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.

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