class is far different from any of that. In my first blog post I wrote “the stuff I am learning in this class is real world stuff. This is the kind of knowledge I would like to have as I grow into an adult. An adult would look more into something like this and dig deeper to widen their understanding of the topic and get as much information as possible so that they can form their own opinion of the topic.” Even in my first blog post I was noticing that this class was going to change my way of thinking. Just in the first couple weeks of this class I was already being affected. 

One of the books we read that significantly affected me was Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington. Each chapter of this book had a different case, a different story. This made me realize the concrete connections between racism and medicine. As I talked about in one of my blog posts, Discrimination in the Medical World, discrimination towards race was not something that only happened in the 1900’s. Reading Medical Apartheid first made me think about all the racism in the world of medicine way back in the day. This was something that was never taught to me or probably even talked about. I hardly had any knowledge of this topic before reading this book. But then I also noticed that this is still happening in the world today. I knew that there was still racism and discrimination in the world. Never would I have thought there was still discrimination in the medical world even today. This was never something I would have known before taking this class. The things I learned in this class are things that I assume not a lot of people in our world know about because there is never anything on the news about this and it isn’t taught to us while we are growing up. The information I learned in this class is information I think everyone should be informed of. People should know about these things because everyone has medical needs and should know if they are going to have any risks such as discrimination. I think people other than just us in this class would benefit if they could somehow make these connections throughout real world problems.

Growing is something that everyone continually does throughout their entire lives and it is an extremely important part of every persons’ life. However, the way everyone grows is different depending on what you are exposed to throughout life. I was exposed to this certain class and I grew as a writer and thinker. I also grew in how I notice. Things are connected and I should always be looking for connections and so should other people. The things I took away from this class and the way I learned to think is something I think everyone would benefit from and I would recommend this class to anyone so others could grow in their own thinking just like I did. Our world could grow together if more people knew how to notice. My whole thinking process has changed and the worlds thinking process needs to change too.

The Growth of an Evidence Based Perspective

My whole life I have been fascinated with science and medicine. For every free-choice project assigned to me from elementary to high school, I would base on anatomy or biology if I could. I may have not yet determined exactly how I would like to be a part of the medical field, but I know I am meant to participate in the world of healthcare for my career. Therefore, it was an easy decision whether or not this course would fit my interests. The title alone, “Literature, Medicine and Racism”, made me want to enroll immediately; it was a combination of words I myself have never yet put together. I was intrigued, and now that this course is nearing the end, I am beyond grateful that I have taken it. Upon looking back at how this course has shaped my growth, I have noticed that it has thoroughly opened my eyes to a vast world of medical history and literature I didn’t know existed prior. In turn, it has altered my previous, completely positive view of the medical field. I am now aware of many, but not all, of the horrors that people have endured in our history at the hands of scientists and doctors that have led to today’s medical and scientific knowledge. I once thought that the scientific progress I have learned about was built on ethical, positive events- a sharp contrast to the truth this course has taught me. I still view the medical field as something I am passionate about, but I no longer believe that it is built upon decades of positive advancements and events. The class text Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington enabled me to learn many of these historical endeavors, and its factual content was highlighted by a fictional course text, Home, by Toni Morrison.

Upon my initial reading of Medical Apartheid, my jaw dropped and my heart sank, leaving me mortified and embarrassed to have wanted to be a health professional. The book revealed a plethora of unethical and inhumane experiments conducted on minority groups that were done to aid scientists in acquiring more medical knowledge. I wondered how I could have been so blind to all that lay beneath the research progressions and medical advancements of today. For example, the passage about how scientists went about studying the effects of radioactivity on the human body described in Medical Apartheid left me in shock. Washington explains one portion of the radioactive experiments as, “…the Fernald School in Waltham, Massachusetts, added radioactive oatmeal to the menus of thirty orphans…” (Washington, 233). When these orphans died, their bodies were autopsied to study the amount of radioactivity present and to see the damage that had been caused by it. Another portion of this text that shows an example of the medical field’s horrific past is the description of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. At first, it appeared that the U.S. Public Health Service was trying to study and treat African American males with syphilis back in 1932 through this experiment. However, the truth behind the study is showed in Medical Apartheid as Washington quotes a PHS physician Dr. Murrell: “’Those that are treated are only half cured…. Perhaps here, in conjunction with tuberculosis, will be the end of the negro problem’” (Washington, 160). It can be seen that the study was not an act of aid, but an act of manipulation and unethical treatment rooted in racism. The core classes I have taken as a science major have turned a blind eye to its field’s negative background, such as these examples I have mentioned, and it has taken an English course to show me the truth behind the science material I learn.

