As a freshman economics major entering my spring semester, my collaboration experience was extremely limited because a majority of my classes, like most freshmen, took place in a lecture hall. In true lecture hall fashion, the endless, immovable rows didn’t particularly open themselves up for easy collaboration, and as such, most of my work was independent. However, after I set foot in Beth McCoy’s Risk and Rewards class, my idea of collaboration was changed and has continued to evolve — my most recent shift being credited to the texts from Toni Morrison. As the characters featured in Morrison’s Beloved and Jazz constantly moved from experiencing pain to healing, I have developed a nuanced perspective on collaboration, recognizing that healing and personal growth cannot be accomplished on my own, and as such requires collaboration, and trusted communities.
In identifying my now nuanced perspective on collaboration, I wanted to explore where I began — as an eighteen-year-old freshman who published my final essay on May 14th, 2020. In my essay “The Pygmalion Effect,” I explored the importance of sharing diverse experiences, and discussed how my growth mindset had evolved over the course of the semester. I wrote, “No one else in this world has your experience. This is a powerful tool because when you use a creative space such as your writing to talk about your experience, you can be shaping someone else’s perspective on the world” At the time, my interpretation of collaboration was broader, I understood that we required multiple perspectives in order to find the best solutions. By my conclusion, I began to question how I might continue my personal growth without my peers: “But now, as my freshman year comes to a close, who is going to help me grow, who is going to challenge my perspective every Monday and Friday… As time goes on, I think that we should demand greatness from ourselves.” While I still agree that we should set growth goals for ourselves, through Morrison’s work, I now see that I also require trusted communities to aid in growth because they can challenge our status quo.
One character we saw challenged throughout Morrison’s work was Violet from Jazz. Following her husband’s affair with Dorcas, and her subsequent murder, we saw Violet’s outward dislike towards Dorcas. She openly discussed her dislike for the deceased girl to clients and presented signs of unresolved anger towards her: “She’s my enemy. Then, when I didn’t know it, and now too.” (Morrison 85). Violet also spared no expense of attacking her looks such as her unclipped ends, and calling her ugly, “I thought she was going to be pretty… she wasn’t” (Morrison 109). Her unresolved anger towards Dorcas reached a peak when she tried to attack Dorcas’s face with a knife at her funeral: “Violet went to the funeral to see the girl and to cut her dead face…” (Morrison 1). Violet was angry at the infidelity, but as her husband Joe grieved the loss, she turned her anger towards someone who couldn’t defend themselves. However, as Violet became acquainted with Dorcas’ aunt, Alice, they began to develop a trusting, yet reluctant relationship.
Once the pair started to trust each other, their healing began. During one of their visits, and after Alice burned some clothes while ironing it said, “Violet was the first to smile. Then Alice. In no time laughter was rocking them both… Violet learned then what she had forgotten until this moment: that laughter is serious…Violet thought about how she must have looked at the funeral, at what her mission was. The sight of herself trying to do something bluesy…fumbling the knife” (Morrison 113-114). For the first time, the audience was able to see Violet’s reflection of her previous missteps, and even appears to poke fun at herself for how dramatic she was being. What I find the most interesting here is the realization that Morrison makes for Violet on page 114, “She noticed, at the same moment as that Violet did, that it was spring. In the City.” The funeral attack took place in the winter, but Violet doesn’t even begin to question her choice until months later. This caused me to seek the catalyst for Violet’s growth, and that would be her friendship with Alice. Their trusting relationship sparked her growth as she worked towards lessening her resentment towards growth, reminding me of the vitality of trusted communities.
After reading Jazz, I was able to connect the idea of trusted communities to my collaborations that took place outside the classroom. For the past four years, I have competed on Geneseo’s Mock Trial Team which heavily centers around collaboration. Our team works together from try-outs in September all the way through the end of each academic year. With try-outs held every year, we always have an influx of new people join, and like Alice and Violet, the first few weeks typically involve some hesitancy around each other. However, after multiple practices a week, and by our first competition in October, we felt incredibly comfortable with each other. The trust that our team had developed made it easy for me and Captain and as their President to offer feedback and to encourage their growth in the activity, such as giving notes after each round. As the team grew closer, I saw rapid improvement among the newcomers because they were able to trust our corrections. At the same time, it is harder for teams to blindly follow the advice of the random judges who score us for a particular round. The lawyers, and law students in the room don’t know us, there was no previously established trust. Therefore, any advice given was usually taken with a grain of salt. Similar to Violet, establishing trusted communities in the past year has been the catalyst for a multitude of growth for me.
In addition to establishing rusted communities, Morrison reminds her readers through the characters in Beloved that sometimes we must endure pain as a means to move towards healing. In both instances, they had to collaborate with other characters to move towards healing. Prior to the ghost of Beloved haunting House 124, Stamp Paid endured pain and collaborated with Grandma Suggs for the betterment of their community: “It was Stamp Paid who started it… He walked six miles to the riverbank; did a slide-run-slide down into a ravine made almost inaccessible by brush. He reached through brambles lined with blooddrawing thorns thick as knives that cut through his shirt sleeves and trousers.” (Morrison 160). Here the audience sees Stamp Paid going through consistent extremes in order to obtain the blueberries. Once he returned, Baby Suggs was immediately able to recognize his sacrifice: “She had decided to do something with the fruit worthy of the man’s labor and his love. That’s how it began.” (Morrison 160). She knew that his pain could not go in vain and should be used to better the community around them, and that’s exactly what she did. On page 161 it said, “From Denver’s two thrilled eyes it grew to a feast for ninety people. 124 shook with their voices far into the night.” Stamp Paid’s pain was transformed into an opportunity of joy and mass healing. I think we can all think of examples of people who have made sacrifices for our betterment, but for me specifically, my grandmother made a lot of sacrifices in order for my mom to pursue an education. As a result of her sacrifices, my mom became a first-generation college graduate, and alongside my dad is now able to provide my family with more opportunities than she had. Through Morrison’s work, I have recognized that people usually only make those sacrifices for those within their trusted communities. This further demonstrated that sacrifices within trusted communities are responsible for more than individual growth but can be attributed to the betterment of the entire group.
Looking forward to life after college, as I begin to pursue a professional career, and eventually law school, I will forever keep in mind my nuanced perspective on collaboration. As a freshman, I thought I was solely responsible for my growth, but now I recognize that when you have established trust among a trusted community, they can propel your growth. The trusted communities that I have established here at Geneseo have been invaluable and there is no other place I would have rather created Holy Gossip ™ with.