“Noticing” vs. “THINKing”

Maya Nunez 

December 10, 2021

As I sit here and write my final- self-reflection essay, I wonder whether or not the course epigraph- “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice,” relates to the literature we’ve read and the ideas we’ve formed throughout the entire semester. I am sure I can sit here and make some sort of connection as to how the course epigraph might relate to what we’ve done thus far but, if I’m being honest, I don’t think this quote accurately reflects the work I’ve done in this class. When I think about the course epigraph, I think about my own, personal ability to “notice” as well as the character’s ability to notice throughout the readings. Although I’ve been encouraged by Beth and Kya to “notice” different themes and course concepts throughout the course, I’ve also been encouraged to “THINK”. The term “notice” is a verb that can be defined as “becoming aware of.” Although I have “become aware” of many things in this class, I did much more than just “become aware”. Beth and Kya also encouraged me to THINK- to form deeper connections through group/class discussions to be able to come up with different themes, ideas, and concepts. For me, THINKing has played a larger part in what we’ve been able to achieve in this course. To say I’ve only been able to “notice” takes away from all the hard work I’ve done in the class to go beyond noticing and to make sense of what it is I’ve learned throughout the semester. 

Thinking back to the beginning of the semester when we had just begun reading Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington, many of us had not known about the dark and brutal history of medical experimentation of Black Americans. It had come as a shock for many of us as to what it was we were reading. Being a sociomedical science major, I had learned quite a bit about the medicalization and the experimentation of black bodies in the United States but still, after reading a good part of this book, I’d learned things I’d never known before such as the clinical trials run by Dr. T. Stillman during the 1830s. During this time, Dr. T. Stilllman ran “serial advertisements in the Charleston Mercury for his infirmary, in which he principally treated skin disease.” (103) He requested “50 negros”, specifically those sick and/or considered incurable (103). Dr. T. Stillman tested different techniques and medications on these “debilitated and chronically unhealthy blacks” without their consent and then marketed his work for the world to use (103). When I read this in the class, I was in complete shock (as were other students). I was noticing a moment in history that I never once knew existed. Instead of just noticing what it was I was learning about, I was encouraged to THINK and make connections between the different assigned readings. During this time we were also reading Fortune’s Bones by Marilyn Nelson and Home by Toni Morrison. For our first collaborative essay, we were asked to focus on the idea of identity and understand how the author’s use of naming, imagination, and ease impact the idea of identity. By THINKing, my group and I were able to connect the different novels together by arguing that the authors use tactics of naming, ease, and imagination to help bring back the identity to those who’ve lived without one. THINKing about Medical Apartheid, Washington is able to bring back the identity of those that were experimented on by writing about and exposing the history of medical experimentation in America. She tells the stories that have been hidden for so long in American history and by telling these stories, by naming these people (who’ve fallen victim to experimentation), she is giving them back their identity. My group and I would not have been able to come to this conclusion has we just “noticed” what it was we were reading. By THINKing about how the texts in relation to one another we were able to make deeper connections by connecting academic study to real-world problems and issues. 

I want to note that although I don’t agree that the course epigraph aligns well with what we’ve done thus far this semester, I do think that noticing has played an important role in this class, for without noticing, I would not be able to THINK and form meaningful connections. I understand that being able to “notice” is an important part of this class especially when it comes to understanding characters’ actions or even authors’ actions for that matter but, what is most important for me is what is done after we notice. How can I ask meaningful questions and form deeper connections between novels and even personal- life experiences if I am not THINKing? Noticing is definitely the first step in being able to THINK and form meaningful connections between and within readings. A crucial part of the class had been being able to ask “meaningful questions… synthesizing multiple bodies of knowledge to address real-world problems and issues.” I’ve been able to do this by THINKing about the readings we’ve been assigned and coming up with concepts and themes that align well with the course learning outcomes. For the last collaborative essay, my group and I were asked to unpack how the novels we read (Clay’s Ark, Zulus, and Zone One)  and the section from “From Here to Equality: Reparation for Black Americans in the Twenty-first Century,” attend to the forces that reduce some human beings to one aspect of their humanity for the benefit of others. This prompt required that we not only “notice” the parts in the novels (and the article) where characters and/or people are being reduced to one feature, one characteristic, but this prompt also required that we THINK about how these actions (of reduction) impact humanity as a whole. By THINKing, my group and I were able to conclude that when people are reduced to one feature, this can create a series of issues. THINKing about the article on reparations for Black Americans, when we condense the history of the Black struggle into one aspect where there is only one end solution, we are not correctly acknowledging or addressing the issue of racism in American history. Tying this to the novel Zulus, when Alice discovers she’s able to reproduce, she is used by those closest to her. Instead of being seen as an equal member of society, she is reduced to a single identity. Similar to how Alice’s identity is being reduced to one aspect, so are the struggles of Black Americans in our nation’s history. Coming to this conclusion required my group and I to THINK so that we could come up with the comparison in our essay.

