Self Improvement: A Final Reflection

The course epigraph for English 101 is a quote from the notes of Beth McCoy during a question and answer session held by Dionne Brand, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” This quote is the basis for successfully completing this class. Without being able to notice purposefully in the text and during in class discussions, there is only minimal acceptance and understanding of the material. Noticing can be applied to every piece of literature that comes into the class and is a constant wall present to bounce ideas and thoughts off of.

Specifically for me, the epigraph has helped me delve deeper into the studies and research that I learned throughout my biology degree process. Having the full ability to notice that medicine is rooted much deeper than the physical body is extremely useful information as I progress to dental school. I felt uneducated and ignorant about something I am otherwise very passionate about and this drove me to want to actively learn and become a better member of the dental community to spread awareness of the medical oppression I had been blinded from for so long. A better understanding and ability to notice throughout my career is what will hopefully distinguish me as being a great doctor instead of a good one. Noticing has also helped me push back on some of my initial assumptions about medicine and build ideas that I never would have constructed otherwise.

            In Kate Williams, Mary Wooliams, and Jane Spiro’s Reflective Writing, they list that a good reflection consists of being open, patient, honest, curious, transparent, and rigorous. These are the basis for being able to reflect on the course as a whole and were the key things I worked on to improve my writing and understanding. Without these pieces you cannot completely and thoughtfully reflect on all you’ve learned. Being open requires a circling back of past assumptions and ideas that have been altered from beginning to end of the semester as well as how views have been shifted throughout the process. Being patient means to read through the course material thoroughly and notice as much as possible in conjunction with the course epigraph to accurately reflect on revelations that occurred while reading. I packaged together honesty and transparency in that admitting to inaccurate assumptions and unpacking how you were wrong are not only relatable to others but create an understanding that learning is a process and trying to skip to the part where you know everything will prove unsuccessful. Taking the time to be honest will help grow the knowledge needed to make connections throughout the rest of the course. This was not only difficult for me as I have trouble being wrong, but once I accepted the fact that it’s part of a greater process of understanding I found that I was getting a lot more out of the course than I ever thought I would. Curiosity was my main source of questioning throughout my reading and acted as a basis for my various blog posts. Genuine curiosity was easily evoked throughout this course and helped formulate ideas that I didn’t think I was capable of forming. Rigor was found when writing the whopping ten blog posts throughout the semester which was a lot more writing then I am used to completing in my major of biology. The class setup pushed me to grow with the course and accept that my first few blog posts were not going to be my absolute best but, watching my growth has been inspiring and rewarding. It was awesome being a part of a classroom community that encouraged failure at first to reach a goal of improvement before the semester ends. Rereading my previous blog posts, I’ve realized that my noticing is most effectively applied when carried outside the classroom and the lessons I’ve learned here become a piece of a new and improved me as I navigate the world in the future. 

Although I’ve learned to notice things beyond the literature and examine the applicable ideas, the readings were the glue that held everything together and provided evidence for my claims. Percival Everett’s Zulus helped me identify myself with the main character Alice Achitophel. It was a relief to see myself in her because I was constantly searching for an identity throughout the semester as the literature slowly took what I thought I knew from me with each book. As the reading began, I had more questions than answers. Everett wrote various scenes that were abstract and hard to picture, “Her liver and spleen had expanded to twice their normal sizes, engorged with blood and yellowish with infection, pulsing in rhythm with her heart.” No human person could realistically expand to become the size of a room and break open so this made imagery challenging for me. Although this book would have been one I’d give up on in the past I cycled back to the themes I saw her display and made connections in myself. At multiple points throughout the book, Everett portrays Alice as feeling trapped, “The hollow-eyed faces in the bleachers watched the canisters, studied them with a kind of reverence and measured indifference. Alice Achitophel walked down to the level of the tanks and viewed them from about fifty feet, feeling at a distance closer to power, though she understood nothing about the containers, nothing about the stares cast upon them…She rested there, breathed slowly and found an easy rhythm, looking up and finding comfort in seeing the sky.” She felt trapped in her body and once she had broken free from that, she was yet again trapped on the court for her impending suicide. I connected with her on many levels as I’ve had to escape my many “trappings” and assumptions to push myself beyond my original thoughts. An assumption that I carried with me throughout the reading was that this book was meaningless and abstract and too complex for me to understand. This is where my assumptions became burdens on my ability to make connections with the text, but during the discussion of the end of the book I connected in a big way. Some made the connection that Alice Achitophel was “stuck in the book” viewing the people reading her story which was supported by Everett’s words, “The angular woman gave warm laughter and told Alice Achitophel to realx and let things happen as they would…” Looking back on this quote I noticed that my mind had corrected the misspelled word relax and it wasn’t until I reread it that I noticed the incorrect spelling. This got me thinking about how if Alice were writing the book herself, words would be misspelled as she is human and not perfect. I again broke through my assumptions that there was this overarching obvious theme or “Aha!” moment and interpreted her story from my perspective. I realized that each reader that delves into Everett’s Zulus will gain something new from it depending on their individual thoughts and experiences that connects them to the book in one way or another. I began to make connections that if Alice wrote this book chapters A-Z, she must want the reader to start again, as the infamous alphabet tune states, and use their new perspectives to gain something once again from each reread. I had to read over many different parts of the book a couple of times to try and grasp what was happening, and I confused my multiple connections with confusion when in fact it was just me creating different interpretations. Everett has taught me to trust my abilities of interpreting and admit when I’m lacking confidence so I can improve my growth mindset. 