When looking at the medical field at surface level, it appears to be overall successful and honest, saving people’s lives and curing many illnesses. When analyzing the overall mortality rate from all causes of death from the 1900s versus 2010, it has dropped by a staggering 54% (Tippett, 2014). Back in the 1900s, death caused by infectious diseases such as pneumonia and the flu were twelve times as likely compared to deaths reported in 2010 (Tippett, 2014). This shows great progression, but now that this course has shaped me into noticing more, I wonder, at what cost did this “success” come at? The phrase “behind every great success is a battle that has been fought” now means something entirely different to me than it did before this course. I realize now that the battle is no longer just the hard work those who experience the success go through; it may also entail the expense at which people’s lives were damaged, victimized, or manipulated to get them there.

This may seem like a purely dismal shift in perception about my once prized career goals, but in reality, the growth I have experienced has also taught me some positive things. Throughout my life and its experiences, I continuously told myself that you cannot have the good without the bad. Personally, I believe that they give meaning to one another. In this case, the horrific stories and events I have read about have shown me the gruesome side of the medical field, but they have also enlightened me to question aspects of my life I have previously taken at face value. It has shown me to dig deeper, and I am not completely discouraged from working in the medical field, but I must do my part now to prevent this terrible history from repeating. I am now aware of the many struggles and sufferings those in the past have endured to enable scientists to achieve the data they believed they needed. The scientific knowledge available today may be helpful, but as this course has shown me, a majority of it came from the exploitation of innocent patients in history.

As Washington states in Medical Apartheid, even some of the scientists themselves realized their faults eventually: “The radiation experiments capture the moment when an important group of physician-scientists ceased to view themselves as healers and benefactors first, with disastrous results for their victims and for American medicine” (Washington, 241). She goes on to state, “For African Americans, the full costs in lost health and lost trust are still being reckoned” (Washington, 241). This demonstrates that the doctors conducting these horrific experiments initially believed they were playing a positive role in people’s healthcare, and that they may have finally realized the truth of what their actions had caused. Not only was the medical world itself tainted with horrific means of experimentation, African Americans specifically were targeted and exploited through the healthcare system and as Washington stated, there are still consequences from that today.

In the text Home by Toni Morrison, one of the characters, Cee, finds herself at the hands of a doctor similar to those described in Medical Apartheid that performed serious damage to their patients. Cee worked for a man named Dr. Beau, and was led to believe that the experiments he performed on her would benefit his patients in the future. She becomes very ill due to complications from the procedures and examinations performed by him. Cee is eventually returned back home by her brother, and just in time, as she was on the verge of death. Once home, Cee recalls her experience with Dr. Beau when explaining to the women who heal her what had happened: “…how passionate he was about the value of the examinations; how she believed the blood and pain that followed was a menstrual problem- nothing made them change their minds about the medical industry” (Morrison, 122). This shows that not only did the women who helped her fear doctors, now Cee did too. She had almost lost her life due to a doctor being convinced that the procedures he performed on her would provide him with the knowledge he needed to help others. Not only did Cee almost die, she could no longer have children of her own, and this was something Cee struggled with greatly. Although these negative experiences and consequences Cee faced may be presented in a fictional text, they still highlight the reality of the medical world’s history. This fictional representation of the damages people faced at the hands of doctors they once trusted evoked just as much anger in me as the historical events presented in Medical Apartheid.