GLOBE’s insistence that Geneseo students should gain practice and the ability to “reflect upon changes in learning and outlook over time” can be connected to both the course epigraph on noticing and also the idea of THINKing. According to GLOBE, Geneseo students should “encounter broad areas of knowledge, become specialists in a particular discipline, develop habits of critical inquiry and civic participation, reflect on their learning, and reach beyond themselves by exploring the diversity of human experiences, culture, and viewpoint.” I feel like, by THINKing about what I’ve read and learned in class, I’ve been able to become a “specialist” in this class. I’ve been able to develop habits of critical inquiry and civic participation. I’ve been able to ask questions through class discussions and get a better idea of class concepts. I’ve been able to provide my own insight on the different assigned readings and explain my ideas to my peers around me. I’ve been able to not only reflect on my own learning but the learning of my peers. Considering this is a “joint class,” I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside many different students with many different majors so I’ve been introduced to their different learning styles and their different ideas and opinions on the work we’ve done in class. I’ve been able to explore diverse human experiences, cultures, and viewpoints both from the readings and from working alongside different students in the class. From the readings, I was able to learn a little more about race in America and I was able to form connections between race and the different literary pieces we read in class. From the class, I was able to engage with students from different backgrounds with different majors to come up with literary ideas and concepts for our classwork. Being able to THINK about course readings, students’ ideas, key concepts/ themes, etc… has helped shape my experience in this class. THINKing has played a larger role for me in this class than noticing. 

Goal-Setting Essay: ThinkING and Unpacking

Maya Nunez

Fall 2021


“My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”– Dionne Brand

My initial thought after reading this quote: “She (Beth) wants us to understand the course material through her eyes”

My concluding thought about the quote after doing some thinkING: “It is my job, my responsibility as a student and as an intellect, to notice key themes, ideas, and conclusions from class and course material and to be able to properly explain/ unpack my ideas and opinions to the class to bring different perspectives”

It is not that Beth wants us to notice course material through her eyes; rather, Beth is encouraging us to allow ourselves the opportunity to understand course material in a way that challenges ourselves and our thinkING. She wants us to make connections within and between course material and she wants us to ask questions like “WHY”…. why is this happening in the book, why is this important, what does this mean?

At the start of the semester, we were told that this class was full of students from different backgrounds. This means different majors, different writing styles, different class levels, etc… Our differences benefit our learning and our thinkING processes because they allow us to explore students’ different perspectives on course material. At the beginning of the semester when we were reading “Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem” by Marilyn Nelson, we spent the majority of class unpacking the first sentence of the preface of the book. It reads, “Fortune was born; he died” (Nelson 2004, 13). We talked about the structure of the sentence and why Nelson decided to begin the book in this way. What I originally thought was that Fortune was born into death. I’m not sure why I thought this way until I was asked in class, to “unpack”. I quickly re-read the sentence to myself again and began thinkING about how did I come to this conclusion? It finally hit me. I interpreted the semicolon that lied between the words “dead” and “he” as a sort of cause-and-effect arrow. The semicolon, in my opinion, represented a trajectory of where his life was going. Fortune, being an enslaved person, had no rights which means he had no life. His sole purpose was to work and it wasn’t until he died that he was “free”. As I shared these thoughts with the class, it was refreshing to see some students agreeing with what I was saying. I felt as though I introduced a new perspective to the class and I was allowing students to think similarly to me. 

Other students shared their interpretations in the class and while they were doing so, I found myself better understanding the book (and the purpose of this course). One student in the class talked about the semicolon as a metaphor for the continuation of Fortune’s life. He explained how, although Fortune may be dead, his story and his presence live on, even till today. I would have never thought about this first sentence this way if he hadn’t shared and unpacked his thoughts.  It was refreshing to see how my classmates interpreted this first sentence differently from the way I interpreted it and it forced me to think differently.  

“My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.”

In addition to challenging myself, I must challenge others as well. Whether that be the thoughts and ideas of my classmates or the work of the authors’ books that I am reading, it is important that I am always engaging and thinkING about whatever it is I am learning. Challenging others helps foster new ideas and perspectives and can create a space for better conservation. When we were reading “Home” by Toni Morrison, we talked about the several literary connections that were made in chapters 3-7. Morrison compares Cee and her story to a series of different fairy tales from Cinderella to Princess and the Pea. As I was reading these chapters and acknowledging these connections, I wondered, why has she done this? What is the significance of this comparison and what is she trying to get me to notice? Although I am still not sure why she decided to compare Cee’s life to fables and fairy tales, I think she did this to represent Cee as an innocent damsel in distress. Cee in the book was always being looked after whether it was from her brother, her boyfriend: Prince or even Sarah. She placed her trust in others even if it hurt her in the end. This was the connection I made but my groupmate thought of a different idea. She talked about the fact that most of the fairy tales we grow up watching as kids are actually based on the grim and sad original tales. She explained how Morrison may be comparing Cee to these different fairy tales, alluding that something bad is going to happen. We both questioned why Morrison decided to include this comparison in her book and we came up with different ideas. I would have never come up with her response (and her mine) if we didn’t unpack and share our ideas with one another. We were able to understand each other’s ideas and perspectives as they related to the book and I think this helped both of us get a better understanding of what Morrison was doing when she was constructing these chapters. 

“My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.”

The course epigraph is a great representation of what English 101: Literature, Medicine, and Racism, is all about. It is about acknowledging new ideas and concepts, pushing yourself to think critically, and giving people the time and space to present their ideas. It is about comparing and contrasting our ideas with one another to bring different perspectives into class discussions. When I think about the course epigraph, it pushes me to think differently. Moving forward, I will think back to this course epigraph to remind myself to think critically because doing so will help better my experience in class and will help me become a better student overall. There are many connections that I’ve made so far in class and I wouldn’t have been able to make them, at least not all of them if it weren’t for my peers in class. They’ve pushed me to notice certain things that I would not have never noticed myself. They’ve pushed me to make comparisons that I never thought would have existed. As students in this class, it is important that we are always thinkING and unpacking so that we are always learning.