How I Learned to Notice: A Reflection

With our course epigraph which is  ““My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”–Dionne Brand, from notes that Beth during the question-and-answer session following Brand’s March 2, 2013 reading at the Northeast Modern Language Association in Toronto” (course syllabus), I wasn’t exactly sure where this class was going to go. To me, this was so broad and lead to an array of possibilities. What I noticed throughout the semester, however, was that it wasn’t as broad as I thought it to be. Instead, our course epigraph connected each piece of literature we read to each thing we discussed in class. With every new reading, when discussed during class we always found a way to connect it back to what we had previously read or talked about. This was, and still is a relatively new concept to me. This is the first class that I have taken that has come full circle in a meaningful way. Of course, we have our math, science and history classes that come around full circle but in all my years of education, I have never been more sure of a class sticking with me. 

The title of our class Medicine and Racism is what drove me to sign up for this class. I felt as though taking this class could truly teach me something that I had never learned before, and would not otherwise have known. To me, all English classes have always been the same. Read this book, answers these questions and write an essay, then get a grade and move to the next book. I have never taken anything truly new and enlightening, but this class offered me that opportunity. I learned about something new and when we moved on from reading one book, it wasn’t completely done because it always connected to another book, or while reading the books, we discussed things that I never would have picked up on that connected each book. 

With each new book we read, or each part of the book we read there was usually a corresponding chapter with our book Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington. Our fourth week in this class has an example of this that I remember vividly. We had just started reading Home by Toni Morrison and we were assigned three-six and also Medical Apartheid chapter two. I read that chapter of Medical Apartheid before I started our other reading for that day, for no specific reason other than Home was on the other side of my room and I was feeling particularly lazy. In this specific chapter of Medical Apartheid, Washington discussed the medical experiments that were done on African Americans. She discusses one doctor in particular, Dr. Thomas Hamilton, who performed experiments on African Americans. Hamilton did many experiments on a man named John Brown who was eventually able to run away to England (Washington, 54). Hamilton used Brown to experiment on. He bled him, gave him blisters and had him sit over hot coals until he could no longer take it (Washington, 53-54). 

Washington also goes on to talk about James Marion Sims who was discussed in the previous chapter. Sims is responsible for experimentation on African American women that eventually led to the gynecological instruments that we have today. He would perform experiments on women’s genitalia with them being unanesthetized, restrained and often without their consent (Washington, 2). Other physicians would help Sims by restraining these women until they could no longer bear the copious amounts of blood, and the agonizing cries of pain, after this it fell upon the other women to help Sims by restraining each other (Washington, 2). 

These two chapters made sense to read before Home. In Home, Cee, one of the main characters, goes to work for Dr. Beau in chapter four. First, she is interviewed by his wife Mrs. Scott, who explicitly says she isn’t exactly sure what her husband does, but he does experiments and makes inventions to help people (Morrison, 60). No one in that house, servants or wife, know exactly what he does only the fact that his other assistants quit. When interviewing her, Mrs. Scott was asking her some very odd questions such as; if she is married or has kids (Morrison, 59). Reading this made me wary of what kind of doctor he was and I pictured him to be someone like  Dr. Hamilton or Dr. Sims, doing experimental procedures on women. Later in the chapter, Cee begins to admire the doctor for his work on poor women and girls, which made me think directly of Dr. Sims and the experients (more like torture) he was doing on African American women. Reading the end of the chapter, there is an instance where Sarah and Cee are discussing the male and female gender of some melons. Sarah goes on then to say that the female melon is sweet and juicy, then goes on to slice it in two with “anticipation of the pleasure to come” (Morrison, 66). I read this as clear foreshadowing of what is to come, we find out later in the book that Dr. Beau was doing experiments on Cee and she was getting sick and suffering. 