Not often do I stumble upon eye opening experiences such as this course. I find myself and the classes I take being very literal, which can push me into a more surface-level type of analysis. This course, in contrast, has helped mold me into being more thorough and to be skeptical of the information presented to me. I know ask “why?” and “how?” of all that I learn and read. This enables me to discover the underlying truths behind many of the facts presented to me that I would have never uncovered prior. Reflecting back on my growth I see that I now stray from my literal, face value ways. Although my once highly positive view of the medical field has dwindled, it is now an evidence based perspective. This shift from an evidence-lacking view on the medical field to a factually supported one has been shaped by the ideas this course has shown me. This class taught me the importance of evidence and justification. In this course, we referred to the text Reflective Writing by Kate Williams, Mary Wooliams, and Jane Spiro, when starting to form our final essays. It is stated in Reflective Writing that evidence needs to be provided in order to justify claims that one makes. Before reading this text, I hadn’t considered just how vital evidence is for all information presented, whether it is my own ideas or one I read in a science textbook. Not only has this class shown me directly that there is a vast, dark history behind the science advancements I learn about, it made me aware that I should be seeking the evidence behind these facts as it may help uncovering more of this history as well. As I look further into how an advancement in science or the medical field came about, I could discover on my own the root of the progress and whether or not it is a part of the dark history this course has shown me. This course has taught me how to actively uncover more of the history presented to me in texts like Medical Apartheid and Home on my own, and this has become the core of my growth as a student.

Throughout my studies, I could have been performing deeper analyses all along. A part of me is upset by this, knowing that the majority of my schooling has been presented to me in a sugar-coated way, speaking of only the great advances in science without the negative backstory ever surfacing. Although I may be angered, I cannot rewind the clock, so I will strive to do better in the future. I hope to take this eye-opening experience and practice it onward, noticing the truth behind the facts and read between the lines of my science textbooks. If I enter the medical field or teach of it in the future, I aspire to “practice what I preach”, and be honest about the history that precedes the medical and scientific knowledge we have today. This semester, and specifically this course, has helped shape me as a person and as a student with how I approach the scientific material I learn about.

Consent in the Decision Making Process: A Final Reflection

As a takeaway from this course, and in deep analysis of the literature, I am left with one vital reflection point that I will carry with me even as this course comes to its conclusion: How essential of a role should the different lenses of consent play in my own decision-making process for myself and others? 

Throughout the course of the semester I have gradually built upon and reflected on my already existing thoughts of this courses central theme of consent. In studying works such as Percival Everett’s “Zulus”, Octavia Butler’s “Clay’s Ark”, and Colson Whitehead’s “Zone One”, I was able to react to each of the authors takes on consent, communicated through the adversities faced by their main characters. Although the stories and each character might have been infinitely different at first glance, looking deeper, the works thematically shared the intention to inspire deep reflection on our society by carrying us through extreme scenarios of violation of consent in fabricated dystopian futures. Through the authors perspectives on consent within our society, they successfully created a plane of self-reflection and shock to their readers. In this plane, I was left questioning my own decision-process, and how each choice has consequences reaching far beyond myself. Thus, through their characters, the authors demanded a new level of self-awareness and change from their audiences, as to prevent any timeline similar to their own visions of a dystopian atrocity.

In analysis of each literary work, it became clear to me that the concept of consent should be an essential part of any decision-making process. In my eighth and ninth blog posts, both titled “The Power of a Decision: What motivates your choices?”, I was able to successfully unpack each of the authors’ goals in expression of their characters strife. Most notably in “Zulus” when Alice Achitophel and Kevin Peters decide just the two of them, to end all human life on earth. What gave them the right as only two people to make a decision for an entire planet? This question was applied again in “Clay’s Ark”, when Blake decided to escape the farm community, and as a consequence spread the “organism” thus threatening a world epidemic. In studying these drastic decisions, it invoked a conversation as to whether or not these acts where consensual or not. In my opinion, each of these decisions were an intense violation of consent as the characters failed to inform others or even consider other individual’s opinions on the matters at hand. Rather, in their positions of power, they made decisions that would affect numerous individuals without consulting any of them. Although these dystopian stories may seem entirely intangible, the ideas that they express are not entirely foreign to our own society. Whether in a position of power as a doctor, politician, professor, etc., these same ideologies that these authors share still apply. Consent by one for a decision that involves the lives of many is wrong. In conclusion, it is essential that when making decisions, we consider all perspectives and individuals involved, because if we don’t it is a violation of their consent. 