On the other hand, Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid has validated my carrying of assumptions with more concrete tangible evidence. Her evidence has not only opened my eyes to the truth about the medical profession but has made me a more understanding biology major as I progress into the medical field as well. Washington’s subtitle, “Finding the Truth in Plain Sight” describes exactly how I felt while reading her work. All the information in her book is out for the public to read yet I had gone my life without knowing medicine’s racial past. In previous blog posts I discuss the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment where treatment was withheld from dying participants in search for good data as well as the dark and twisted history of P.T. Barnum, who until reading this book seemed to be a fun creative circus inventor. I wasn’t just wrong, but I was confused and embarrassed when others had known that he, in the words of Washington, had exploited “black bodies” for his own gain. I had walked into this class feeling confident and believing that I had a leg up with my interest in medicine and biology background. Again, my assumptions had been completely wrong. I had to accept that maybe I wasn’t one of the most knowledgeable people in the room and that literature and novels can maybe teach me more about myself and medicine then the textbooks I had trusted for so long. I had neglected to pick up books such as Washington’s Medical Apartheid until now because I couldn’t break this assumption and once again prevented myself from gaining more knowledge without even realizing it. I had to break away from facts that I made the basis for all my assumptions and dig deeper and be more open to being wrong and push myself. Washington ironically used more facts to help me achieve this and I used her book as a reference while reading the fiction-based works from the course. The only thing Washington mentions that is more shocking than Medicine’s dark past, is it’s dark present, she states, “Old measures of health not only have failed to improve significantly but have stayed the same: some have even worsened. Mainstream newspapers and magazines often report disease in an ethnocentric manner that shrouds the true cost among African Americans.” If it weren’t for Washington exposing this information, clearly it would have never been relayed to me in the media either. She continues with, “Three times as many African Americans were diagnosed with diabetes in 1993 as in 1963. This rate is nearly twice that of white Americans and is sorely underestimated. The real black diabetes rate is probably double that of whites. As with most chronic diseases, African Americans suffer more complications, including limb loss, blindness, kidney disease, and terminal heart disease. Cancer, the nation’s second greatest killer, is diagnosed later in blacks and carries off proportionately more African Americans than whites. African Americans suffer the nation’s highest rate of cancer and cancer deaths.” It’s sad that this is a statistic I will have to tackle entering the medical field in the twenty first century. Like many I had to break my previous assumption that everyone receives equal care, because those that don’t are too afraid to ask for it. This deep mistrust is rooted in so much evidence which Washington has compiled, and I’ve learned that it will become my duty to attempt to repair this. 

            I’m not only extremely grateful for English 101, but I am grateful for the person it has made me today. I started off arrogant and confident in my fast-approaching medical career and have truly been humbled. I am so excited to move forward in my studies having all this knowledge and continuing to work on being a more open minded and understanding person. I’m confident that this class has provided me with tools for my career that I would have never gained elsewhere. I will always keep in mind that even if I think I know it all, there will always be so much more I still haven’t learned. Thank you, Professor Beth McCoy for helping to open my eyes and my mind to the importance of this literature and teaching me that it’s okay to ask for help. I will always remember all that Washington’s Medical Apartheid has taught me and will keep it forever by my side throughout the rest of my studies.  

The Importance of Accountability

Personal responsibility and accountability to the world around us is a concept we all have to believe in to some extent. Intrinsic to our understandings of ourselves is our ability to control our own affairs, to manage our impulses and desires. We understand the importance of standards, we make efforts to adhere to those standards in order to live healthy and productive lives. People for the most part want the same things. We want to live peacefully and in accordance with each other. We want to be valued and liked within our social structure. We want to avoid being hurt and doing harm to others. It’s easy to lose connection with reality and with each other in the modern world. We’re smart animals and we know what we want, to escape. In the modern world, escapism is easier to engage in and more readily accessible than it has ever been. When we escape, we avoid accountability. Accountability being a theme throughout this semester, the narratives present in the literature, and the ideas we have engaged with as a class this semester, have made me notice and think about what happens when people avoid accountability. 