Not only did this connect to the chapter of Medical Apartheid we had to read for class that day, but it also corresponded with what we had read previously. This also brought up the topic of consent and lack thereof in our books. Something I noticed in every book we read was the missing consent between characters and things happening to them. This also played into the notion of informed consent. In every book, or article we read there was missing consent or informed consent was not present. In Medical Apartheid, Washington defines informed consent as “…not a signed piece of paper, but rather the fluid and continuous process by which research informs the subject detail of what he or she proposes to do, why it is being proposed, and what possible consequences the experiment carries” (Washington, 55). None of this was available to John Brown when experiments were being done on him, or any of the females Dr. Sims was experimenting on, or Cee during her time with Dr. Beau. 

The topic of consent and informed consent was not anything taught to me or discussed in any other class I had taken. While it is something that we come across in my everyday life, it was never something that I noticed, paid much attention to or talked about. If it were not for our first few readings, I am not sure I would have picked up on that portion of the course. When truly thinking about, and discussing our readings the idea of consent was quite upfront. Throughout the semester, I realized that our course epigraph was not broad but it connected every class meeting, with every class reading, and every class assignment we did. I have learned to slow down when reading and when writing so I can truly engage with the material and notice more than I normally would.


I pronounce some words in the strangest ways. I come from a small town in downstate New York, but it is NOT New York City. It is a small little town that isn’t even a town, it is a village. I grew up in this town and have lived there my whole life, I have never lived anywhere else. So why do I speak so differently from everyone?

My mom grew up in Long Island, Bay Shore to be exact. She spent her childhood out there and only moved away in her Freshman year of high school. My mom no longer has the famous Long Island accent, but I do. 

Since as long as I can remember, people have always asked me to repeat words and assuming they didn’t hear me, I repeat what I said. They then ask me this THREE more times before I realize they are making fun of me. I say simple words different, such as awesome, chocolate, sauce, dog, and coffee. I add an |AW| sound to each word, so I say dAWg, chAWcolate, and cAWffee. I say syrup and cereal odd as well, sIRup, SIReal. You get the idea, I talk (tAWlk) funny. 

So now you’re probably thinking “so what? Why do I care that you talk weird?”. Well let me tell you, just because I pronounce words differently, does not mean you don’t understand what I’m saying. You still understand when I say I’d like some syrup with my pancakes, or I’d like some cereal for breakfast. Just like when someone is sounding out a word or pronounces it wrong, you still get an idea of what they are trying to say. 

Zone One has a lot, and I mean A LOT of words I have never heard in my life. When reading this I felt like I spent a little less than half my time looking up what these words meant. As an exercise in class, we had to find a word that we didn’t know and look it up and share the definition with the class then Professor McCoy would write it on the whiteboard. A lot of these words were words that classmates had never seen or heard. We all had to sound out some words or even just spell them out for Professor McCoy to tell us the word. 

While we were doing this activity it was interesting to see the words that some people didn’t know that I knew just because of where I came from and because of my major. Zone One had some organism names in the book that I never would have heard about otherwise. One of these words was “spirochete”. This is a bacteria that causes diseases like Lymes disease and syphilis. Without reading this book, and looking this up I would not have known what this was. However, the biology majors in the class knew or had at least heard of this. 

Different backgrounds and places of origin can determine things like the different words we know and the way that we speak. Just like when we were doing our in-class activity, everyone’s different educational backgrounds and the different places everyone came from added to our class discussion. We all learned new words and definitions that we might not have otherwise known. 

While we were trying to sound out these words out, no matter how badly we butchered them, Professor McCoy still knew what we were trying to say. Just like no matter how strangely I say certain words, people will always know what I am trying to say.

What Are We Consenting To?

What is consent? Consent is something we give in our everyday lives. From doctors’ offices to sex to even college, we are always giving, or withholding consent. Merriam-Webster defines consent in two ways. 1. The verb, “to give assent or approval: agree”, and 2. The noun, “compliance in or approval of what is done or being proposed by another”. When we go to the doctors’ office we have forms we have to sign, but do we know what is actually on them? Sure they tell us in a quick sentence what it’s about but do we really know? The truth is, we don’t. We blindly sign our medical forms and go on with getting our treatment. 