Bouncing off of the idea that we must consider the perspectives of all, we come across the chronic issue of viewing other opinions as more important than others. Racism, prejudice, and discrimination are atrocious elements that have plagued our society throughout history. Tapping into this pain and violation of individuals, the authors of each of these literary works expressed that the dehumanization of those who are perceived as different is an intense violation of that individuals or groups consent. Through characters such as Alice Achitophel, and Whitehead’s take on the “skels” as told through his character Mark Spitz, the reader is able to visualize this prejudice in a new light. For example, Alice Achitophel is consistently criticized based on her weight, and outcasted from society. As a consequence of this alienation, Alice fails to be sterilized like all other women, and as a result becomes pregnant. Following Alice through her journey to escape the city and reach a “rebel-base”, we are continuously exposed to the crude and inhumane treatment that Alice receives due to these differences. Whether being ridiculed and aggressively assessed by doctors, or having her entire body be put on display in a glass case, Alice is non-consensually violated throughout the course of the novel. Analyzing Everett’s purpose for Alice Achitophel, it became clear to me that she was a representation of how we treat those who are perceived as different in society. In this reflection, Everett’s message comes at a shock that makes you rethink how you view consent both physically and socially. Alice is both physically and socially abused by her peers. With this malice you are left asking: What gave them the right? And what decisions led up to Alice being treated the way she was? I began to explore these questions in my final blog post titled “The Concept of Consent Analyzed through the Female Character Alice Achitophel”. In questioning the novel, it became apparent that the real-life applications of Everett’s warnings are both tangible and shocking.

These applications are exceptionally evident in the medical field. In Harriet Washington’s “Medical Apartheid” she exposes multiple doctors who abused their power and status as physicians to non-consensually experiment on individuals who they viewed as less than. Whether African American prisoners, women, or etc., the nefarious actions of these doctors remained centralized on one excuse, they failed to acknowledge medical subjects as people worthy of receiving consent, or basic human rights in some drastic cases.  In my eighth blog post, I analyze the horrific studies of Dr. Albert M. Kligman, who performed experiments on the African American prisoners of Holmesburg prison as to gain better knowledge in the field of dermatology. Zoning in specifically on Dr. Kligman, it became clear that often individuals put in positions of power, abuse this power, using others to better themselves no matter what cost to those individuals being used. In this case it was Kligman’s patients and experimental subjects who were being used. In the end, what does this say about our society? Reflecting on the literature, it becomes even clearer that we need to change this pattern of oppressive and selfish behavior in all regards and walks of life.

Delving into another real-life application, we can look closely at the NYC African Burial Grounds, and how they most likely inspired Colson Whitehead in his process of writing “Zone One”. The setting of Whitehead’s novel takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting of lower-Manhattan, ironically also where the burial grounds are located. The novel is based around a zombie-apocalypse, the characters referring to the dead as “skels”. However, unique to all the other characters, Mark Spitz is able to personify the dead, giving them stories and identities. Rather than just viewing them as less than human, Spitz views the skels as worthy of respect and a story. As a reader you are left questioning how can we possibly connect this to a palpable real-life scenario? Rather than focusing on the fact that the skels are quite literally zombies, if you look at the perspective of the skels just being individuals who have been dehumanized, the bigger picture becomes much more apparent. Thus, Whitehead’s purpose for his work becomes clearer. In my sixth blog post, “The Injustice of Dehumanization of Those Who are Different – Told through the Lense of Colson Whitehead’s Zone One”, I came to the conclusion that Whitehead’s goal was to make us question our own perceptions of individuals. In this contemplation, I was able to come to the fact that all are worthy of identity and rights in both life and death; thus, this historical pattern of disregarding human-lives needs to come to an end. 