Working as part of a group made me realize what I am capable of when part of a team. Because I was accountable for others beyond myself, I thought about the consequences in terms of how they would affect my team rather than just myself. It’s easy to give up when no one is depending on you, when no one cares and no one would notice but yourself if you were to stop trying. With others, I am driven forward to mind my conduct and apply my efforts in ways which will benefit those who depend on me. Through having a team, I am made accountable to something outside myself.

Throughout the course, I found myself relating and empathizing with the characters in the literature we read as a class. Their journeys and personal growths were painful and difficult at times, just as mine has been. They weren’t in control of their own lives until something shook up their passivity toward the world around them. The characters in the literature we have read and the people whose lives we have discussed all deal with the concept of control. Central to the theme of this course has been autonomy over our own affairs, the power that it can bring when utilized effectively and the chaos it can lead to when it isn’t. Unable to continue being idle, they were forced to engage in the situation they’re faced with in life. They are compelled to get up and start anew after being knocked down if they’re given the chance. By failing on my own terms, I have been taught a valuable lesson about accountability and what it takes to govern myself in healthy and helpful ways. In failing and experiencing the consequences of those failures, I am accountable to the results of poor decision making and a passive attitude toward what needs doing. Witnessing the growth of characters in the literature we read ran parallel to my own personal growth of accountability in experiencing the course.

Evidence for growth of a character I identified most closely with came with Ci in Home by Toni Morrison. Reliant on her brother and everyone to help her out, in the end she is dependent only on herself, capable of holding herself up without the need of others to be responsible for her. Her journey is one of finding strength through personal accountability. Only by confronting her dependence on others and overcoming it can she hope to live on her own in a way which allows her to be self sufficient. Her ability to take care of herself and live on her own terms comes only after great trauma and loss. Her ability to trust and care about life must be repaired after being betrayed and grievously injured. Despite the way harm is inflicted on her, she bounces back stronger and does not allow her trauma to define her.

Growth can also be observed in Alice Achitophel from Zulus by Percival Everett lives a life which is structured for her. She is forced to take control of her own life and confront dangers that she has been sheltered from. She deals with forces beyond her control and undergoes a very real and literal transformation as a result. Transformation and adaptation to difficult circumstances is something Human beings must be capable of in order to survive. I too have had to adapt and change in order to achieve what I truly want for myself and others.

During my time in this course, I did not perform as well as I had intended, but I did produce work I am proud of. This strain I am feeling at its end, the cause of it is a lesson learned. I need to balance my life in order to get what I want in it. Responsibility and self control lead to the ability to make good decisions for myself. These decisions improve my values by giving me more to appreciate in life. Regardless of whether a choice I make has a good or bad outcome, I learn something from making it. From this I can take a lesson and in the end, I am left with wisdom I did not have before. My journey ran parallel to those we read about where characters grapple with life and are put through many trials before realizing their strength. In finding that strength, our perceptions of ourselves are altered for the better. In experiencing what it is like to produce work I can be proud of, I was made intrinsically accountable to myself and my desire to feel that kind of success and pride for my own reasons.

The course was also deeply engaged in showing us the harm that can be done to others when accountability is not present in a position of power. Works such as Fortune’s Bones showed the reality of guilt and what it does to the mind of someone who has done evil to others. I never want to be forced to look back on my life and realize that I hurt anyone through irresponsible or cruel behavior. With great power comes great responsibility. People with power but no responsibility become villains. There were no shortage of villains in the literature we examined as a class. Learning about horrors such as the Tuskegee medical experiments, Nazi-era warping of medicine, and the evil deeds done by Japan’s Unit 731, have taught me about the extent of harm which can be done by those in power being unconcerned with the rights and feelings of others human beings. Through learning that history I have gained insight into accountability toward what is ethical and right for someone in a place of power over others. I will never allow myself to be a villain. These themes, connected with previous lessons I took away from the Art of Steve A. Prince, taught me about how misuse of authority granted to us can harm the people accountable to it.

Both and is the idea that ideas can be distinct and interconnected in a given stream of thought.  Personalizing our arguments and making connections to our own lives is important for producing writing of value. Likewise, the importance of reflection is not lost on me. By looking at the past, the history we share of hatred, violence, and cruelty, and apathy, we can be better than that. I can take this lesson and apply it to other aspects of my own life. When facing a barrier which needs to be overcome, or seeing wrongdoing in the world, make it personal. I will not stand idly by when something bad is happening. Though that lesson I needed came too late this semester for me to succeed in the way I had originally intended to, I am nevertheless thankful that it came. What I have now are the tools I need to do better. I will do better going forward because of this class. I will be accountable for myself and to others.