Today we are lucky enough to be given the option to give out consent. But in order for us to give out consent, we have to know what we are consenting to and we have to be given that chance. In our medical history, not everyone was given the chance to consent to what was happening to them. Many African Americans throughout history had medical experiments done on them without their knowledge. Many of these people just thought they were being cared for.

One specific instance of this can be seen in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. In this study, they promised that they would give free healthcare to about 600 people in Macon County, Alabama if they were to be infected (Washington, 157). They wanted to see the effects of syphilis in untreated African American men and believed that the disease impacted blacks differently than whites. These men did not know they were being studied and believed they were being treated when treatment was being withheld. The men in these studies were being treated for what was referred to as “bad blood”, which is an umbrella term for things such as anemia, syphilis and muscle aches; there was a group of infected and non-infected men. These men were all grouped together and “treated” with things such as vitamins and aspirins. They believed that they all had the same disease of “bad blood” and saw no harm of being together.

 During the time they thought they were being treated they believed they consented to treatment that would help to cure their syphilis. So what exactly did they consent to? They were lied to and deceived for medical research their whole lives. Not once did these men consent to being in a study nor were they ever alerted they were being studied. For years they believed to have been getting life-changing treatment when in fact their lives were at stake. So that brings us to the question, what do we consent to when we go to the doctors? What do those forms say that we so blindly sign? Are we consenting to medical experiments? There is a chance we will never know until someday someone is curious enough to read those forms we sign.

My body, my choice.

Almost everyone who has been on any social media platform in the last two years has seen or heard the words “My body, my choice”. For those who haven’t heard it, it is the pro-choice movement that has recently surfaced with the talk of defunding Planned Parent-hood. The whole idea behind this movement is that you should be able to choose what you want to happen to your body, and no one else can tell you what to do with it. In the case of this movement, it deals with the ideas of whether a woman should be able to get an abortion or not. However, when looking at it in a much less controversial light, the basis of this argument is to let me do whatever the heck I want with MY body. 

In todays time, the younger generations have more freedom than past generations did. We can dress how we want, say what we want and within reason, do what we want. The younger generations are the generations that can change the future for the better, and we can see them trying with each new movement that pops up. 

When I think of “My body, my choice” I think of the ability to be able to do what I want with my body because I have control over my body and what happens to it. For many of us, this is true, but for African Americans, it was not always the case. In Medical Apartheid, Harriet A. Washington writes of many accounts where African Americans had no say over what happened to their bodies. Medical experiments were done on them when they were alive, and their dead bodies were awarded to medical schools for medical research without alerting their families. Washington talks about one man named Cade who went to the hospital for severe injuries that caused doctors to believe he would not make it through the night. Cade was able to get better within a few days but unbeknownst to him, his doctors were under contract with the AEC (216). Without being given a choice, he was injected with plutonium. After this, he was kept in the hospital for six months after this where they pulled his teeth and took bone samples to see the effects of the plutonium. While Cade did go on to live a happy and healthy life, he did not get to choose what happened to his body. His ability to choose was taken away the minute they chose to not inform him of what was happening. 

Cade was never given the option to choose what happened to him, he was never given any options. Not only is this taking away his right to choose, but it is also dehumanizing. Human beings should be able to choose and give their consent before medical procedures are done to them and this was something never available to Cade. Because they needed to find out the effects of plutonium on the human body they used Cade as a vehicle for medical research taking away his choice to choose to allow this to happen or not. 

With the “My body, my choice” movement that has recently surfaced, supporters believed that they should get to choose what happens to their body. This is a theme that sits with me as everyone, should be able to get the options to choose what happens with their bodies. 

Discrimination in Healthcare

6 years ago I had the (unfortunate) opportunity to get braces. I had wickedly awful looking teeth and I refused to smile because of how awful they were. Thankfully I had health and dental insurance to cover part of the *very expensive* cost of my braces. Today I am able to smile proudly with perfectly straight teeth!