Circling back to decision-making, I was able to channel each of these authors works in order to improve my own thought process and reflect on the weight that consent should have on this process. Studying “Zulus” it became clear to me that we should all be more socially aware of our actions, as to prevent characters such as Alice Achitophel’s fate. In my tenth blog post, I state: “What gives someone the right to tell you that how you look and who you are is not okay?”. This question is carried from “Zulus” into “Zone One” as we reflect on Whitehead’s purpose to personify the skels, making a statement about how in history we have repeatedly given individuals no rights in death. This history is portrayed in the African Burial grounds of lower Manhattan, where the bodies of numerous African Americans were found completely unidentified with unmarked graves; thus, given no voice in life or death. A nonconsensual act that reaches far beyond just communication. This type of violation is again portrayed in “Clay’s Ark” when Blake shows zero regard for the consequences of his own actions, allowing the spread of a deadly alien organism worldwide, just so he could do what he desired as a single individual. All of these actions began with a decision. A decision that lacked inclusion of different perspectives, or regard for the lives of others. Whether deciding to end all human life as only two people (Alice Achitophel and Kevin Peters), potentially spreading a deadly organism (Blake), or viewing those who are dead as less than human (characters of “Zone One”), the violation remains the same: those who were not included in a decision but are deeply affected by it are robbed of consent at all angles.  

So, in final reflection, for myself, and for the readers, I ask: How will you change your decision-making process after studying the messages of Everett, Whitehead, and Butler? And how can we improve our society by establishing that all are worthy of a voice and value in decisions that affect them?

outside the [box]

I chose to take this course because of the positive experience I had last fall working with Dr. McCoy in English 203. I experienced a lot of growth during my time in that course, particularly because it was my first semester in college; in fact, it was the very first college class I ever walked into on my first day here. Something I recalled about working with Dr. McCoy in the past was the emphasis she put on practice, and how important it was to keep progressing throughout the semester. I was excited to take this course because although I knew that the subject matter would be difficult, I also knew I would learn a lot and expand my mind as a thinker and as a reader. Not only exposing myself to literature that discusses things such as the complexities of race, but also literature that takes more than a first read to process and understand was a good way for me to recognize that growth was necessary as a student of English here at Geneseo. I just didn’t know how much. 

Reflecting on the course epigraph reminds me of something Dr. McCoy discussed with us in class, and that is her goal for the semester: that she become irrelevant by the end and that we be able to function on our own as a class and as a group of thinkers. Throughout the semester, our conversations about the literature we have been reading and its real-world applications have become more natural, and we have become more comfortable digesting it, working with it, and sharing our interpretations of it. Although at first there was a lot of silence in the conversations, I found that as other students began taking up more space, so did I.  I also have felt inspired by my classmates and the wisdom that their experiences and perspectives add to the way in which they understand the course material. This class has really allowed me to become a more open thinker and receive other interpretations and ideas more willingly. 

 I have often felt in the past that my place in these discussions was to take a backseat. Especially coming from a conservative, small-town high school, where my opinions were often not well received. I was afraid to say something wrong, or to even say anything at all. Something that I have learned about myself over the course of the semester is that I am completely capable of participating in these conversations. The literature we dealt with in this course was complex, and not simple to understand or unpack. At the beginning of the semester, I struggled to feel comfortable sharing my ideas with the class or with my group during discussions. However, as the semester progressed, I felt the course began equipping me with the tools I needed to have these conversations. With practice, things that once scared me came naturally. When I began participating more, I started to understand the importance of participating while these conversations were going on. I was receiving feedback, I was expanding my perspective, and most importantly, I was helping other thinkers in the room to develop their thoughts, too. The more I shared during class discussion, the more I felt I grew and learned, both as a student and as a person. 

Although this class definitely made me a better listener, it also gave me more confidence in sharing my own ideas, even (or especially) if they felt a bit outside the box. I felt myself becoming less afraid to say things even if I was unsure if they were strange interpretations of the text, and I felt myself becoming more comfortable with helping classmates formulate their understandings as well. Being comfortable with sharing opinions and interpretations is something that has been challenging for me, and I have felt myself get much better at it because of this class and the difficult texts we have been working with. This is a skill that I will carry into my other classes in my time here at Geneseo and ultimately into my life outside of college and academia. In fact, I have already noticed the ways in which this skill has helped me to feel comfortable participating in my Women’s and Gender Studies 310 class this semester, which has dealt with similar conversations and subjects. I found my disciplines overlapping in a very rewarding way within the work that I was doing in these two courses this semester.

