Final Self-Reflection: The Strength of Noticing

Connor Canfield

Coming into this class as a first-semester senior I had my doubts as to what I would be able to gain from this course, knowing just how close I was to leaving Geneseo and being released into the real world. I walked in with a preconceived notion of what to expect and after spending some time with the material and looking over our course epigraph I knew I was destined to be wrong about my first impressions. “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice”. This quote from Dionne Brand shut up my senioritis and proved that I had much more to learn with my time left in Geneseo than I initially thought. After some time I began to notice how each of the pieces that we spent time with linked to each other, and how our thought process as a class seemed to flow seamlessly from one topic to the next, allowing us to form strong conclusions that not only taught us something about the course but also the larger world outside of Wells 119. For the first time in my time in Geneseo, I took the opportunity to step back, slow down, and truly notice what I was learning and why. I gave myself the chance to notice what my peers around me were writing and what ideas they were coming up with. Considering their ideas I was able to not only learn more from the connections I was making on my own allowing myself to notice that I was being noticed but also opened my eyes to a perspective I would have never known without listening and noticing them. I learned more from my peers, by taking the time to step back and notice than I have during many hours of studying for a test that I would have inevitably forgotten the answers to right after turning in my scantron. I think that is the true power of our course epigraph: the level of learning that you can get out of something really has to do with the level of noticing you allow yourself to do, for others and for yourself. 

While I believe that the majority of the learning that I gained from this course came from my peers and the ideas and questions that they proposed throughout our time in class, these questions and ideas stemmed from the various readings that we covered. Now looking back I can see how our course epigraph truly does find a way to link each of these pieces. The readings we looked at revolved around the idea of medicine and racism and how those issues have been portrayed in literature. I think that the pieces that we looked at did a great job of indirectly or directly looking at these issues, but also gave us the opportunity as a class to come up with our own findings and ideas about what we were reading. Rather than just looking something up in a textbook and memorizing it we were able to constructively take what we were learning between a number of texts and come up with an organic thought that we could apply to the world that we live in. We were able to notice not only what the text was trying to teach us, but we were also able to notice within each of our individual experiences different ways to apply what we were looking at that we couldn’t have gotten without the constructive format that this class took. This format is something that I wasn’t used to after a year of only being able to do school work through a screen.

Last year brought many hardships to us all and because of our distance from each other, I felt it was hard for me to stay connected to what I was learning. I believe after last year in which we lived in a world that was so separated and isolated that coming together like we were able to do in this class allowed us to get back to what really teaches us and I was able to connect with what I was learning again. The opportunity to listen and notice others’ thoughts was monumental to my success this semester. Hearing all of our different perspectives throughout this semester was incredibly refreshing after feeling so far away from the college community for so long. We were able to work together throughout all of this semester, constructing collaborative essays, having meaningful conversations with each other, and fostering a classroom community of a bunch of special individual stories really allowed me to be successful this semester, in this class but also in the rest of the classes I have been taking. I think that while we learned a lot about racism and the medical malpractices that have been committed throughout our history on African Americans we also were able to learn a great deal about the world that we live in now, and in a sense reintroduce ourselves to said world after a year of shutting ourselves off from it. We not only taught each other about the course and what we could take away from it, we also learned how to communicate and work together again which I think is possibly more helpful to me at this point in my life than what the course itself could have given me. The power to sit back and notice others, or notice what you are doing is being noticed by others is such a fundamental strength that this course has taught me for the classes I’ll be taking next semester but also all of the jobs that I will find myself in after this year. I think back to my expectations walking into class the first few weeks and the anxious ignorance that I found myself in, while I sit here now at the end of the semester feeling ready to take on the world, noticing as much as I can from here on out. 

Noticing the both/and

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

Throughout the course, I have continually noticed that the course epigraph is integrated within the material and ideas shared. When I first registered for this class, I was eager to strengthen my literary skills and learn about the interrelationship of science and racism. To my surprise, the class consisted of students enrolled in English 101 and English 439. Initially, I was a little apprehensive toward this classroom approach but through the multiple class discussions and collaborative essays, I believe that this approach maximized our academic and individual growth. As the 439 students have had more exposure to English courses than others may have enrolled in 101, our differences are what drove the class. Hearing different perspectives regarding the same concept is what nurtured our discussions and further promoted thinkING and unpackING as we shared ideas aloud. Moreover, the importance of unpackING and thinkING has been emphasized, making it apparent that it is truly beneficial to share our ideas aloud through class and group discussions. As we all come from different majors and backgrounds, each person’s input is valuable as this provides an opportunity for our own growth and our peers’ growth to expand. This also ties back into the course epigraph where not only we can see each other noticing but that Beth and Kya can notice that we notice. 

From previous sciences courses, I have already learned that exploitation is not an uncommon theme within the field of science. Some of the most famous examples include Rosalind Franklin and Henrietta Lacks. Around the mid 1950s, the structure of DNA was a major topic of interest as scientists were racing to make a huge breakthrough. Through rigorous research, Rosalind Franklin discovered that the DNA structure consisted of a double helix. Scientists, James Watson and Francis Crick, took this work and gave credit to themselves for this discovery. At the time, women were not taken seriously in the field of science and so Franklin did not receive any credit for her contributions. To be even more infuriating, Watson and Crick received the Nobel Prize in 1962 for discovering the structure of DNA. In addition to Franklin, a Black woman named Henrietta Lacks was also taken advantage of for the greater good of science. Without her knowledge, some of her cancerous cells were taken and used for further research as her cells kept dividing, in comparison to other cancerous cells that died quickly. Her cells were used to form the HeLa cell line, which are still widely used nowadays for medical research. In Medical Apartheid, Washington continues to address the injustice and manipulation within the field of science and medicine that has been imposed on to African Americans. The novel reveals that an African American man named Williams had shared his medical experimentation experience within the Holmesburg Prison system at a showing of Acres of Skin. He explains to the audience that he endured radiation burns, sulfuric acid burns, cuts to his armpit to study the glands, and even rubbed acid on his scrotum until the skin fell away. He said that the purpose of these research experiments were never discussed nor did the experimentees have a receipt for anything they signed (Washington, 245). His story and many others within Medical Apartheid reinforce the both/and situation of both addressing the harmful procedures and treatments done to African Americans by white doctors and consider that these practices occurred at a different time of life. Despite the exposure to these stories, there are unfortunately many untold stories of the malpractices within the field of science. Reading Medical Apartheid opened my eyes to the severity and magnitude of injustice that has been inflicted and noticing that there is more than just the tip of the iceberg.                                                                                                                                                      

In my goal setting essay, I mentioned I wanted to continue to recognize the both/and situations within the course novels as the semester progressed. While reading and discussing Clay’s Ark, Kya asked the class if Jacob rescuing Keira was in good faith or bad faith. I initially thought that his actions were in good faith since he risked his life to rescue Keira. Jacob specifically mentions that he didn’t tell his parents about coming to the car people’s house, indicating that he had every good intention to rescue her (Butler, 211). However, diving deeper into the text, we learn that Jacob’s actions were in bad faith, despite his good intentions. By rescuing Keira, this ultimately led to Blake infecting a truck driver and initiating the spread of the infection across the nation. Blake describes his encounter with the truck driver before infection by saying that he couldn’t help it and that he tore at him like an animal(Butler, 217). From this, one of the main both/and situations that I noticed was recognizing that good faith practices can both be beneficial and also unintentionally harmful. This ties back into my participation effort that I mentioned in my goal setting essay. Lacking to contribute to class and group discussions can ultimately be detrimental and in bad faith as this limits the growth of my peers and myself. To avoid hindering my peers’ and my own thinkING, I began to contribute more in both scenarios. One experience that highlighted the benefits of sharing aloud and unpackING among each other was when we were discussing Clay’s Ark. Beth asked us to analyze how our perceptions of the characters had changed since the beginning of the book. As I shared my ideas within the group discussion, I noticed that many others began to build off of my discussion. This further prompted me to supplement my peers’ thoughts and opinions with my own interpretations of how I saw a specific character develop. By thinkING and unpackING together as a group, this created a safe space to have meaningful conversations that contributed to our peers’ growth and our individual growth.