My mom recently got her wisdom teeth out and only had to pay $50 because her insurance covered the rest. If I ever have a toothache or need a check-up it is as simple as calling and making an appointment. Not everyone is as fortunate as my family and I are to be able to pay so little for dental care. After reading the article The Painful Truth about Teeth by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan I realized just how lucky I am and how privileged I am. 

In Maryland, hundreds of people waited in the cold for dental care. A lot of these people held steady jobs but were just unable to afford the cost of dental care. Dee Matello owns a small business with her husband and back in 2016 she and her husband both voted for Trump because he vowed to be the voice of the working class of America. Matello hasn’t received dental care, and for years she has had an ache in her back molar making it almost impossible to chew on that side of her mouth. 

Many of the people that showed up for this clinic had a steady paying job but did not have the dental insurance or the extra cash to make it to the dentist. Why is something as simple as the dentist so expensive and unreachable for so many working-class Americans?

The divide between the rich and the poor is something that keeps on growing, and now it is having detrimental effects on peoples lives. The working-class in America can no longer go to the dentist or doctor without breaking the bank. While the well off people are able to drop $2,000 on a single tooth, the working class has to save up, or wait until it is a dire emergency to get their tooth fixed. 

A study done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported by NPR sent out a survey asking Americans about their overall health and the results were quite fascinating. The health of Americans was declining and gender, race, and income played a big part. What this study showed was that white men with a higher income had the best health. While this is unfortunately not surprising, it is quite frustrating to think about. 

For thousands of years, there has been a divide between the upper and lower class. Upper class has always had the ability to own land, and generally had more rights than the lower class did. Not only was there a class divide but there was also a race divide. 

In Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington, the first chapter discusses the medical exploitation of blacks. Washington talks about how slaves were often used as vehicles for medical research and that slaves often couldn’t get the same medical care because of their work conditions (Washington, 29). Just as the working class in America today, healthcare was difficult to come by and often not an avenue taken unless it was a dire emergency. The sixth chapter goes into the idea that just because there was an end to slavery it did not mean there was an end in the scientific racism that was happening (145), there was no equality between whites and blacks in the medical field. They had a poor and unreliable medical system. 

I made the connection between Washington and the article we read for class because of just how unfair our healthcare can be. Working people can not afford something as simple as getting a tooth pulled, and the blacks were unable to get just healthcare because in both cases an unreliable healthcare system is in place. While these are not even close to the same magnitude, it serves to show that for years people and races have been unfairly discriminated against and their health has suffered because of this.


Many people are often named after people in their family who their parents hold very special. My name is Ariana, a completely random name that my mom just happened to like. My middle name is Rose, a basic middle name. My mom chose my middle name because it was her Grandmothers, my Great Grandmother, middle name: Vincenza Rose. Naturally, when I found this out I wanted to know more. I wanted to know all about this woman who I was named after, and why my mother chose her to name me after. 

Fortunately for me, my Great Grandmother is still alive so I was able to meet her and get to know her growing up. I was able to learn about her childhood and I learned that I am a lot like her. My Great Grandmother came over to America from Italy when she was a teenager, she made this trip all by herself. She left her family, friends, and life back in Italy so come to America and build herself a better life. My mom compares me to her because of my strong will and drive to build myself a better life. To me, it is an honor to share a middle name with a woman as strong as my Great Grandmother. 

We can see a story that is similar to mine, and a desire similar to mine to find out who you were named after in the book Zone One. Mark Spitz, the character in Zone One is sent from Buffalo with characters Kaitlyn and Garry to Manhattan to get rid of the skels and stragglers. Once everyone else is infected, Mark is left to fight the zombies on his own. While he is fighting the zombies he gets swallowed in the groud of them. Just like his namesake Mark Spitz the Olympian, Mark Spitz at the end of his career he is swallowed in a crowd of zombies (people). He is the last member of the society to be infected by the zombies. Mark Spitz was an awfully average guy from the start. He never overachieved but he also never slacked off, he was just average. Mark Spitz is not his real name however, it is a nickname given to him. The irony behind this, as Gary points out is that Mark Spitz is black. This may not seem important at first, but Gary goes on with the racial stereotype that “back people can not swim” (287). The other ironic idea behind this is just how average Mark Spitz the character is compared to the man he got his nickname after. Mark Spitz the Olympian. 

