Pensively Collaborating

I have come to realize that I don’t hate group assignments, but rather, I have this recurring fear of either doing too much work or too little work. Every time a group assignment is announced, I can feel my heart sink to my stomach because yet again I am placed in this predicament of working with other people. I think it stems from people not working in good faith, or maybe it is the stigma that a vast majority of students share. One thing I would like to point out is that in Professor McCoy’s classes, regardless of it being the Toni Morrison class or the Black Apocalyptic Fiction one, she never (at least I don’t think so) refers to our group essays as that. She has constructed the term collaborative essays, which doesn’t have the negative connotations associated with group essays. 

Speaking of the two classes I have taken with Professor McCoy, it is important to note that before I can get to thinking about collaborations, I must first express that collaboration looks different depending on the people in your group. The collaboration I practiced in McCoy’s Black Apocalyptic Fiction course during the fall of 2022 focused heavily on the people in my small grouping typing the ideas as the rest of us formulated sentences. While we had split up into groups to work on the different moves, nobody could take credit for writing a specific paragraph because all of our voices were interconnected and threaded through the assignment, even though there was one person typing everything up. In that Welles classroom, collaborative writing took on a more bridged tone, but even then, there was the fear of not doing enough in the back of my mind, especially when I thought I wasn’t contributing enough ideas to the typer. McCoy’s collaborations took on a different form when I entered her Toni Morrison course this semester. Though we were still working together in small groups, it felt more independent. We found ourselves breaking off into groups based on the moves we wanted to work on, and even in those groups, I found that we all worked on portions of the move separately, then came together to make sure everything flowed. It felt like I was working on an independent project. As someone who enjoys putting headphones in and just typing away, I thoroughly enjoyed this form of collaboration. Even though it may seem as if we were working on different parts of a team, the collaborative efforts were still visible when we brainstormed at the beginning of the assignment, when we came together to write the last move (the conclusion), and when we revised the entirety of the paper––taking things out and fixing sentence structures––before submission. In this class, the collaboration felt both independent and linked to each of us in the group, alleviating any fears that arose about my work ethic.

Within our efforts to interpret Toni Morrison’s work, the practice of collaboration is evident through her characters. In Beloved, Paul D is imprisoned in Alfred, Georgia. He is chained to the other Black men that are also imprisoned there and they face inhumane treatment throughout their sentence. When a storm hits, they are locked back in their underground boxes and left there, but after several days, the rain and mud loosen their confinements, making escape possible. Since they are still chain-linked, each man must rely on one another, working collaboratively to escape. By pulling on their chains to let each other know where they are going, everyone is able to follow Hi Man’s lead. Morrison uses this representation of teamwork to demonstrate how those men escaped their unfortunate confinement and found their way toward freedom. When they finally break out of the prison, they continue on their way together and eventually run into Native Americans who help them break the restraints. Even then, the men don’t separate right away. Some stay longer than others but they do remain in each other’s presence for a little bit before moving on. One can interpret this form of good-faith collaboration to have had an effect on those men’s lives, allowing them to make it out of the storm. They put their trust in each other and do their part so that escape is effective and successful. From this, I have learned that when members of a collaborative effort trust one another and put their faith in each other, the end result can be liberating. 

As mentioned before, collaboration doesn’t have a clear format, rather, it takes on many different formations. In Morrison’s Paradise, readers are introduced to another form of collaboration. The older generation of men in Ruby and KD come together, congregating around the Oven to discuss the women in the Convent. They go around, putting in their ideologies and beliefs about the women that live there and the women’s role in the events taking place in Ruby. Collectively, these men decide that they have to stage a coup because if they don’t the Convent women’s influence will continue to affect Ruby poorly. As a group, they carry guns to the Convent and attack the women there. In my opinion, this was a form of bad-faith collaboration. While they did come together and talk over their actions before proceeding, they didn’t really listen to the voices of other people in the town prior to that meeting. They ignored the younger generations’ pleas and actions toward autonomy and self-reliance. They ignored Reverend Misner pushing them for reform in Ruby. They even ignore the friendship between Connie and Soane, and all of the good Connie has done for the town. They listen to their twisted words and decide that killing these women would be more conducive to the survival of Ruby than anything else they may have come up with. For all of these reasons, though they took their own opinions and ideas into account, they refused to see the other side of things, making this collaboration rash and futile. 

Working with others in most respects is collaboration, but as one can see through Morrison’s writing, not all collaborative efforts are in good faith. From reading Morrison’s trilogy––Beloved, Jazz, and Paradise––to working in our small groups, I have come to understand the importance of collaboration. One thing I would like to point out is that without collaboration, my ideas would never have been flushed out. I enjoyed taking the first day of collaborations to brainstorm different ideas and pick out quotes from the materials we were using. I remember that for the Purgatorio/Jazz collaboration, I didn’t have a lot to say, especially since we were discussing the structure of Manhattan during the Harlem Renaissance and its connection to Dante’s layout of Purgatory. However, as we continued to bounce ideas off of one another, Genesis brought us back to the idea that during the day, Black people in this novel (and during the Harlem Renaissance) would make their way down Manhattan to work for White people and then back up at night; she also said that the White people would make their way up toward Harlem for entertainment. This spurred our group to think about how mobility both within the City and to the City was possible for the characters in Jazz, which differed from the people in Dante’s Divine Comedy, who weren’t able to enter purgatory from hell and begin repentance through upward mobility. Collaborating with one another also made it possible to organize ideas. I think that when writing without an outline, it can sometimes be difficult for me because I am not sure what to include and what not to include. However, working in the different groups pertaining to each move, I was able to discuss with the other two people what our portion should focus on. It also gave me the chance to fact-check any ideas before writing them down. I remember turning to Izzy during the second collaboration and asking her a series of questions about where Joe and Violet had lived before coming to the City because I didn’t want anything to be imprecise. Izzy then referred back to the book and gave me specific page numbers to use, which was extremely helpful. Working with the same people for three collaborative essays allowed me to get comfortable with expressing my opinions and made the process of writing our last essay much easier since we had perfected our process through the other two collaborations.

Moving away from the topic of collaboration in this class, I think that as I continue on my journey here at Geneseo, I have to take all of the good-faith practices learned with me into my final year here while leaving behind this fear of group work. It is easy to fall into the habit of working alone, but as I am involved in many aspects of campus life, I find that working with others isn’t only prevalent in the classroom, but also outside of it. I have a job apart of Student Life, where I work with two other Student Involvement Mentors (SIMs) to ensure that organizations and clubs at Geneseo can function properly. This position demands a lot of collaboration, with my fellow co-workers, with our supervisor, and with the e-boards of these organizations. In doing so, I have to be able to communicate concisely and clearly. I have to be understanding of other people’s perspectives. And I have to make space and take space while in staff meetings. If I did not have good practice collaborative skills, working in this job wouldn’t be possible because my co-workers and I work closely together, answering emails, registering clubs, and petitioning for pictures to be placed in the Union. We have discovered a great balance in letting each other know when our part is done, while also not stepping on anyone’s toes. We are also very specific about letting each other know when we need something done and what we need.  

By working on this dynamic team, I am preparing for my future career goal. While school psychology may seem like an independent field, especially since most schools only have one, it is my job to speak with parents, teachers, and other faculty members at schools so that students are accessing all of the educational opportunities allotted to them. As I continue to pursue my dreams in this field, I hope to keep everything I have learned from this class, Morrison, and Professor McCoy circulating in the back of my mind so that I can maintain the good-faith practice of collaboration; contribute to the larger community of people in this field––and supporting fields––to better serve the population I choose to work with in the future.

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