My quick assumption of thinking that Jacob’s action had been in good faith had also reinforced that I should slow down even more when reading. Even through the middle of the semester, I still had not acted upon this goal that I established in the beginning of the semester. As we read Zulus, this was my goal to slow down on reading to facilitate the understanding process. Since the novel contained many unfamiliar words, I felt somewhat lost with interpreting the text accurately. Despite this, I was reassured that Everett’s novel was more challenging than previous texts as we spent time in class researching unfamiliar words. With this in mind, I continued to read Zulus more attentively. From this, I was able to recognize my own both/and situation. It is important to both recognize the harmful impacts of internalization and also realize how easy it is to lose your identity when you are reduced to one thing. Alice Achitophel is continuously described as “the fat woman” (22). Throughout the entire book, she is constantly used by the people that she encounters: Lucinda, Theodore, and Geraldine. Due to her body size, many people have reduced her to being fat. In particular, Body-woman Rima said to Alice, “you’re a stupid woman and probably a slut… and let you know how much of a thing you are” (Everett 106). Instead of referring to Alice by her name, she’s reduced to her physical appearance, contributing to her low self esteem and reducing her humanity as she’s referred to as an inanimate object. This further reinforces that Alice’s identity is lost because she now views herself as fat/worthless and doesn’t see herself in a positive light. Even after Alice’s rebirth, we continue to see that she still struggles with her self-worth as others continue to take advantage of her, despite the change in physical appearance. As I reflect on the course as a whole, I see how this both/and situation applies to us. If we as students were reduced to students enrolled in English 101 or 439, this would inevitably suggest a hierarchy and a sense of superiority/inferiority. However, with the environment that Beth and Kya created throughout the semester, the course number did not define our capabilities in contributing to thinkING, unpackING, and learnING. This ultimately stressed the negative impacts of what reducing oneself to one thing can cause.

Referring to the GLOBE’s insistence that Geneseo students should gain practice in the ability to “reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time”, I think this aligns with the course epigraph well. With a huge emphasis on thinkING and unpackING the course documents and central course concepts, this enables us to learn more effectively than from straight memorization of the content described in the course documents. Similar to other classes, memorizing a bunch of information is not a reliable way to learn as this information will be forgotten in a short period of time. Rather it’s important to understand the how/why and the application of this information. As the semester comes to an end, I’ve realized that my ability to notice has greatly improved since the beginning of the semester. By becoming more aware of the long history of abuse of African Americans within the medical field, this will be something that I keep in mind as I prepare for a career in scientific research. Being more aware of the ethics and morality of research is very important as this topic is still something that is often discussed. Overall, I truly value the experience and lessons that this course has given and taught me. Not only did I become more comfortable with writing and reading, I also became more comfortable with contributing to discussions and listening to my peers, ultimately enabling me to notice and to notice that others are noticing as well.

Significance of NoticING and its Inherent Benefits

The course epigraph— My job is to notice… and notice that you can notice— has become so ingrained into my understanding of how American Ways: Literature, Medicine, and Racism connects itself. There have been so many different opportunities that demonstrate what it means to be noticING from the beginning of this course and continuously into the future. In my goal setting essay, The Process of NoticING and ThinkING, I stated that it was my goal to create a “proper process of noticING and thinkING, and take what I unpack with those processes and apply it to my understanding of the course themes: literature, medicine, and racism.” Furthering this, I also contended that my ability to think and notice is critical for stimulating legitimate discussions with peers. Reflecting on this goal, it has been proven that having a process, being actively engaged with works, and continually circling back to previous experiences creates a greater opportunity for noticING critical themes and ideas. 

One of the major components of our class is the collaborative nature structuring the work throughout the semester. Historically, for myself, I have usually dreaded doing group projects because they can easily become overwhelming in the effort of figuring out how we’ll meet outside class time, figuring out who does what part, etc. Group work had been “You do this part, I’ll do this part, they’ll do this part,” and that was it; really it was separate assignments just stapled together and labeled “group” work. What became relieving is that Dr. McCoy’s collaborative assignments are constructed to foster discussion and unpack course texts. In my previous experience with group work, this stage was non-existent and I believe that is where group work fails.

However, with the collaborative projects in Literature, Medicine, and Racism the emphasis on peer collaboration proved to be significant and rewarding. Within the first collaborative essay that we worked on, my peers and I used what we pulled from course texts including Home, Fortune’s Bones, and Medical Apartheid. Through unpacking and starting to interpret the evidence we as a group had brought into the discussion, it was clear just how important it was that I had attempted to use a thorough process with these texts. By closely reading and picking out what appeared to be significant passages and moments within the text, then revisiting them again after unpacking in a class discussion, allowed not only for my understanding but also for active engagement with my group. One example of the benefit this had was when we had that moment in which our discussions—which resulted in what seemed like so many pages of just notes and brainstorming—clicked and one of the group members just said out loud what would be our throughline. In our essay, The Power of Identity and Imagination, our throughline reads “the act of stripping one’s name, and therefore reimagining their identity as an individual, which makes it easier to ignore the consequences of treating African American individuals as objects rather than humans.” Reflecting on our process, I think that we were able to get to this conclusion after a group member brought us to “Kyrie of the Bones” in the requiem Fortune’s Bones. Within the first stanza of the poem, “I called him Larry. It was easier to face him with an imaginary name” (Nelson 21), a group member offered their connection to Medical Apartheid and the chapter that discusses a professor’s use of cadavers in their classroom claiming that students couldn’t learn just by watching the professor. This was his attempt to justify stealing Black bodies and using them without consent. Now that we had brought together all of our textual examples of imagination and naming, we had the breakthrough which led us to our connection. 

Synthesizing and noticing themes and elements of the course texts proved to be so significant in our classroom discussions, and in turn our real world ones as well. In the last collaboration effort in the course, our group had the entire course content to think about and connect to the work of William Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen From Here to Equality. What became so apparent is that the ways we were thinking and what we were noticing from early on were still A) evident in what we read and unpacked in the later half of the semester and B) still fresh in our minds. For example, we ventured all the way back to Toni Morrison’s Home from Module 3 and discussed the implications of reducing the character Cee to just someone who needs Frank in order to live her own life. We synthesized that by reducing Cee to this one quality or aspect, her autonomy and her identity become seemingly absent as this leads to harm and having herself walked over by others. We ultimately decided after our periods of discussion to focus more on Zone One, Clay’s Ark, and Zulus in crafting and synthesizing our connection to the effects of limiting a person’s capabilities. 