Overall, this course has greatly aided my ability to write and read in ways which will show my audience that I am competent and capable of writing well. This development has been valuable. As a result of taking the course, my knowledge of a very overlooked history has been made greater as has my ability to relay it to others in writing. I have learned a great deal in this course, not only about history and racism in medicine, but about myself and who I ought to be. I want to be an accountable person, someone who can be trusted by others. I want to be trusted not only to do what needs to be done, but to do what is right in any situation I am faced with.

outside the [box]

I chose to take this course because of the positive experience I had last fall working with Dr. McCoy in English 203. I experienced a lot of growth during my time in that course, particularly because it was my first semester in college; in fact, it was the very first college class I ever walked into on my first day here. Something I recalled about working with Dr. McCoy in the past was the emphasis she put on practice, and how important it was to keep progressing throughout the semester. I was excited to take this course because although I knew that the subject matter would be difficult, I also knew I would learn a lot and expand my mind as a thinker and as a reader. Not only exposing myself to literature that discusses things such as the complexities of race, but also literature that takes more than a first read to process and understand was a good way for me to recognize that growth was necessary as a student of English here at Geneseo. I just didn’t know how much. 

Reflecting on the course epigraph reminds me of something Dr. McCoy discussed with us in class, and that is her goal for the semester: that she become irrelevant by the end and that we be able to function on our own as a class and as a group of thinkers. Throughout the semester, our conversations about the literature we have been reading and its real-world applications have become more natural, and we have become more comfortable digesting it, working with it, and sharing our interpretations of it. Although at first there was a lot of silence in the conversations, I found that as other students began taking up more space, so did I.  I also have felt inspired by my classmates and the wisdom that their experiences and perspectives add to the way in which they understand the course material. This class has really allowed me to become a more open thinker and receive other interpretations and ideas more willingly. 

 I have often felt in the past that my place in these discussions was to take a backseat. Especially coming from a conservative, small-town high school, where my opinions were often not well received. I was afraid to say something wrong, or to even say anything at all. Something that I have learned about myself over the course of the semester is that I am completely capable of participating in these conversations. The literature we dealt with in this course was complex, and not simple to understand or unpack. At the beginning of the semester, I struggled to feel comfortable sharing my ideas with the class or with my group during discussions. However, as the semester progressed, I felt the course began equipping me with the tools I needed to have these conversations. With practice, things that once scared me came naturally. When I began participating more, I started to understand the importance of participating while these conversations were going on. I was receiving feedback, I was expanding my perspective, and most importantly, I was helping other thinkers in the room to develop their thoughts, too. The more I shared during class discussion, the more I felt I grew and learned, both as a student and as a person. 

Although this class definitely made me a better listener, it also gave me more confidence in sharing my own ideas, even (or especially) if they felt a bit outside the box. I felt myself becoming less afraid to say things even if I was unsure if they were strange interpretations of the text, and I felt myself becoming more comfortable with helping classmates formulate their understandings as well. Being comfortable with sharing opinions and interpretations is something that has been challenging for me, and I have felt myself get much better at it because of this class and the difficult texts we have been working with. This is a skill that I will carry into my other classes in my time here at Geneseo and ultimately into my life outside of college and academia. In fact, I have already noticed the ways in which this skill has helped me to feel comfortable participating in my Women’s and Gender Studies 310 class this semester, which has dealt with similar conversations and subjects. I found my disciplines overlapping in a very rewarding way within the work that I was doing in these two courses this semester.

I also learned an important lesson during the process of crafting one of my blog posts. I misunderstood a passage in one of the texts, Medical Apartheid, and ended up writing a blog post that unintentionally argued an untrue point which perpetuated harmful, untrue ideas. This misstep allowed me to realize the power that my words had, particularly on a public blog forum. It was a real world application of the conversations we had been having in class, and it showed me just how important it was for me, a privileged person, to work carefully with texts about these subjects. It reminded me to make sure that I was fact-checking and reading these texts carefully rather than utilizing parts that I thought I understood without fully dissecting the surrounding context that was a bit more unclear and confusing to me at first read. This allowed me to notice something about myself as a reader, and although it is unfortunate that this is how it occurred, I learned just how easy it can be to unintentionally perpetuate harmful things about minority groups and just how important it is to be cautious when having these conversations. I had absolutely no intentions of doing so, which was an important reminder and wake up call that even unintentional missteps can perpetuate harmful stereotypes without even knowing that they are doing so. 

This is an important lesson that I am grateful to the course and to Dr. McCoy for teaching me. Public blogging is no different than social media in that it is accessible to future employers and is something you can be held accountable for for the rest of your life.  It is preached, particularly to my generation, that maintaining a clean reputation on the internet is incredibly important because it is something that can always be traced back to you even if you try to get rid of it. However, often in academic circles, this is something that isn’t even considered or discussed. The time that Dr. McCoy took to carefully explain the implications of public writing is something I am grateful for, and her careful attention to the blog allowed for me to be protected and correct my mistake.

