Goal-Setting Essay: ThinkING and Unpacking

Maya Nunez

Fall 2021

ENGL 101: LIT, MEDICINE & RACISM

“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.