Reflecting on the course epigraph, through both the peer discussions and my own process of thinkING and noticING I feel that I am leaving this course with a better understanding of racialized harm and some of the ways that has been implemented in the United States. Two of the most prominent themes that I will continually use and explore are Identity and Care, specifically how the two work together. Circling back, the removal of a person’s identity demonstrates the implicit ignorance of care and certain moments in the course have been catalysts for provoking my thoughts and understandings of this. One of the most memorable times I have with Dr. McCoy in  Literature, Medicine, and Racism is when we spent a large amount of time analyzing the “Fortune was born; he died,” (Nelson 13). Those five words and the semi colon were given so much focus and attention, but what came out of that were sprouting ideas of thinkING about identity and care. Feeding this idea forward in the course, another notable moment was in the class discussion regarding the literature references within Home, featured in Dr. Beau’s office in which we (readers) noticed Cee did not notice what the books were referencing. Discussing what it meant for Cee and the novel when we noticed the eugenics references and  the fairy tale references proved to deepen both the connection to the importance of literally noticing things and also the implicit harm in not noticing. 

Literature, Medicine, and Racism has helped me in several different ways relating to my career as an English major. However, the most important aspect I am leaving this class with is the knowledge and ability of how to think about and notice things in a way where I can engage in discussions outside of classrooms. My noticing, as well as my peers’ noticing, has been so instrumental in connecting the inherent danger of eliminating Fortune’s identity to “Larry” to create ease of memory of the racialized harm brought on to him; the implicit harm in making decisions and taking action in the name of others like Frank does with Cee, as well as in Clay’s Ark where saving someone from captivity ultimately led to their death. While the time in Dr. McCoy’s Literature, Medicine, and Racism course has come to an end, I know that like the course content there is always continual looping and feedback needed. Now that I feel I have a process of noticING and thinkING, what it both means to notice (or not), and how noticING leads to greater understanding and application of unpacked content, I can carry this forward into my last semester at Geneseo and hopefully outside this community and into other aspects of my own life as well. 

Final Self Reflective Essay: What I have Noticed

Quentin Wall

We began the semester by noticing as much as we could through a variety of lenses; science, medicine, law, racism, fiction writing, poetry, and scholarly essays made up the works that we as a class engaged with. While we worked through the semester the course epigraph and its meaning when applied to our studies became more clear. The course epigraph is this: “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice”. I feel strongly that this epigraph can be applied to any piece of art. It is the artist’s job to interpret the world they see and present it to us so we can understand. When applying the epigraph to the work we have done this semester, my interpretation of it would be that writers notice the world around them and trust that the readers of their work will notice how the world within the writing interacts with the real world. All of the works we’ve read this semester have engaged with racism and gender in some shape or form. Since I am in the position of the reader, it is my job to notice how the author relates the world of their story to the real world. Through my own personal reading and reflecting on the literature as well as the knowledge I gleaned from conversations with my peers I would say my understanding of race and gender has improved, yes, but my ability to perceive both is where I have seen the most growth. With that in mind, my personal growth this semester can be phrased rather simply; without good faith engagement with the course and its materials I would not be able to notice the things I now notice.

The 2021 fall semester has been one rife with new and unforeseen challenges. Coming back from a global pandemic into a semester saturated with uncertainty posed unique challenges to me as a student. Because of these challenges however, the growth I’ve made in and because of this course has been meaningful. Zulus by Percival Everett for example, is a book I would have had considerable trouble understanding on my own. The course’s requirement for active thinking and engagement with my peers and their thoughts on the book led me to a whole new level of understanding. In Zulus, while Alice and company are making their journey away from the city they come across a great scar in the land caused by the war. Upon first reading this my understanding was that this landmark represented the damage war can cause on the earth and its inhabitants. While this interpretation is not necessarily wrong and I was not wrong to make it, it is still a shallow understanding of what Percival Everett was attempting to convey. It was only through our in class discussions that I was able to peel back the layers of symbolism and reach a new understanding. The gash in the land was the result of war, yes, but the deeper and more applicable understanding of the red mud gorge was in fact about the female body and its autonomy. To simply state that I would not have noticed that on my own would not give due credit to the level of thinking and collaboration involved in reaching that conclusion. It was only through working with Professor McCoy and my peers that this understanding was reached. Zulus is just one example in a semester full of new ideas and concepts that were originally foreign to me. 

In this course there was a great deal of attention given to the idea of “good faith”. In the first few weeks of the semester this seemed to be a simple concept to me, essentially translating to “do the work and do it well”. I would not say that my original interpretation of good faith is wrong. Rather, I would contend that it was not a deep enough reflection of what was being asked of me. If my job is “to notice.. And to notice that others can notice” then simply doing to work is not enough. It took time, but good faith slowly became more and more important to me as I contributed throughout the semester. My understanding now is not as shallow as it once was. Good faith does not mean doing the work, it does not mean completing what is expected of me. Good faith is putting forth the best effort I can muster. Some days that means going to class and gushing about all the cool things I found in the reading. Some days it means listening thoughtfully to my classmates and letting my own thoughts take the backseat. On days where I cannot seem to find any motivation or any reason to contribute, good faith means coming to class and doing my utmost to find the motivation.

Whether it be from my classmates, Professor McCoy, or myself. Nowhere along the path of this semester was I working solely with my own ideas. I was guided through by my peers. The work I’ve done would not have been what it was without them. If my job in this course has been to notice, and to notice that others can notice, then there is no more appropriate example of this than the group work we have done this semester. Working in a group is not an easy thing. Anyone who says otherwise most likely has not worked in groups enough. It is a tough and complicated process. I cannot count the times I’ve wanted to break away and just write what I want to write in our collaborative essays. Regardless of how I felt at the time, doing so would have been a mistake. I myself for instance am not someone with a comprehensive background in medicine or science, yet those are two lenses that we examined the literature frequently. But, I was able to listen, learn, and make good faith contributions to our class because of what my peers noticed and taught me. The action of noticing my peers and their insights led me to a rich understanding of the literature. An understanding that would have been impossible on my own. Through them I learn, and it is my hope that they would say the same of me.

Noticing, Caring, and Understanding

To begin, I would like to start this essay by emphasizing the significance of the epigraph, “my job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice”, that we related back to throughout the course of this semester. I believe that this statement has been of importance to not just the work, readings, and writings for this class, but even more so for our classroom community. Nevertheless, turning back to the epigraph always made me stop to think and realize what the goals of this course were, what they were trying to teach me and what I have learned throughout it.

With the unpredictability of this semester, I think this course epigraph was just as important for the students’ life both in and out of the classroom, as it was for the understanding of the content presented to us within the class. To start, from my perspective, there were a lot of unexpected ups and downs throughout the semester. I believe that the attendance to this class was very important, as most of our work was done in class, and I tried my hardest to make as many as possible. However, with the many factors like injuries, sicknesses, and team events, it prevented me from having the opportunity to fully be involved within the course. 