Olympian Mark Spitz was a competitive swimmer and he won 7 Olympic gold medals at the 1972 summer Olympics (Wikipedia, Mark Spitz). In class, we watched a video of Mark Spitz in the summer of 1972 Olympics where the camera continues to pan from him swimming, to the large crowd of people cheering him on. This is a particularly important video to see and understand because of the way that Zone One ends. 

Once everyone else is infected, Mark is left to fight the zombies on his own. While he is fighting the zombies he gets “jumps”  in the crowd of them. Just like his namesake Mark Spitz the Olympian, Mark Spitz at the end of his career he is swallowed in a crowd. 

Just like I am like my Great Grandmother in various ways, the character Mark Spitz is ironically the complete opposite of the real Mark Spitz and yet their careers ended the same way. 

Are you like your namesake, or are you the polar opposite of them?

Group Projects Aren’t Always That Bad.

Group projects have always been my biggest nightmare. In my experience, in college and in high school, one person is always left doing all the work, while everyone else just gets to put their name on it. In almost every group project, I have always been the one stuck doing all the work. 

My senior year of high school we had to do a project in government class where we had to come up with a make-belief island and choose a form of government to rule that island. It was a fun project, we got to draw up the island, make up a flag and a name and choose our imports and exports. I was excited about this until I got my group. They notoriously did not help in group projects and just rode the wave while someone else did all the work. As we started working we were given in-class time to complete this so we had a time when everyone could meet up and there was no excuse to not help. HOWEVER, I received no help on this project, even with the in-class meeting time! It put me in a hard spot because I did all the work and I didn’t know whether I should let the teacher know or if I should just let it go. I chose to let it go but after that group projects had a bad taste in my mouth, and I had yet to have a group project prove me otherwise.

So naturally, when I found out we were doing a group blog post I was dreading it. Right in the thick of my semester with all my papers being due, I was going to be stuck doing a group blog post alone and letting other people ride the wave that is the grade. 

I was wrong. The group that I was in for our group blog post was amazing. There was no one person doing all the work, but instead, we all split up the work and did our own part. We spent one day coming up with ideas and supporting quotes, all getting on the same page. The next day we all wrote our own paragraphs while still consulting and running things by each other and helping to edit for each other. We often bounced ideas off of each other so we were able to have one cohesive blog post where each paragraph flowed into the next. Everything worked nicely together. The last day we met we all edited the blog post TOGETHER. There were times when we all didn’t agree on what was being proposed, and we often didn’t agree on the wording of things. However, we still managed to stay respectful, even when we disagreed on things. We were able to compromise without hurting our blog post. It was a nice switch up from what I was used to with group projects. 

This project has taught me something very valuable that I plan to bring with me to future projects and future jobs. This has taught and showed me that even if you have a big group with different views, the assignment can get done in a timely manner. It is a whole new level of respect and teamwork that due to previous experiences I had never experienced. I feel as though this is something I can write on my resume for future employers to illustrate to them that I can respectively work in groups with people who have different views from me. 