Some of the characters in the literature we read for this course go through a process of growth and taking control of their circumstances, too. Many of the novels that we have read throughout the semester have themes of challenging circumstances pushing characters to transform and grow. This is something that hit particularly close to home for me this semester. I struggled this semester to manage the challenges of my personal life with succeeding academically. However, I feel that I was able to persevere and do as much as I can to both prioritize self-care and be there for the people who needed me at home while still putting time into my schoolwork. 

Although this semester challenged me personally in many ways, I am grateful for the ways that it challenged me academically. Although my physical presence in class was not as consistent as I would have liked it to have been throughout the semester, I tried as much as I could to prioritize my mental health while showing up for myself academically. Over the course of the semester, I found it easier to show up for myself, and to share my thoughts and ideas as we progressed through the texts and conversations that came along with them. I wish, in hindsight, that I had been able to be more physically present, because that is where the important work of this course is done. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the growth that I have experienced during this semester.

Reflection on Emotional Distancing and its Effects in the Medical Field and the Literature

Throughout the semester, we have come to learn about a variety of injustices within our medical system. It is easy to appreciate the severity of these transgressions, but it is not as simple to understand what enabled these events to occur. Our course epigraph, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”—Dionne Brand, was brought to my attention during a collaborative blog post in this class. In the post, the term “these people” was used. This was not written with bad intentions, but when the historical use of this term to alienate and mistreat others was brought to our attention, I could not help but begin to notice instances in which the characters in the novels we read also used this label of “the other” to alienate people and allow some sort of injustice to occur. This act of labeling and separating others extends beyond the text and is one of the many factors that has allowed the medical injustices we have explored in this class to occur. Through noticing and reflecting upon this factor of separation, I was able to begin to make connections to how this could be avoided in my own future practice in order to provide the best patient care possible.

Continue reading “Reflection on Emotional Distancing and its Effects in the Medical Field and the Literature”

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.

Final Reflection Essay // Medicine and Racism

When I was choosing courses for the Fall 2019 semester my advisor had noted that I needed another class in Literature that would fulfill the general education requirement. As I’m sifting through the registrar of various types of literature courses my eye suddenly got caught on a class titled, “Literature; Medicine and Racism”. It stood out to me because I immediately started thinking about how medicine and racism could be related and/or connected through literature. I just had never put those two together in my head before. My sister is in her last year of pharmacy school at the University of Buffalo so if you can imagine, she was the one blessed with the science brains. However, I wanted to learn more about the coexistence of medicine and racism. I gained interest by the second and signed up for it. Before classes began I was set in stone to the fact that either way this class was going to be either one of my best or a challenging one due to the fact that going into this I knew writing and reading wasn’t my strong suit. The framework completed throughout class discussions, the essay writing templates reviewed, comprehension strategies practiced, independent work, and group projects have all been an enjoyable challenge to overcome. I can confidently state that what I’ve learned in this course like the different approaches to reading, writing, and listening, has given me an exceptional opportunity to boost my knowledge on the current issue of how medicine and racism are unfortunately still currently becoming more and more intertwined all over the world. Also the ability to apply what I’ve retained in this course to my everyday life.

Since I was a young child I’ve been a ‘show me or I don’t believe you’ type person. Prior to enrolling at Geneseo, this is how I had always been.  This course and Dr. McCoy’s tactics taught me to dig deeper and really utilize your brain so that I could ‘show’ myself. I was also able to learn how to use surrounding context more and more each day because with some of the challenges these books brought me, I was inclined to refer back to the Reflective Writing article. “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice”. This is a quote from Dionne Brand that has been brought up numerous times in class and it is also the course epigraph. Acting as a general theme for everyone, my classmates and I were able to notice different things that stood out to us in each book. Then the following class we would come together in a group and discuss what jumped out at us, what didn’t make sense to us, and if there were any themes that were able to be tied back to another book that we had already read or been reading. One of the most helpful articles of this whole semester was the article about reflective writing. This article taught me the most about myself as a writer while feeding my brain with new knowledge on how to become a more effective and also reflective writer. The first thing we did in class was stand up and throw a bouncy ball of a wall continuously. One can think of this procedure as how the act of noticing and thinking flow in a group of people. When working in groups during class this semester I was more comfortable than I thought I would be because of the ball off the wall tactic. My classmates and I whether we had the same ideas and thoughts or polar opposites, were able to assist each other by offering new perception. So I wasn’t worried to say how I felt knowing that someone would bounce off of it soon after with what they feel about the topic being discussed. As noted on the syllabus for this course “We are here to listen, to learn, to teach, to debate, to change, to grow.” All of these things were achieved each class by listening to Dr. McCoy and cooperating with peers in group activity. For example, with the group blog post assignment, Dr. McCoy stressed the importance of working together in a group and bouncing ideas off of each other to get started. With having a serious case of anxiety, talking in front of people and stating my opinion has always been burdensome. However, as each class went by I became more confident in what I had to say because I kept becoming a better reader, listener, and speaker. As I read on for this class in my dorm room every week, the reflective writing article written by Kate Williams, Mary Wooliams, and Jane Spiro was always pulled up on my computer. The part about asking strategic questions, specifically, aided me the most by allowing myself to pause whenever needed during the book  to ask myself important critical questions like, What? Why? And Who? These questions may seem shallow but they give you good insight on who you are writing for and reading about. Sometimes, especially with the book Zone One, I would find myself stumbled upon words that I had never seen before like emporium, menagerie, which is like a training habitat for animals, and spirochete that is a vicious bacteria due to the effect of it being diseases like Lyme disease and Syphilis. Before Googling all of the words I was barely able to pronounce throughout this semester, I was able to remember back to the reflective writing article and the What, Why, Who strategy. Then I could piece together context clues and sometimes not even need to look up a word. Combining the use of the course epigraph, the strategies of the reflective writing article, and many more sources Dr. McCoy has given us to utilize as resources to make writing our essays less painless like the Gibbs Reflective Cycle, I have become a more well rounded reader and writer. 