Moreover, with the insight of the course epigraph, and focus on care in the structure of the class, it provided me with the best experience I could have had considering my circumstances. I believe several people shared similar experiences, and also appreciated the amount of care, and the ability to notice these struggles throughout the year. The fact that Professor McCoy was able to notice and care for her students how she did, and how the students were also able to notice her care and make up for it in multiple ways, was something that really astonished me throughout the semester. Never have I had a professor or teacher care and take the time to notice and much as Professor McCoy, and relating back to the course epigraph, I think the students were really able to realize and notice her efforts to accommodate us. In the end, I feel like although initially some decisions may have felt like they impacted the quality of our time in class negatively, I think that taking the effort to step back and notice the situations of some students ended up being of beneficence to our classroom community as a whole. Many of these decisions, I believe, actually made us students work much more effectively and intuitively, compared to if we were rushed or forced to complete assignments through difficult times, or periods of illness.

To continue, going back to noticing the actual content of the course, one idea that has really stood out to me and really stuck with me was Heng’s definition of racism, “In the attempt to suggest how we might rethink the past, I should therefore begin with a modest, stripped-down working hypothesis: that “race” is one of the primary names we have – a name we retain for the strategic, epistemological, and political commitments it recognizes – attached to a repeating tendency, of the gravest import, to demarcate human beings through differences among humans that are selectively essentialized as absolute and fundamental, in order to distribute positions and powers differentially to human groups. Race-making thus operates as specific historical occasions in which strategic essentialisms are posited and assigned through a variety of practices and pressures, so as to construct a hierarchy of peoples for differential treatment. My understanding, thus, is that race is a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences, rather than a substantive ​content”. This definition brought light to me on the fact that race is a built in social construct, that basically just systematically separates individuals of different backgrounds. Throughout almost all of the readings I was able to notice how this definition was significant to my understanding of the racism present within them. I noticed I was able to relate back to it as I read, and it became one of my main focal points to connect back to within group discussions.  With that being said, I think our group collaborations enhanced our ability to really comprehend the content provided to us within our readings and elaborate on the true meaning of these stories. In all, I feel that this course, the epigraph, the content,  and the ability to notice and care throughout the semester greatly strengthened my overall understanding of others, along with several other students in the class.

Marissa Volk, McCoy- ENGL 101

Final Essay: What We Can Improve by Noticing

The epigraph for our course comes from Dionne Brand, she states that “ My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice. According to, to notice is ‘ ‘ to pay attention to or take notice of” and “ to percieve; become aware of” ( In an essay I wrote earlier this semester I reflected on how once we work to notice things we were previously unaware of, we become not only better scholars in the classroom but better human beings for everyday life. The most significant thing we have noticed and become aware of as a class this semester has been the very long and extremely unfortunate history of abuse towards African Americans by the medical industry. This has been made easier to notice due to the fact that the course epigraph forms a through-line for the literature and ideas we’ve engaged this semester. One of the works of literature we have studied this semester, Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington goes in-depth into this part of American medical history and the author gives her readers a very thorough understanding of the abuses suffered by African Americans during this period. Once we are able to notice and understand these abuses, we will be able to understand why African Americans are hesitant to get the covid-19 vaccine as well as why the need for reparations is much larger than one singular event. 

Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington does an amazing job chronicling the history of abuse towards African Americans by the medical industry. The book is filled with countless examples of the horrors African Americans endured during this time period. Many of these examples are centered around James Marion Sims. Sims is an important figure in the history of abuse towards African Americans by the medical industry due to the fact that “he so well embodies the dual face of American medicine to which racial health disparities owe so much” (Washington,61). While it is true that Sims did great work in the cause for women’s health, he did so by conducting “years of nightmarishly painful and degrading experiments, without anesthesia or consent, on a group of slave women” (Washington,61). One example of Sims’ nightmarish experiments involved an innocent black infant, “He took a sick baby from its mother, made incisions in its scalp, then wielded a cobbler’s tool to pry the skull bones into new positions” (Washington,62). There are many more examples of these horrifying experiments conducted by Sims which sound more like crimes against humanity rather than legitimate medical research. Unfortunately, James Marion Sims was far from the only person carrying out these bloodcurdling types of experiments on innocent African Americans at this time. 

Some more examples of these horrendous experiments were found in the records of Dr. Walter F. Jones. These records detail how in one of his experiments Jones poured “boiling water on naked enslaved typhoid pneumonia patients at four-hour intervals” (Washington,60). He described one of these shocking experiments as follows, “The patient was placed on the floor on his face and about five gallons of water at a temperature so near the boiling point as to barely allow immersion of the hand, was thrown immediately on the spinal column, which seemed to arouse his sensibilities somewhat, as shown by an effort to cry out” (Washington,61). Tragically, nothing was gained from this awful experiment as Jones offered an absolutely terrible rationale for conducting them. He stated that “it worked somehow by “re establishing the capillary circulation”” (Washington,61). 

By working to notice and become aware of events such as these despite how awful they are will help us become better scholars as well as human beings. This has become especially crucial considering the recent rise of covid-19 cases due to the omicron variant. Horror stories of the medical industry towards African Americans have spread via word of mouth for centuries. This has unsurprisingly created a massive level of distrust towards the medical industry amongst African Americans. This distrust can help to explain why African Americans have been so hesitant to receive the covid-19 vaccine.  According to, “ CDC reported that race/ethnicity was known for 59% of people who had received at least one dose of the vaccine, among this group, nearly two thirds were white (60%), 10% were black” ( By working to notice as to why African Americans distrust the medical industry, we can work together to help build up this trust, get the nation’s vaccination rate up, and hopefully be able to move past this pandemic. 

By working together to notice these events previously unknown to most of the population, we can begin to realize that the need for reparation goes far beyond one singular event in American history. Most people view reparations as a solution to only slavery and do not take into account all of the other abuses African Americans have suffered throughout history. The events documented by Harriet A. Washington in Medical Apartheid don’t even begin to scratch the surface of abuses suffered by African Americans outside of slavery. If we are able to work together as a society to become aware of these abuses, hopefully we will be able to better understand the need for reparations and not be so hesitant to distribute them. It is also very important for us as students to work to notice these events due to GLOBE’s insistence that Geneseo students gain practice in the ability to “reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time”.  The epigraph for our course comes from Dionne Brand, she states that “ My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice. The most significant thing we have noticed and become aware of as a class this semester has been the very long and extremely unfortunate history of abuse towards African Americans by the medical industry. This has been made easier to notice due to the through-line formed by the course epigraph for the literature and ideas we have engaged this semester as a class. One piece of literature that we have studied this semester as a class, Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington documents this history of abuse by the medical industry towards African Americans in great depth. Examples of horrific experiments carried out by James Marion Sims, Dr. Walter F. Jones, and many others towards innocent African Americans. Events such as these help to explain why there is so much distrust towards the medical industry felt by African Americans to this day. I believe that once we work to notice events like these previously unknown to us, we can move forward as a society by both improving our nationwide covid-19 vaccination rate as well as finally distributing reparations to those affected by these tragic events.