I also learned an important lesson during the process of crafting one of my blog posts. I misunderstood a passage in one of the texts, Medical Apartheid, and ended up writing a blog post that unintentionally argued an untrue point which perpetuated harmful, untrue ideas. This misstep allowed me to realize the power that my words had, particularly on a public blog forum. It was a real world application of the conversations we had been having in class, and it showed me just how important it was for me, a privileged person, to work carefully with texts about these subjects. It reminded me to make sure that I was fact-checking and reading these texts carefully rather than utilizing parts that I thought I understood without fully dissecting the surrounding context that was a bit more unclear and confusing to me at first read. This allowed me to notice something about myself as a reader, and although it is unfortunate that this is how it occurred, I learned just how easy it can be to unintentionally perpetuate harmful things about minority groups and just how important it is to be cautious when having these conversations. I had absolutely no intentions of doing so, which was an important reminder and wake up call that even unintentional missteps can perpetuate harmful stereotypes without even knowing that they are doing so. 

This is an important lesson that I am grateful to the course and to Dr. McCoy for teaching me. Public blogging is no different than social media in that it is accessible to future employers and is something you can be held accountable for for the rest of your life.  It is preached, particularly to my generation, that maintaining a clean reputation on the internet is incredibly important because it is something that can always be traced back to you even if you try to get rid of it. However, often in academic circles, this is something that isn’t even considered or discussed. The time that Dr. McCoy took to carefully explain the implications of public writing is something I am grateful for, and her careful attention to the blog allowed for me to be protected and correct my mistake.

Some of the characters in the literature we read for this course go through a process of growth and taking control of their circumstances, too. Many of the novels that we have read throughout the semester have themes of challenging circumstances pushing characters to transform and grow. This is something that hit particularly close to home for me this semester. I struggled this semester to manage the challenges of my personal life with succeeding academically. However, I feel that I was able to persevere and do as much as I can to both prioritize self-care and be there for the people who needed me at home while still putting time into my schoolwork. 

Although this semester challenged me personally in many ways, I am grateful for the ways that it challenged me academically. Although my physical presence in class was not as consistent as I would have liked it to have been throughout the semester, I tried as much as I could to prioritize my mental health while showing up for myself academically. Over the course of the semester, I found it easier to show up for myself, and to share my thoughts and ideas as we progressed through the texts and conversations that came along with them. I wish, in hindsight, that I had been able to be more physically present, because that is where the important work of this course is done. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the growth that I have experienced during this semester.


The course epigraph is as follows, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice,” a quote by Dionne Brand. As someone who grew up in an area that by some would be considered “ghetto”, a place that is a lot less fortunate then some, I’m always aware. I notice small things more than the big picture. I notice when someone cuts their hair a few inches or a difference in attitude and body language. Though, in this class, I lacked my noticing skills, and genuinely struggled on noticing things. Not only with noticing, I struggled with creating ideas of my own and being descriptive and thorough.

Going back to when I first visited Geneseo, I was oddly skeptical. The environment just felt different to me as I was completely unaware of my surroundings again, on this 3-college visits in a 2-day trip. When I stepped into Doty Hall and was greeted by the tour group leaders, and a few other secretaries, etc., it felt …right. I was nervous to come here, that’s for sure. I am a first-generation college student and was scared for what my future held for me. The atmosphere at Geneseo is overwhelmingly positive and offers a variety of opportunities and access to what I may need to succeed. Looking back at my first semester I would say that college is just …hard. Though hard is a simple word that to me carries a significant meaning. I can recall times in the past semester where I had almost given up and frequently said, “This class is too hard,” and “I don’t get this, it’s too hard”. I did struggle here, that I will admit. 3 months seems like a short amount of time but, there has been exceptional growth for me. Not only as a writer, but also as a person. This English 101, “Literature, Medicine, and Racism” course Dr McCoy teaches has exposed me to a world I have never seen. I have learned the different struggles and battles different kinds of people have had to go through for succession.  