During the year while I wasn’t reading a novel for this course or any of my other classes I tried to make enough time to read the biography of Tony Dungey who was an NFL player when he was younger and is now retired, a Super Bowl winning coach and an analyst. I started at the beginning of the semester when I myself didn’t believe I had the skill to absorb information at all when I would read, causing me to re-read and take double the time. Now at the end of the semester, I’m about 10 chapters in and I catch myself stopping every chapter and asking myself what just happened and how that chapter makes me feel. Along with the rest of the questions that the Gibbs Reflective Cycle follows with including the conclusion which makes me ask myself if I read it again knowing what I know now would I think or feel differently about it? It has made reading more enjoyable for me knowing that I have these templates and cycles in the back of my head now. I’ve become more of a proactive reader which I’ve noticed has helped me in other aspects in life as well.

While reading Medical Apartheid, I was exposed to a lot of new information that I had never heard before. My perception on the topics in the book had taken a side because now I have proper knowledge on topics like African American reproductive rights and the amount of abusive medical practices being done on African Americans. Prior to diving into this novel I had not much of a viewpoint on the linkage of Medicine and Racism but in finishing it I was able to form an educated opinion. The whole science and medicine industry needs to come together and fix this recurring issue because minorities anywhere in the world shouldn’t be treated like lab rats and lied to about their medication. Washington in the beginning of the book speaks about back in the day when slaves weren’t able to get medical care due to their unpleasant working conditions and they were actually used as lab rats for new medicines (Washington 29). Many people who are a part of the science or medicine industry often argue that the aboloshment of slavery was so long ago and that is also when unfair medical treatment was halt to a stop. However, according to the “sixth U.S. census (of 1840)”, the free blacks suffered far worse mental and physical issues and diseases than did enslaved blacks and of course white males and females (Washington 145,146). What Washington was trying to tell readers is that sadly racism is still present in relation to medical treatment regardless of slavery officially being banished in the United States.

Now that finals are just about over and classes are wrapping up, I noticed the usefulness of the things taught to me during this course. With the Reflective Writing article and all the tips and templates practiced over the semester I not only feel more confident internally with my speaking skills, I also feel like I am more able now to help people with writing and word play. Increasing my ability to comprehend in general and speak aloud in front of a group of people is the one thing I think has been most important to my personal growth this semester because I truly can apply those skills to everyday life.

The Process of Self Reflection

If you were to ask me a year ago if I would be interested in taking a class called “Literature, Medicine, and Racism”, I would say no, not at all. Not because it doesn’t sound interesting—it definitely does, but because two of the words in the course title are pretty intimidating to me: literature and medicine. I have always felt as though my general English skills were never that strong—though I was a good student in high school, reading and writing were never really my favorite activities, nor were they my strong suits, and I felt like my grades in my English courses generally reflected that which is why “literature” may have turned me away from this course at first. But when it comes to “medicine”, that’s a different (and far more embarrassing) story—I’m definitely the type to pass out at the mention of most medical procedures (and I absolutely have done so on a few more than several occasions). However, during registration at freshman orientation this past summer, I decided it would be a good idea for me to expand my horizons a little and take an English course—specifically, this English course— and because of the learning opportunities I have had in this course, I am so glad I did. ENGL-101 Literature, Medicine, and Racism has taught me so much in terms of my abilities as an English student and in terms of the content I have had the opportunity of learning in the course.