Noticing Myself

As a writer “my job is to notice” the work provided to me by the professor, thoroughly read over articles and books from class, and deeply reflect about the work in order to fully comprehend and make connections to the course learning outcome. The readings that I read over the semester, “Fortune’s The Manumission Requiem Bones” by Marilyn Nelson, “Zulus” by Percival Everett and “A Political History of America’s Black Reparations Movement” by Darity and Mullen were all works that I was able to relate to in terms of the character’s growth or finally realizing their true self. 

In the beginning of the semester, I did not speak up in class often because of my shyness. Speaking in large groups makes me nervous because all eyes are focused on me. This puts more pressure on me and sometimes makes me forget my thoughts. During discussions, I found it difficult to rephrase someone else’s thought that I was going to say. For instance, when talking about the book, “Fortune’s The Manumission Requiem Bones”, we discussed the quote “Fortune was born; he died” (Nelson, 13). Many of my classmates thought that even though the doctor did many procedures on Fortune’s body he could not take away his identity from him. I agreed with this but did not want to repeat what anybody had already said. Sometimes I would have a good thought in my head and try to phrase it in a way that makes sense, but by the time I do this someone else already spoke up on it. This has been the main issue for me throughout the semester. In the book, “Zulus”, it states, “you will be treated as the thing you are” (Everett, 104). Achitophel was only seen as a fat person, which made her view herself as an ugly person, lowering her self-esteem. Reading books like this made me realize that people will only view me as a person that does not speak up in class and nothing else. Once I started to realize this it made me question how I viewed myself as a person. I did not want to end off the semester without at least seeking other ways to participate in class discussions.

It took a while for me to speak up, but I can say that I’ve grown from the first day of class. I started being more comfortable with my classmates once I got familiar with their faces. Most people that I worked with in groups, I had already worked with before, so it was easier for me to talk to them. For instance, in my previous group, I was familiar with seeing Tommy, Dineen and Rebecca faces because I had already worked with them in small groups. I spoke up on evidence that could be used in the essay and made connections to the prompt and book. Also, this group acknowledged my thoughts which I appreciated because other groups that I were in made it difficult for me to speak up at times. Sometimes I just felt like my points were not worthy enough to put into the essays. The few times I did speak up, I felt like my ideas were disregarded as well. Similar to Achitophel, I started to feel unworthy and unimportant. However, throughout all of this I noticed that I worked better in small groups because there is less pressure on me and less faces watching me as I speak.

In the article, “A Political History of America’s Black Reparations Movement”, it states, “America must acknowledge its roots in the slavery empire, apologize for it . . . and work on some plan to compensate” (Darity and Mullen, 19). Similar to how Americans must understand the struggle of blacks and help them, it is important that I too understand my struggle of speaking up. However, it is my job to notice this behavior and “and work on some plan” (Darity and Mullen, 19) to overcome this challenge or grow as an individual. I can definitely say that I learned a lot as a reader and gained awareness of my true self as I slowly began to be comfortable and confident in speaking up. With that being said, it is essential that Geneseo students practice the skill to reflect on their changes in order to gain awareness and learn about themselves. 

Works Cited

Nelson, Marilyn. Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem. ISBN: 9781932425123

Everett, Percival. Zulus. ISBN: 9780932966971

Dye, Keith A. “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century by William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen.” Journal of Southern History, vol. 87, no. 4, 2021, pp. 759–761.,

Final Self Reflective Essay: The Power of Noticing and Self Observation

I came into this class with a pretty clear goal in mind; I wanted to become a better listener, and continue contributing to class conversations and growth while taking up less overall space in class discussions and collaborative assignments. This goal was a direct result of things I noticed and observed about myself across my time at Geneseo. I started to become far more aware of what I would say is one of my biggest flaws both as a student and as a person: I always have something to say. I used to see this as an indisputably positive trait, but I started to see the negative aspects of it over the past few years. As I stated in my goal-setting essay at the beginning of this semester; “The same enthusiasm and willingness to speak up that drove me to actively engage in every class discussion could also lead to me dominating conversations and bulldozing over my less extroverted or confident classmates. The same eagerness to share my learning that led to me raising my hand could (and has) lead me to interrupt the insights of others. Often I find myself so fascinated by the things that I notice that I’m more interested in sharing them than I am about hearing what others have noticed.” With this in mind, along with a rough knowledge of the basic structure of this class based on previous experience in Beth’s courses and confirmed by the syllabus, I came into this class determined to make more space for others in class conversations.

At the beginning of the class, my idea as to how to go about this was simple; talk less, listen more. This didn’t quite go as planned, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I’m not what I consider to be a very eloquent person, and as a result, my method of contributing to class has always been not only to talk, but to keep talking until I’m confident that the point I meant to make came out somewhere in the stream of semi-coherent rambling I just uttered. Secondly, I’ve found that I am uncomfortable with silence, particularly in an academic setting. This means that often, when a professor asks a question to the class and is met with no immediate response, I feel compelled to say something to end the silence, regardless of what that something is, just to ease the growing discomfort I feel as the quiet takes hold. These idiosyncrasies of mine did not mesh well with my plan, and I often found myself still struggling with taking up too much space despite my best efforts, with the fun new bonus of being far more aware that I was doing this and feeling guilty for not being able to rein myself in more. I do want to acknowledge, however, that even on my bad days, when I took up the most space in class discussions in this class, it still was not as bad as I’ve been in previous courses, due, I think, to a combination of my own efforts to be more aware of this and rein myself in a bit (even if not enough) and Beth’s efforts to be aware of this goal, remind me of it when need be, and find ways of keeping me from taking over class conversations when I was doing too much.  

So, it’s around mid-October, we’re well into the semester, I’m still struggling with my goal, and my current method of trying to achieve it is very clearly not enough. Where do I go from here? Well, without really meaning to, I started thinking about my goal-setting essay. One part of it in particular, about the most common reason I heard from some of my friends and classmates as to why they don’t say as much in class;  “it’s not like I need to, there’s plenty of others that will speak in class anyways”. When I’d originally written this, I had looked at it as a challenge. If I tried to reduce my voice in the classroom, surely the absence of it would force others to speak up. That, as it turned out, was the wrong way of thinking. Instead of thinking of this situation as me trying to challenge this common notion held by my friends and classmates, I needed to start using their way of thinking to help me achieve my goal. I realized it would be far easier for me to take up less space if there were other people I knew would speak up in class discussions instead. I started to try to use small group discussions as a way of seeking out insights from classmates, raising up classmates who shared those insights, and inviting them (or lightly pressuring them, take your pick) to speak more on them. To my delight, I noticed that more and more people started speaking during whole class discussions and Beth’s questions were met with silence less and less. Whether this had anything to do with me or was just a result of the natural process of people getting more comfortable with each other and the material as the course went on, I’m not sure, but even though my gut says it was likely the latter, I’d like to think that I helped a little bit. 

In the spirit of noticing, it’s time to change direction a bit. I’ve noticed that, for someone trying to argue that he’s gotten better at seeking out and listening to the insights of others, I’ve crafted an essay that has so far been largely about me. But a large part of the reason I was able to achieve any success at my goal this semester overall was because of my classmates, whose insights shaped not only this course as a whole but also my understanding of both my goal, the texts, and the collaboration process. Through our collaborative projects this semester, I was reminded of just how many deep insights and interpretations my classmates can come up with, and how many pieces of context and interpretations I would never have come up with in a million years without their contributions. Circling back to my goal, this further reminded me just how much my classmates have to say, even when they aren’t sharing it with the whole class. I was brought right back to the mix of wonder and frustration I felt when first having conversations about class material with my softer-spoken friends in freshman and sophomore year, wanting to shake them and asking in amazement why they didn’t talk more about this stuff in class? Luckily, I have since found nicer and more effective ways of suggesting to classmates that they share their ideas, but I always appreciate the reminder of just how many ideas my peers have to share. 

