The Significance of Taking Notice in Our Growth

Throughout the semester, we have explored various texts and readings, as well as analyzed character development and themes. All of these ideas and works of literature have connected us back to the course epigraph in the words of Dionne Brand, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” In order to have been successful, we, as students and as contributing members of society and SUNY Geneseo, needed to (and continue to need to) take notice of not only ourselves, but of our peers and mentors. We can observe this epigraph not only in ourselves and this course, but also in the literature we have studied this semester. The works of Toni Morrison, Percival Everett, and Harriet Washington have all displayed this central theme and epigraph, and I have been able to recognize paralleling traits in characters that I myself can connect to. As students in this course, we not only gained an English 100-level education, but we also learned through Geneseo’s Learning Outcomes for a Baccalaureate Education (GLOBE). This program allowed us to explore difficult yet very significant topics such as racism and the imperfections in the field of medicine. In this course, I was not only able to become a better writer and reader, but was also able to gain different perspectives on these topics, and broaden my understanding on the traumatic history of Black Americans in the United States. In order to gain this understanding and learning experience however, the most important job that we had to conquer is taking notice. Personally, this undertaking has been a pivotal point of growth for me in my academic career. Taking notice of myself and others has allowed me to grow as an individual, not only as a student. 

In this course, we have continuously looked at Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington. In her novel, Washington describes the decades of unfair and inhumane medical research performed on slaves and other Black individuals without their consent.​​ Washington highlights Thomas Jefferson, who performed experiments on his slaves, despite his apparent opposition to slavery. “Jefferson obtained some cowpox vaccine indirectly…. The vaccine had failed to protect the subjects of an earlier trial. Jefferson spent the summer vaccinating two hundred of his family’s and his neighbor’s slaves” (Washington 59). Jefferson utilized hundreds of his own and his relative’s slaves to experiment with a vaccine, knowing the dangers it could entail. It is important to notice the blatant disregard for the lives and feelings of Black individuals at this time. By reading Medical Apartheid, I began to truly understand the traumatic racism that existed and still exists today. Harriet Washington noticed, and helped readers notice the detrimental effects that institutional racism has upon society. At the time of slavery, a medical license was not needed to perform these type of experiments on Black individuals, yet it was illegal to do so on White individuals. Quite literally, anyone with a slave who possessed medical curiosity could peform their own research. This caused many Black Americans to lose their lives, be in a very poor state of health, or even for passed Black individuals to not gain the proper burial or ceremony due to their severed bodies. Through reading this novel, and noticing the evident discrimination on the lives of far too many Black Americans, I truly learned how important it is to take notice of others around me. In a similar way that White Americans must take notice of this evident discrimination of minority groups to result in any change/reform, we, as students, must take notice of our peers and mentors to help each other grow along with ourselves. One of the most beneficial aspects of this course for me was the emphasis on peer and mentor feedback. Through class discussions, collaborative essays, and even small group literature discussions, I fully understood the importance of support and feedback. In class and small group discussions, we talked together, working through literature analysis. I was able to discuss my opinions in a supportive environment, having my voice heard, while also listening to others’ ideas. I had the opportunity to gain a different perspective from each of the different disciplinary studies and academic levels that the students and mentors in this class have, and it was sincerely rewarding. While I was able to receive positive feedback, I was also able to relay feedback of my own to my peers. Additionally, working in groups to create collaborative essays was extremely beneficial. I had the opportunity to bounce ideas off of my peers, which ultimately made me a better writer, and I could see how others worked efficiently which contributed to my growth overall as a student. Noticing ourselves while also concurrently noticing others is essential to our growth in academia and even as individuals in society. 

In addition to working with Medical Apartheid, we also read and analyzed the novel, Zulus by Percival Everett. Everett describes a dystopian society, where the government has almost total control over the people, and citizens are confined to a strict diet of cheese and crackers while working supposedly meaningless jobs. Alice Achitophel lives by these confines, but is aware that there should be something more. She constantly searches for a purpose in life, even when she begins working in the medical field. Alice is constantly defined as a “fat woman,” this is all she is seen as by others, yet there is so much more to her character, and she takes notice of herself as more than what people think. Alice Achitophel, while she is in a society that we do not know to exist, is actually a very relatable character. Personally, I can connect to Alice’s need for purpose and her sense of identity. It can be very difficult when your whole life is defined by one singular trait that people see or experience. Alice took notice of herself, and truly believed she could do more than what people expected of her. I have felt this many times throughout my academic career. Specifically in this class, I learned how important it is to take notice of myself, and the significance that taking notice has on my growth. As students, we are often defined by our grades, and we dread receiving exams and finals due to the weight that our grades have on us. In this class, I had the opportunity to really take notice of myself as a writer, as I did not have to dread receiving a heavily weighted grade. I learned that once a grade or word count is removed, I really am capable of more than I think. In our collaborative essays, our group actually struggled to keep our writing short. We realized that we had a plethora of good ideas and we realized an ability in ourselves that we did not even know we had. In a real world aspect, I understand that we may not always have the freedom like we did in this class, but I have to remember that I am capable of more than I think, and it really is so important to keep notice of myself when I am approached with difficulties. 

The class novel that I believe connects both noticing ourselves and noticing others is Home by Toni Morrison. In this novel, Cee begins to work for Dr. Beauregard, who unbeknownst to Cee, is performing life-altering medical research on her. When her brother, Frank, comes to save her, she is in an almost unrecoverable state of health. Frank then brings Cee to Miss Ethel in hopes of saving her life, and Miss Ethel unfortunately tells Cee, “Your womb can never bear fruit” (Morrison 128). Cee learns that she is not able to have children due to the horribly invasive gynecological surgeries performed on her. Cee was not aware of what was being done to her, and she never gave consent or accepted her medical fate. Dr. Beauregard performed experiments that not only left her body in an almost unrecoverable state, but also made a drastic life decision for her, that she can never bear children of her own. She not only was used for her body non consensually, but she was in such a poor state that she herself could barely survive on her own. In this situation, Cee was forced to notice herself and also notice others concurrently. When she could no longer have children she had to notice that this was her life now. She had to take notice that she could never be a mother and how this drastic change would affect her. This drastic change also forced her to notice the blatant disregard for her life that Dr. Beauregard had. Cee was innocent and protected by her brother Frank for most of her life. Now that she was out on her own, she learned the true dangers of the world. Taking notice of this truth and notice of how Dr. Beauregard broke her trust would allow her to grow. This displays the true importance of noticing yourself and also taking notice of others at the same time. 

The course epigraph, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice,” carried us through this class as well as our novels and readings. There is evidence of each of the characters noticing themselves and noticing others. I have learned and grown through taking notice of myself and others in this course. While I have always put in my best effort in my academics, I have lacked taking notice. Taking notice of myself can be so important, as I have been able to realize the true growth I have made throughout this semester. Sometimes we can be hard on ourselves, especially when we are defined by our grades, and we must notice how hard we are working and to be proud of ourselves and our accomplishments. This semester has allowed me to reflect on my past self and learn from my fallbacks as well as from my accomplishments. 

Works Cited

Everett, Percival. (1990). Zulus. The Permanent Press. 

Morrison, Toni. (2013). Home. Vintage Books

Washington, Harriet. (2010). Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to The Present. Paw Prints.

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