Goal Setting Essay: The “Both/And” Between the Lines

The course epigraph states, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”

As Dr. McCoy mentioned the course epigraph in the beginning of the semester, these words have stuck with me throughout each class. My initial interpretation of the course epigraph is that it’s Beth’s job to recognize that we can both understand the core concepts of each document and make insightful connections between our life experiences and other themes present in the course documents. As I have taken numerous science related courses throughout my undergraduate experience, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and take an English course that would challenge me to think critically in a new light. Since this class discusses the interrelationship between medicine, racism, and literature, I believe that it has provided me a great segue into a topic that I’m somewhat unfamiliar with along with something that has great familiarity to me. As I’ve become more aware of the course, I now view the epigraph with more thought. Not only is it important to unpack and think, it is also important to listen to your peers’ thoughts and how that can influence your own thinkING and unpackING of the same concept.

I never would have thought that a single semi-colon had so much meaning behind it as I initially didn’t think much of it when reading it in my head. As Beth suggested us to read aloud the first sentence in the preface of The Manumission Requiem in Fortune’s Bones, the way that the sentence was delivered indicated the significance of Marilyn Nelson’s grammatical choice. As I was hearing my peers interpretations of the semicolon, it opened my eyes to different perspectives. My favorite interpretation of the semi-colon was that Fortune was born into death, meaning that the semicolon served as an arrow to the next word. Similarly to sharing our interpretations relating to Fortune’s Bones, Beth had asked us to share an idea of what appeared to be significant in “Home”, but could not interpret it with the given context. As we all come from different backgrounds and experiences, this exercise highlighted the similarities and differences among our thinking. It further reinforced that listening to other perspectives challenges me to think in an insightful way based on my own interpretation and experiences. Furthermore, it inspires me to cultivate new questions based on what my peers have said. 

Since “both/and” is one of the course’s life preservers, it’s important to recognize these situations while reading the course documents. In Medical Apartheid, Beth pointed out that it was important to both adress the harmful procedures and treatments done to African Americans by white doctors and consider that these practices occurred at a different time of life. In Chapter 2, it directly mentions that the “experimental abuse of African Americans was not a cultural anomaly; it simply mirrored in the medical area the economic, social, health abuses that the larger society perpetuated against people of color.” The same chapter begins with the story of how Dr. Thomas Hamilton obtained the possession of John Brown, an enslaved person. Brown’s master, Stevens, fell ill and was recommended to Dr. Thomas Hamilton. Hamilton restored him back to health and asked him if he could give him any favor. In exchange, Brown was now in the possession of Dr. Hamilton, to be experimented on, without a care in the world from Stevens. Brown was unaware and in fear of what would be done to him as the doctor’s interest was finding the best remedy for sun-stroke. The first experiments consisted of Brown sitting on a stool naked, in a pit that contained a fire in it, exceeding temperatures of 100 degrees. Brown fainted within a half an hour and was lifted out while the temperature was recorded. Hamilton gave him some nostrum as this ordeal was repeated for some time. After researching the definition of nostrum, I found out that nostrum is a form of medicine that is not effective and prepared by an unqualified person. After this, Hamilton subjected Brown to a new set of experiments that caused him to bleed everyday and would blister Brown at two week intervals. Like Brown, there were many people that experienced the same feelings of iatrophobia. The same example of both/and also applies to Home when Cee is being treated after Dr. Beauregard experimented on her. Chapter 13 explains the final stage of Cee’s healing to be sun-smacked, meaning that she would “spend at least one hour a day with her legs spread open to the blazing sun.”  In response to Cee’s uncomfortableness with the treatment, the ladies were unbothered that she would be exposing others to a private area. Furthermore, they justified their decision by stating that completing the last step would give Cee a permanent cure to womb sickness and a kind that is beyond human power. As these ladies did not receive any professional medical training, religion played a major role in the implementation of their practices. 

As the course progresses, I would like to continue to ask more questions and engage in the course documents more to immerse myself and truly get the most out of this course. In the past, I have read books without thinking about the significance behind the words. Therefore one of my goals is to continue to analyze the text in order to efficiently unpack the meaning between the lines. Furthermore, I wish to take more consideration into my peers’ thoughts. In some cases, I find myself acknowledging their interpretations without contributing my insights into the same conversation or theme. Although this may seem harmless, I can see this as being a possible bad faith practice as I am not contributing to the expansion of the scope of the question or theme discussed. Ultimately, I wish to improve on supplementing these conversations with my thoughts, to not only enable my growth as a student and individual but to also potentially facilitate the growth of my peers as students and individuals (if my insights allow it). By implementing the both/and mindset into my class discussions, this will allow for more understanding of difficult topics and readings for both me and my peers. Not only this, but acknowledging multiple points of view may make others feel more comfortable expressing their true thoughts. With more contribution to our discussions, it benefits my peers, myself, and Beth by allowing her to recognize that we can notice. In other words, the contributions made relate to the course epigraph, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.”

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