As far as how this relates to the texts, I’d say that a lot of the characters we’ve read about this semester achieve their development mostly through noticing, or being forced to notice a flaw in themselves, and taking the steps necessary to try to correct that flaw. Not all of these characters were successful. But in most cases, how successful each character is determined by how self-aware they are in their flaws. 

Cee may be the prime example of this. Cee starts her journey in Toni Morrison’s Home as an innocent but helpless girl with not a clue in the world how to survive without the help and protection of others. For the first portion of her life, that help and protection came from her brother Frank. When he enlists in the Korean War and leaves, Cee latches on to the first new source of protection and security she can find, in the form of Prince, who she falls in love with, gets engaged to, moves out of town with, and is then promptly abandoned by. After this, she receives support, protection, and guidance from her friend and neighbor Thelma, before finding a job under Dr. Beauregard Scott, who, along with her coworker Sarah, make Cee feel secure again. It’s only after Dr. Beauregard takes advantage of her trust and performs dangerous and destructive experiments on her, causing her to nearly die and rendering her permanently infertile, that she finally realizes how big a flaw her lack of independence is. Once she realizes it however, she never loses sight of it. She immediately takes action to become more independent, aided by Miss Ethel Fordham and the other women of Lotus. By the time Frank next sees her, we are told that “Cee was different”(Morrison 121) and that “this Cee was not the girl who trembled at the slightest touch of the real and vicious world…Frank didn’t know what took place during those weeks at Miss Ethel’s house surrounded by those women with seen-it-all eyes… They delivered unto him a Cee who would never again need his hand over her eyes or his arms to stop her murmuring bones”(127-128).  Through these lines, readers are given the sense that Cee is a far more independent woman, and is shown to the readers to be doing the same sort of chores she had watched the woman of Lotus do during her recovery. By the end of the novel, in a perfect inversion of the first scene in the novel, the two properly bury the body of the man they watched so hastily and improperly buried in their childhood, and when the deed is done, it is Cee who leads Frank home this time around, displaying her newfound mental and emotional strength and independence. 

Another example of this is Keira in Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler. From the very start of the book, we are told that Keira is sick with cancer. She is perceived by almost everyone in the book, even her kidnappers, as frail and fragile, and is constantly treated differently as a result. This, however, is exactly what offers her a unique perspective from her family when they’re introduced to the Clay’s Ark colony and its inhabitants. Out of her family, she is the only one to see the sphinx-like children of the Clay’s Ark colony as more than simply inhuman. When she first meets one of the children, a girl named Zera, she greets her almost entirely with approval, remarking that “she’s beautiful”, and later thinking to herself that the child “was perfect. A perfect, lean, little four-legged thing with shaggy uncombed hair and a beautiful little face”. When asked if she’d be open to having one someday, Keira replies “I think I could handle it” (Butler pages 119-120). This clearly impresses Eli, the leader of the colony, who later tells her “I liked the way you got along with Jacob and Zera”(Butler 128). This is the start of her bond with Eli, but it’s not the only thing that makes her stand out to him or to readers in contrast with the rest of her family. Keira is also the only one in her family to seem to have any compassion for the people in this community and the situation they find themselves in. It is that compassion, both for the children and adults of the Clay’s Ark colony, that allows her to build a deep bond with Elijah, the leader of the Clay’s Ark colony. Later, when Keira and her family escape, only to be kidnapped again by a group of travelling thieves, rapists, and killers, called a “car family”, she has faith that Elijah and the Clay’s Ark colony will rescue them. She acts on that faith, apologizing to Eli through the window in the room the ‘car family’ kept her in and asking him for help(page 167-168). He clearly hears her, and does indeed help, storming the ‘car family’’’s hideout to either try and help Keira and her family escape or have his people rescue Keira and her family themselves. Sadly in the end, she is the only one of her family who survives the ordeal, because one of the Clay’s Ark children that she showed compassion to comes to rescue her and lead her back to Eli’s people. It’s worth noting that it is not only her compassion to the Clay’s Ark children being rewarded here, but also her willingness to work with the Clay’s Ark colony as a whole, as Blake makes it out of the car family hideout only to attempt to flee from the Clay’s Ark colony again, and it’s implied Rane might not have gone back with the Clay’s Ark colony even if she had made it out. Keira is explicitly the only one of her family to survive because she realizes that not trusting the people of the Clay’s Ark colony is a mistake, and fleeing from them would only make things worse. The novel also portrays their decision to attempt escape the first time and especially Blake’s decision to attempt escape again as flawed, reckless choices. In the end, these choices not only lead to Rane’s and Blake’s deaths but also the infection getting out into the world, resulting in the Clay’s Ark disease spreading to the entire human race.  In contrast, Keira’s decision to trust Eli and the people of the Clay’s Ark colony is framed as both rational and the most morally good option available, as it is, for all its flaws, the least destructive option Keira and her family has.

In Fortune’s Bones we see examples of what happens when people don’t take a second to notice their own flaws and attempt to get better. Fortune’s Bones gives us the ignorant Dr. Porter, who is too wrapped up in the excitement of examining the corpse of one of the men he enslaved to think about the fact that Fortune is a human being and what Porter’s doing to his corpse is wrong. We see the twisted fate of Fortune’s remains as it is passed down from descendant to descendant in the Porter family line before finally being abandoned in the boarded up wall of a house only to be rediscovered and put in a museum to be gawked at by even more ignorant white people too caught up in the novelty of the experience to remember that these bones came from a real person and deserve the same respect that we grant so freely to most other human remains but that has been denied to poor Fortune for centuries. We even see how Porter’s descendants, in their desire to continue using the remains for their own selfish purposes, rename the Fortune’s skull “Larry” so as to make it easier to forget the real identity of the human being that they so flagrantly disrespect in death. In a brief moment of self-awareness (that likely came more from author Marilyn Nelson herself rather than the character whose point-of-view she’s writing from at this point), we see one of Porter’s descendants admit to the reason behind the renaming, stating “I called him Larry. It was easier/To face him with an imaginary name./For Fortune was an image of myself:”(Nelson page 21).  This admission that Porter’s descendants renamed Fortune in order to avoid having to face the horror of what they did and continued to do to Fortune even in death shows just how awful human beings can be when we’re not willing to notice our own flaws, acknowledge them, and attempt to better ourselves. 

In a way, I think the theme of noticing that ran throughout this course and its texts helped me to keep my goal for this class in mind as we kept moving through the semester, and I’m very grateful for that. I can’t say that I’m completely satisfied with where I’m at in terms of my goal. I still take up more space in a classroom than I might like, and I still find myself speaking a bit more than I should in class discussions. I notice and acknowledge this, and appreciate that I still have a ways to go in working towards making room for everyone in academic spaces. However, with all that in mind, I’m still confident in saying that I have accomplished my goal, which was, as a reminder for both myself and whoever may read this to become a better listener, and take up less space in class discussions, not to become the best or even a good listener, and not to take up the right amount of space in class discussions. I feel that I can confidently say that even though I’m still not necessarily where I want to be in terms of listening and making space for others, I have definitely made significant progress. And for now, that’s enough for me.

