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, https://www.geneseo.edu/provost/geneseo-education-connected-world.

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.

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