In a few short sentences the book Clay’s Ark is about a disease, a deadly parasite to be exact. It is trying to occupy and take over the population. Eli, the first one infected by the parasite, is being compelled to infect others when he returns from his space travel. Blake and his two daughters, Rane and Keira are all eventually infected and try to escape. A moment that stands out to me is, “It occurred to her as she headed for the steep incline that she could be killed. The thought did not slow her. Either way, the stick people would not tie her down again.” (pg. 539) I interpret this as not being afraid. Not being afraid to die, or in my case fail, because she would not allow the stick people to tie her down, and for me to now allow my thoughts to bring me down either. I am a person who often will beat themselves down with words. As I’ve learned, there’s a lot more meaning, and that is why I’m affected by them so much. Words are special and can make someone happy, sad, or even angry. I learned the power behind them in a discussion we had in class regarding Fortune’s Bones. In class, we discussed the African Burial Ground, and those who were buried are left nameless as their bodies are too far gone to be identified. For obvious ethical reasons, this affected me emotionally. Their name is their identity. Their name is what defines them. To not have that, leaves them almost as nothing though they are still people. I often wondered, how did this even begin? Had they consented?

Consent is a broad topic that has encased our class. We have spoken countless times about consent and the different areas that surround it. Prior to this class, I was unaware of the different meanings behind it, and how influential that word is. Looking back at another book we have read, Medical Apartheid, there are times in history, that are often never taught, were African Americans are treated horrendously and are not given the chance to consent. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study had promised, “free medical care to about six hundred sick, desperately poor sharecroppers…” (pg. 157) Though, that never happened. Rather than being treated, all the men were studied, “found a pool of infected black men, [held] treatment from them, and then charting the progression of symptoms and disorders” (Pg. 157). This study left me astonished as I had never heard about it prior to reading Medical Apartheid. Unfortunately, I feel schools lack in exposure to topics that may be hard to listen to and understand. But, it is all important and valuable knowledge to those it effects, and those it doesn’t.

As I end this class, I notice how I’ve grown. I notice how more efficiently I try and understand concepts and ideas about others’ through means of communication. I’m more aware. More aware of the impact my words have on others. I am powerful, in thought, in speech, and in my script.

Reflection on Emotional Distancing and its Effects in the Medical Field and the Literature

Throughout the semester, we have come to learn about a variety of injustices within our medical system. It is easy to appreciate the severity of these transgressions, but it is not as simple to understand what enabled these events to occur. Our course epigraph, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”—Dionne Brand, was brought to my attention during a collaborative blog post in this class. In the post, the term “these people” was used. This was not written with bad intentions, but when the historical use of this term to alienate and mistreat others was brought to our attention, I could not help but begin to notice instances in which the characters in the novels we read also used this label of “the other” to alienate people and allow some sort of injustice to occur. This act of labeling and separating others extends beyond the text and is one of the many factors that has allowed the medical injustices we have explored in this class to occur. Through noticing and reflecting upon this factor of separation, I was able to begin to make connections to how this could be avoided in my own future practice in order to provide the best patient care possible.

Continue reading “Reflection on Emotional Distancing and its Effects in the Medical Field and the Literature”

How I Learned to Notice: A Reflection

With our course epigraph which is  ““My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”–Dionne Brand, from notes that Beth during the question-and-answer session following Brand’s March 2, 2013 reading at the Northeast Modern Language Association in Toronto” (course syllabus), I wasn’t exactly sure where this class was going to go. To me, this was so broad and lead to an array of possibilities. What I noticed throughout the semester, however, was that it wasn’t as broad as I thought it to be. Instead, our course epigraph connected each piece of literature we read to each thing we discussed in class. With every new reading, when discussed during class we always found a way to connect it back to what we had previously read or talked about. This was, and still is a relatively new concept to me. This is the first class that I have taken that has come full circle in a meaningful way. Of course, we have our math, science and history classes that come around full circle but in all my years of education, I have never been more sure of a class sticking with me. 