Self-Reflective Essay: Good Faith Contributions

Ever since I started school, I have been encouraged to “participate in class.” To my teachers and parents, and as a result, to me, this meant speaking up in class and raising my hand to make a point or answer a question. Throughout middle school, high school, and even now, in college, final grades often include a participation aspect, where students are specifically graded on how many times we raise our hands in class to answer any given question. I’ve always strived for academic success, and a part of that, for me, has always been the fact that I’m comfortable speaking up in class, and making my opinions heard, which, in turn, shows off the fact that I did the reading, or listened to the lecture. During my first check-in for course accountability, I referenced my habit of “compulsive hand-raising” stating that it was something I “am actively working on.” Dr. McCoy replied that perhaps I might consider where that need to raise my hand stemmed from, and I hypothesized that it comes from structure and upbringing. My parents are both teachers, and have taught my brother, sister and I to speak up in class, to make the most of what we’re learning by participating. So, I think this definition of participation has always been ingrained in my academic journey, the need to hand-raise and offer responses to the instructor when prompted.

The longevity of this perception has meant, in the past, that my participation, while made in good faith, has not always been the most constructive to a conversation. Sometimes I have found myself in class settings where I am the student in the class who is quickest to raise my hand and usually that means I have been one to directly respond to material, without accounting for other students’ thoughts or processes. Even though in other class contexts (i.e. peer revision, doing my part in group work) I have always demonstrated care for my peers’ growth, in the context of class discussion, I have long been in the habit of jumping into conversations and thereby inadvertently taking an opportunity for contribution from others, and depriving myself of an opportunity for growth and conversation.

Something this class has taught me is that participation doesn’t always look the same. Raising my hand just to raise my hand and get a point maybe isn’t the best way to make the most out of a class. Throughout my time in this class, I have noticed my peers and myself participating by listening actively and attentively, by acknowledging and responding with care to the work of others, by actually doing the readings and coming to class with a real intent to learn more based on what we’ve prepared and participated in outside of class. I think it’s wonderful because while different people have different styles and comfort zones with participation, this course has given each of us the opportunity to notice what we are accustomed to and what we’re capable of, and has allowed me to really practice many different forms of participation.

The course epigraph, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice,” has applied to just about every integral course concept we’ve explored, but it has especially resonated with me for contribution. I have put a real effort into taking note of where my input is needed or appreciated, and when I should take a moment to really listen and absorb. In They Say, I Say, Graff and Birkenstein affirm how important it is “that we listen carefully to others, including those who disagree with us, and then engage with them thoughtfully and respectfully” (Graff and Birkenstein 14) Sometimes, after listening, I find I may have something valuable to add to the conversation, and other times, I’ve found that there is no need to speak just to speak, and that the class and I would gain more from sitting with whatever was just said or hearing someone else out. I’ve actively worked toward noticing these differences in ways I never have before. I do so in good faith, and I may not always be right in my analysis of a situation, but I’m learning and growing, and doing my best to support my peers in doing the same.

Actions that fall under good faith and bad faith categories are not always the same for all people, or people at different times in their lives. I would say that before taking this course, I had not thoughtfully considered where my “compulsive hand-raising” came from or what effect it had. I do believe that at that time, I was participating and contributing in good faith. However, now that I have done that work, and learned more, if I continued to push myself to the front line in class settings like I used to, I believe this would be in bad faith. As a person’s understanding, care and intentions evolve, so do their examples of acting in good faith. This is something that we’ve seen in the literature we’ve read throughout the semester as well. In Morrison’s Home, her protagonist, Frank, wants to participate in Cee’s recovery in good faith. He believes that he is her protector, and feels guilty for not seeing the abuse she went through. He wants to make it up to her, but Ethel banishes him and his “evil mindset” (119). Around this point in the novel, Frank notices that “While his devotion shielded her, it did not strengthen her” (129) and adjusts his participation in her healing. In his case, the best way he could contribute to her recovery is to stand back for a little while and let her gain her confidence and strength surrounded by the right people for the job until she was ready to be around him again. Frank has a complicated story, but this particular choice was made in true good faith. He set his guilt and defensiveness aside, and he did the right thing for Cee in the moment, even though it may not have given him the peace of mind that HE craved so strongly.  True contribution to a cause isn’t always visible, and sometimes the most visible participation isn’t always the best kind for the moment.

In this class, we have also studied many examples of bad faith participation of all kinds. By my understanding of the definition, participating in a cause or activity in bad faith would involve a person participating in an activity that they know to be harmful, but choose to ignore the harm, because they believe the benefits they receive outweigh the harm done to others. In this class, we have also studied many examples of bad faith participation of all kinds. By my understanding of the definition, participating in a cause or activity in bad faith would involve a person participating in an activity that is harmful, and that they know to be harmful, but choose to ignore the harm, because they believe the benefits they receive outweigh the harm done to others. There are multiple examples of this in every book we’ve read this semester, including: the rebel camp holding Alice hostage in Zulus, Dr. Beau’s abuse of Cee in Home, the objectification of Fortune’s body in Fortune’s Bones, P.T. Barnum’s mistreatment of Black people within his circus in Medical Apartheid, and many, many more.

Bad faith contribution is also possible within a course setting. For example, coming to class without having done the readings and instead of disclosing that you didn’t come prepared, choosing to make things up for points would be a bad faith move in a classroom. Another obvious example would be cheating on a test just because you know you can get away with it, or plagiarizing someone else’s work. This type of action is wrong, and we all know it is wrong, but it is something that is done often in academic settings for a whole range of reasons, including the fact that most school settings push values of academic success harder than they push academic integrity. It causes harm to others, and degrades the actor’s integrity, and yet it is still done because it serves the actor, and the actor can choose to ignore the negative effects it could have on their peers, professor and academic journey. 

This is the first class I have ever taken where acting in good faith is emphasized  more than getting good grades. Because this class has a relatively light workload, it gives students the space they need to learn how to act in good faith, without falling behind and stressing about being judged or graded for it. I think this class allows a certain kind of reset that could only be possible within a self-graded class. Because we are responsible for our own work within this class, and because the course focuses so strongly on care for growth, accountability and care, I’ve found that deep self-reflection is impossible to avoid. Each time we fill out a care assessment or even just discuss whether a character in one of our texts is acting in good faith, we examine ourselves – noticing what parts we’re proud of, and what parts we know we could do better. Geneseo’s GLOBE learning outcomes state the importance of students “reflect[ing] upon changes in learning and outlook over time” which is exactly what we’ve all worked so hard on in this course. I re-read all of my past care assessments and collaborations, as well as the feedback on them, at least four times throughout the semester. These progress checks have allowed me to reflect in a way that allows me to remember my past contributions accurately, so that I’m able to grow from them intentionally. 