One thing I have learned about in taking this class is my ability now to notice. In being more open to noticing new things, I have been able to see new connections—ranging from connections within the course materials (being the literature, the secondary readings, and/or our class discussions) to connections from classes I’ve taken in the past and my own life experiences to this course. This capability to notice more has been helpful in building my abilities as a student. As we approached the end of the course, the epigraph came up again as a point of discussion for us all to reflect upon.  The course epigraph, as stated in the syllabus, is: “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” This quote from Dionne Brand was constantly present in our class, whether it was brought up momentarily in a discussion or if it was in the back of our minds.

Continue reading “The Process of Self Reflection”

Learning How to Think Again

When I look back at the beginning of the course, I see a senior biochemistry major sitting down for his first English 100 class. He was only present because he needed an additional class in English in order to apply for medical school in the coming months. He skimmed through the lengthy syllabus, looking for what he had to complete in order to receive an “A” and keep up his GPA. He neglected to notice most of the material provided for him, including the course epigraph. He had other things on his mind, applying medical school, captaining the men’s soccer team, completing his upper-level science courses and figuring out a way to find a little extra time for sleep. From his abbreviated look at the syllabus, he determined that he would likely be able to put in a moderate effort, complete the course then forget it. I am this student. Correction: I was this student. The reason I introduce myself in the third person is that the student I was when I sat down for my first day of class is unrecognizable to the person I am now.

In one of the first days of class, Dr. McCoy asked the room full of students to go back over the syllabus and identify one item in particular. The course epigraph. A quote from Dionne Brand read “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.” It’s very fitting that Dr. McCoy has noticed that students tend to overlook important items when presented with multiple pages of a dense syllabus.  At first read, I believed the epigraph meant, that I should improve my power of observation, and notice small things that I would commonly overlook. In my blog post “Knowledge and the Ability to Notice”, I claimed the ability to notice came through acquiring knowledge. If you learn about things that have happened, you can notice similar things that are happening. I now believe that I was only partially right. The ability to notice is connected to how we think.

The title of the course is Literature, Medicine and Racism. These are topics that are not normally discussed together. The course title led me to infer that everything that we would learn and write would carry enormous weight because of the pain and distress associated with it. I had imagined this course to be full of learning about the history of racism and how it intertwined with the practice of medicine. It was, but only in part. We were introduced to Harriet Washington and her documentation of the problems of discrimination in the medical field in Medical Apartheid. Washington illuminates some of the lesser-known acts of discrimination and cruelty towards minority groups. However, the syllabus contained other books, some of which were considered science fiction. How is science fiction interconnected with Medical Apartheid? Over the course of the semester, it became increasingly apparent that the science fiction novels were far more significant than mere stories but provided import commentary on social issues. In order to interpret the relationship between the novelists we would read and Harriet Washington, I would need to be able to notice and, more importantly, think in a way in which I was unaccustomed.

I was intrigued by a recurring comment that Dr. McCoy provided me as feedback on many of my blog posts. One rendition of the comment was “…keep going, keep thinkING, keep figuring things out.” I realized that my ability to notice wasn’t rooted in my attention to detail but in the process of thought. As a biochemistry major, I have been trained to absorb vast amounts of concrete material that generally was not open to interpretation. Science consists of explicit mechanisms and direct cause and effect relationships. Initially, I approached the stories and concepts presented in this course with my previous mindset. Although this has provided me with the ability to understand many intricate chemical and biological concepts, I was at a loss when presented with materials of fiction. I was unable to grasp the commentaries and their significance, that were presented behind complex fictitious plots, and my ability to comment on major course concepts was limited. I needed practice in thoughtfully navigating socially important course materials and noticing the connections.

Percival Everett’s Zulus is a novel that is very stimulating of thought, but only if you commit to it. At first, I didn’t. Can you blame me? The world was not relatable, the characters were peculiar, and the writing caused me to constantly re-read sections with the hope I could find some context to help my understanding. Even the headings of chapters were filled with abstract quotes and allegories. With some guidance, I was able to navigate the plot but struggled to grasp how Zulus connected to the concepts from class. Dr. McCoy was able to walk the class through a statement made by Kevin Peters, one of the main characters, when he said that “We are the great wound.” This connected to the government’s mistrust of people due to their unpredictable nature as presented in Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid. A doctor, in 1867, had purposed that the cause of John Patterson’s mental condition was due to his newly acquired freedom as a former African-American slave. Washington wrote, “The doctor believed that, as with other black patients with this condition, the psychological pressure of caring for himself when Patterson possessed neither the intelligence nor the judgment to do had proved too great, and Patterson had sunk into madness.” This illuminated the tendency of people in power to attempt to prevent the free-thinking in the oppressed class. It was proven to me that Everett is providing social commentary, not just trying to infuriate his readers.

