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.

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