The personal nature of this course has guided me to notice myself and my contribution to many different aspects of my life and community outside of this course. In planning this year’s Sigma Tau Delta Lecture Series, my team and I developed a structure that specifically amplifies the voices of Black authors and creators. I’ve sent emails in response to racially insensitive (although in good faith) messages and graphics posted within the Geneseo sphere. I’ve brought this class and examples from it into my other English classes, and even into my Geology class. GLOBE’s learning outcomes state that “Integrative learning fosters the ability to connect and combine knowledge and skills acquired through the curriculum and co-curriculum to new, complex situations within and beyond the college,” and that is something I’ve genuinely experienced in this course. I’ve done some reading and held conversations with family, who, in good faith, are angry that there are so many people in America who remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, which took my paternal grandfather (directly) from us this year and my maternal grandfather (indirectly) from us last year. We’ve talked about why it might be that there is fear and distrust in certain communities surrounding medicine, and I’ve shared with them some of the examples of medical bad faith that we’ve learned about. I’ve taken this course home with me throughout the semester, and I know I’ll continue to take it with me to graduation and beyond, because I’ve grown so much here, that this course has become a part of me.

Works Cited

Everett, Percival. Zulus. Permanent Pr. Pub Co., 1990.

“A Geneseo Education for a Connected World.” SUNY Geneseo, SUNY Geneseo,

Graff, Gerald, and Kathy Birkenstein. They Say I Say. Gildan Media, 2006.

Morrison, Toni. Home. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

Nelson, Marilyn. Fortune’s Bones. Penguin Random House, 2004.

Washington, Harriet. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experiementation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. Penguin Random House, 2007.

The Choice to Notice

The mindset I had when approaching this class this semester was that I had a solid understanding of how to connect texts. I had worked on essays in other classes where I had to draw connections between differing subject material, and while this task was not always simple, I was relatively confident in my knowledge of noticing these connections. And though I think that this confidence was well justified to some extent, much of this course has expanded my understanding of how I go about making connections between different works, how to notice more minute details in books through more directed reading, and how to work alongside others better when it comes to dissecting reading material. For one thing, the course epigraph is something that I’ve found myself coming back to time and time again throughout most of this semester: “My job is to notice, and to notice that you notice.” As someone who spends a lot of time trying to understand a book when I read it, I’ve done my best to notice as much of a book as I can as I read it. However, in many of the books we read this semester, it was somewhat of a challenge to notice the connections between them, particularly towards the latter half of the semester. While the earlier books we read, such as Fortune’s Bones and Home seemed more obviously connected, some of the later works were a bit harder to compare in the same sort of way. A big connecting factor that I have found throughout most of the course works, in fact, connects directly to how I feel I’ve grown this semester, and it is the fact that many of these stories revolve around what characters choose and don’t choose to notice. 

         The text that I felt that had the biggest impact on me as I read was Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem by Marylin Nelson. This book is both a series of poems as well as a collection of information about the life and death of a man named Fortune. He is described in the text as being “… a husband, a father, a baptized Christian, and a slave.” (12) However, after his death, his remains were kept around by the man who had owned him in life, Dr. Preserved Porter, and his family. Initially preserved for the study of human anatomy, Fortune’s remains were treated like an heirloom, being hidden away in an attic, and even displayed in a museum, the name of Fortune now being replaced by the name Larry. And though this treatment of one’s remains is already reprehensible enough, what’s even more unfair to the man they belonged to is that people refused to notice that Fortune had been a person once. Rather than face the reality that the bones they were looking at had belonged to someone, most people who saw Fortune’s remains ignored their history for the sake of preserving a sugarcoated reality. It is this lack of noticing that caused Fortune’s history to remain lost for so many years and caused the remains to be viewed simply as an attraction at a museum. This ties in closely with the course epigraph, displaying how by choosing not to notice the truth to an obvious reality, one makes things easier for themselves by avoiding their job of ‘noticing’. And I feel that this particular text has helped me personally grow in my ability to notice. Though I had read the course epigraph prior, I hadn’t really made a connection between the two, and had assumed that the text associated more so with the course itself. However, thanks to working alongside my group mates for the first collaborative essay, I was able to make this connection between the two. I feel that I’ve gotten better at getting past my initial impressions and interpretations of texts, such as how I at first interpreted the poem “Not My Bones” on page 25 as Fortune’s freedom from slavery but later saw that it could also be seen as Fortune separating who he was from the character people have created out of his remains. By expanding my understanding of how the texts connected through the help of my group mates, I’ve noticed that my reading and understanding in later texts in this course has been a bit easier, though the connections between course texts haven’t always been obvious to me.

         One of the texts I greatly enjoyed but was at first unsure of how to connect to the other course texts was Zone One, which tells the tale of a post-apocalyptic America that has been overrun by a virus that turns people into zombies, though the characters and author do not refer to them as such. The audience sees the story through the eyes of Mark Spitz, a member of a civilian sweeper unit whose job it is to clear out Manhattan of ‘skels’, the name used to refer to zombies. When Mark Spitz first encounters a group of these skels, though, he immediately assigns them titles based on their physical appearance, such as calling one of them a ‘Marge’ based on her hairstyle. By referring to these skels in this way, Mark limits how much of the details and humanity of the skels enemies he will notice. By doing so simplifies the ordeal of killing them without remorse. This was an idea that my group discussed in length while we worked on the second reflective essay; the idea that limiting your perception of another human being can often make it easier for one to treat them unfairly. Zone One’s case this is a bit more extreme than the examples we found in other texts, such as the unchanging perception of Alice Achitophel in Zulus by Percival Everett. However, the same sort of voluntary ignorance of the humanity of another still applies, as Mark Spitz attempts to separate the skels from the living humans they once were to ease the burden on himself of killing them. This ignorance is semi-justified, as any moment of hesitation may lead to his demise at the hands of the skels, but that does not make his refusal to notice any less apparent. I feel that this trait he has taken on ties in well both to the course epigraph as well as the other texts. Mark makes the choice to not notice aspects of the skels, limiting his perception for the sake of a goal. He avoids his job of noticing, much like the way the people at the museum did not acknowledge the fact that the remains on display had once belonged to a living, breathing person. As the story progresses, though, Mark Spitz inevitably starts connecting the skels with people from his past. He is at points forced to remember the humanity that the skels had once held before eventually succumbing to the virus, and falters to both defend himself and put the skels out of their misery. While the scales are by no means the same, I noticed that there is also a connection between this and my journey with the course epigraph. Through this course, I’ve been made aware of all sorts of different ways to connect literature. While this wasn’t forced upon me by life-or-death circumstances, I still had to notice things about these texts in the same way that Mark Spitz noticed the similarities between skels and his past relationships. Both my job and his is to notice, and whether we chose to acknowledge it or not. 

         Between these two texts, alongside all the other texts we read this semester, I’ve learned a lot of different ways to make connections between literature. I’ve had to search both on my own as well as with a group, noticing similar aspects that I wouldn’t think to have checked otherwise. It was my assumption at first that this skill would only help me in the classroom, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that this wasn’t exactly the case. I’ve been trying to notice more about my perception of the people around me as well, not limiting myself to first impressions and instead trying to notice more minute details about them. It’s due to this course that I’ve noticed these sorts of details. And by adhering to the course epigraph even after the end of this course, I will endeavor to continue my job; of both noticing, and to notice what others notice.