Zulus: A-Z

There are two different ways you can read Zulus. One of which being, you can read each chapter heading/title. The other is choosing to completely skip over them. When I first started to read Zulus I ignored them and I only paid attention to them when it told me where to stop reading for class. It wasn’t until after a few class discussions that I went back and read them, and began to read them along with my chapters. After that, I started to piece everything together. I started to make connections, and I started to read the book a little more closely. When you look up the people, places, and dates in the chapter headings a lot of things start to make sense, but it also raises many more questions. I mean Chapter B tells you how the book is going to end! “Z is for Zulus” (21). The book title Zulus doesn’t really make much sense until you get to Chapter B where it gives a very brief history of the Zulus people and how they “fought for three hours, leaving three thousand Zulus dead” (21). It made me wonder if Everett chose them on purpose because their story was a brutal one, just like the history of the society in the book. When you get to Chapter I, the end of the heading says “I is for Imhotep”. I didn’t know who Imhotep was until Professor McCoy told us in class that he is often considered the father of medicine. I fact-checked this with an article I found, “Imhotep and Medical Science – Africas Gift to the World” by Don Jaide which said, “Imhotep was the world’s first-named physician”. NOW, put that into context with our book; the society in which Alice lived in had no medicine, so why is Imhotep relevant? What does he have to do with anything in the book other than being the father of the medicine that they DON’T have? The only thing I could think of was the irony behind this. The society has no access to medicine. After discussing in class one day, a few people brought up the idea that the reason they might not have access to it is so everyone winds up dying and the planet has the chance to heal from the disaster that struck.  It brings up the idea of our course epigraph again and how as readers, it’s our job to notice when the author embeds hidden clues and meanings behind things in their writing. It’s also our professors’ job, and also our own job to make sure we are noticing those things to better ourselves and our observing skills. Often times we overlook things that are right in front of our faces and don’t think about it because it either seems too obvious or because it is too sensitive and we don’t want to talk about. As readers, and as members of society we have to start being more observant of the things going on around us. We have to be more willing to talk about sensitive topics, the ones we don’t want to talk about if we are ever going to change as a society. 

Washington wrote in Medical Apartheid about how 42 years ago a man named Casper Yeagin vanished. His family had reported him missing, and after a few months of him missing and his family calling and visiting the cops many times, they finally found his body. Yeagins body had been awarded to a medical school to conduct research. They were able to find his body before they dissected him (115-116). Many people are unaware of situations like this that happened in our history. I didn’t know that was a thing until I started this class. It’s crazy to think that this happened only 55 years ago (the book was published in 2006, 13 years ago. 13+42=55). 55 years ago my grandma was my age, it’s crazy to think that this was happening during her lifetime. It’s sickening how many people turn a blind eye to things like this. We need to be better-informed citizens about our history, so we can make sure things like that never happen again. 

My takeaway from Zulus is to be more observant and to ask more questions in my day to day life. Not only will that make me a more informed citizen, but it will help me to educate other people. My future plan is to become a middle-high school English teacher and I believe that by being informed on all past and present topics I can better teach my classes and better shape the youth of America.

Be Informed

Our course epigraph ““My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”–Dionne Brand, from notes that Beth during the question-and-answer session following Brand’s March 2, 2013 reading at the Northeast Modern Language Association in Toronto” (course syllabus), makes me think about all the things that I have never noticed and been blind to. I feel as though it is better to know than to not know, and I feel as though it is your job to be an informed citizen wherever you are. My whole life I have been blind to the fact that our modern medicine has gone through experimentation with the use of slaves without their consent. So many people have never questioned the history of our medicine and therefore have never known the horrors of how it came to be. This makes me truly upset, and one goal I have for this semester in this class is to learn as much as I can about how our modern day medicine has come about so I can be more informed and inform others. In the first few chapters of Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington I have learned so much more than I feel I would have learned about this matter in my whole life. I never knew that gynecological instruments were tried involuntarily on slaves. I also learned that there are many accounts of people of color going missing, and when they pass away their bodies are awarded or sold to medical schools for students to run experiments on. There was a man named Ota Benga, who was taken from his country and awarded to Samuel Phillips Vernon after finding that his family and tribe had been slaughtered. Benga was locked in the monkey habitat at the zoo and put on display for everyone to see. They locked Benga up so that they could show the theory of evolution. After attacking people they released Benga and the African American people of the community raised money so they could send Benga to college. He ended up committing suicide years later. Stories like this would never have been told if it were not for Harriet A. Washington writing this book. We learned in class that iatrophobia is the fear of medicine, and many people of color have this fear because of the horrendous history of how modern medicine came to be. I mean who can blame them? I find myself getting upset reading about all these things that have happened in our history that no one has talked about, none of this is common knowledge. Another goal I have for this class is to become informed, and inform other people. While there is not much we can do about the past now, knowing about all these things can keep from having history repeat itself.