The title of our class Medicine and Racism is what drove me to sign up for this class. I felt as though taking this class could truly teach me something that I had never learned before, and would not otherwise have known. To me, all English classes have always been the same. Read this book, answers these questions and write an essay, then get a grade and move to the next book. I have never taken anything truly new and enlightening, but this class offered me that opportunity. I learned about something new and when we moved on from reading one book, it wasn’t completely done because it always connected to another book, or while reading the books, we discussed things that I never would have picked up on that connected each book. 

With each new book we read, or each part of the book we read there was usually a corresponding chapter with our book Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington. Our fourth week in this class has an example of this that I remember vividly. We had just started reading Home by Toni Morrison and we were assigned three-six and also Medical Apartheid chapter two. I read that chapter of Medical Apartheid before I started our other reading for that day, for no specific reason other than Home was on the other side of my room and I was feeling particularly lazy. In this specific chapter of Medical Apartheid, Washington discussed the medical experiments that were done on African Americans. She discusses one doctor in particular, Dr. Thomas Hamilton, who performed experiments on African Americans. Hamilton did many experiments on a man named John Brown who was eventually able to run away to England (Washington, 54). Hamilton used Brown to experiment on. He bled him, gave him blisters and had him sit over hot coals until he could no longer take it (Washington, 53-54). 

Washington also goes on to talk about James Marion Sims who was discussed in the previous chapter. Sims is responsible for experimentation on African American women that eventually led to the gynecological instruments that we have today. He would perform experiments on women’s genitalia with them being unanesthetized, restrained and often without their consent (Washington, 2). Other physicians would help Sims by restraining these women until they could no longer bear the copious amounts of blood, and the agonizing cries of pain, after this it fell upon the other women to help Sims by restraining each other (Washington, 2). 

These two chapters made sense to read before Home. In Home, Cee, one of the main characters, goes to work for Dr. Beau in chapter four. First, she is interviewed by his wife Mrs. Scott, who explicitly says she isn’t exactly sure what her husband does, but he does experiments and makes inventions to help people (Morrison, 60). No one in that house, servants or wife, know exactly what he does only the fact that his other assistants quit. When interviewing her, Mrs. Scott was asking her some very odd questions such as; if she is married or has kids (Morrison, 59). Reading this made me wary of what kind of doctor he was and I pictured him to be someone like  Dr. Hamilton or Dr. Sims, doing experimental procedures on women. Later in the chapter, Cee begins to admire the doctor for his work on poor women and girls, which made me think directly of Dr. Sims and the experients (more like torture) he was doing on African American women. Reading the end of the chapter, there is an instance where Sarah and Cee are discussing the male and female gender of some melons. Sarah goes on then to say that the female melon is sweet and juicy, then goes on to slice it in two with “anticipation of the pleasure to come” (Morrison, 66). I read this as clear foreshadowing of what is to come, we find out later in the book that Dr. Beau was doing experiments on Cee and she was getting sick and suffering. 

Not only did this connect to the chapter of Medical Apartheid we had to read for class that day, but it also corresponded with what we had read previously. This also brought up the topic of consent and lack thereof in our books. Something I noticed in every book we read was the missing consent between characters and things happening to them. This also played into the notion of informed consent. In every book, or article we read there was missing consent or informed consent was not present. In Medical Apartheid, Washington defines informed consent as “…not a signed piece of paper, but rather the fluid and continuous process by which research informs the subject detail of what he or she proposes to do, why it is being proposed, and what possible consequences the experiment carries” (Washington, 55). None of this was available to John Brown when experiments were being done on him, or any of the females Dr. Sims was experimenting on, or Cee during her time with Dr. Beau. 

The topic of consent and informed consent was not anything taught to me or discussed in any other class I had taken. While it is something that we come across in my everyday life, it was never something that I noticed, paid much attention to or talked about. If it were not for our first few readings, I am not sure I would have picked up on that portion of the course. When truly thinking about, and discussing our readings the idea of consent was quite upfront. Throughout the semester, I realized that our course epigraph was not broad but it connected every class meeting, with every class reading, and every class assignment we did. I have learned to slow down when reading and when writing so I can truly engage with the material and notice more than I normally would.