After, Dr. McCoy pointed out that the main character, Alice, might be trapped inside of the actual book.  Everett described Alice’s severed head as being placed in a cube filled with “strange primitive drawings and isolated words, some in languages she did not know, but there, speaking to her.” This quote fell in a section that I did not understand and quickly swept over. Dr. McCoy was able to interpret this section in order to illuminate its significance to the novel. I committed myself to “figuring things out” because I was overlooking significant parts of the novels. So far, I had missed extremely important details to both the story and to the underlying commentary that the author was trying to convey. I did not want to miss anything that important again. I had realized the importance of being able to notice.

The growth in my ability to think through and reveal concealed commentary is demonstrated in my blog post “Who is Mark Spitz ?.” In the blog post, I introduced Mark Spitz both as a character in Zone One by Colson Whitehead and as the Olympic swimmer. The character was given the name because instead of swimming to safety, as his companions did, Mark Spitz fought off a horde of dangerous skels in an incredible act of bravery. However, his act of bravery was really enticed due to his inability to swim. Equipped with the training to notice and the commitment to figuring things out, I began to think about Whitehead’s commentary on racism. Whitehead subtly brings in an element of racism during a conversation that occurred after Gary had been bitten by saying “Plus the black-people-can’t-swim thing.” The conversation also revealed that, in the story, Mark Spitz was an African-American. As a result of noticing these small details, I began to formulate an idea. I created an analogy, where Mark Spitz represents an idea of a better world. The idea that one day all people would be treated as equals without any form of bigotry or discrimination. The idea for hope, that cannot be killed or destroyed even if it faced with a whole world full of forces that opposed it. While this may not have been Whitehead’s message while writing this book, it incited this idea in me. It was a powerful thought. It gave me the hope that if we fight against racism without discouragement we can create a better world for those to come. The deep analysis of the text had a profound impact on me, and it could for everyone. Expanding my process of thought allowed me to understand the weight of the text.

My growth in the combination of noticing and thinking can be seen in my blog post entitled “Eugenics, Genetic Counseling, and Jacob.” In the post, I discussed the controversial nature of eugenics and the practice of genetic counseling and related it to Octavia E. Butler’s Clays Ark. Two characters in Clay’s Ark, Rane and Lupe shared different opinions regarding giving birth to genetically altered children. Lupe, who at this point in the story is depicted as evil, explains that “Eli says we are preserving humanity. I agree with him. We are.” I paused after reading this line. Butler had trapped me. Do I side with Rane who was portrayed as an innocent victim? Or do I side with Lupe, who Butler uses as a villain? Normally, I would have cut my losses and abandoned the topic because of the controversial nature of eugenics and the weight my words would carry. While noticing that I was afraid of engaging such a topic, I chose to commit to it. I noticed something in the reading and myself and then worked through my thought process.

I didn’t commit to a side, but the process of thought. In my blog post, I explained what I was noticing in the text and in myself. Butler posed a question to me as the reader. I answered it with more questions, which would have earned me a failing grade in my biochemistry courses, but well demonstrated my thoughts. It was difficult for me to find the right words to responsibly navigate this topic. I found myself re-writing the post again and again in order to find the right combination of words that would thoughtfully describe what I had noticed without portraying myself as controversial or insensitive. I realized the significance of what I was actually doing. Like Butler, I was trying to convey the significance of thought about a difficult topic. Letting people decide for themselves what they believe to be right, without persuasion, is the importance of thought. Only through your own thinking can you truly understand troublesome topics and establish your own personal beliefs.  

My understanding of Dionne Brand’s quote changed over the length of the semester.  The first part of the quote reads “My job is to notice”. The significance of this portion was clear to me. In order to be a successful writer, one must be able to notice the intricacies of the world to be descriptive and relatable to readers. At first, the understanding of the second part of the epigraph eluded me. What did it mean to “notice that you can notice”? Perhaps it meant that everyone had the ability to notice and they should be aware of their capability. Of course, like all of the other materials provided, the entire epigraph connects to the course topic. I believe that it means that everyone can indeed notice, and has a responsibility to do so. In order to eradicate racism, every act of discrimination needs to be identified in order for it to be corrected. The latter portion of the epigraph is the more powerful part of Brand’s message. I interpret this piece as a call to action for everyone, including myself, to be aware of the fact that they can initiate change by using their ability to notice. Without noticing deplorable acts, no rectifying change will ever occur.

I have learned a great deal about the history of racism. Although the historical knowledge I have gained is extremely important, I feel that my growth as a thinker is the more beneficial effect of enrolling in this course. I have grown to be able to better understand my own thoughts and to communicate my unique interpretations to others. Everyone has different experiences and will have different reactions and thoughts regarding the text. The world is full of different voices each with something unique to say, and this course has allowed me to be able to responsibly contribute mine. This class has helped to train my ability to notice through improving my process of thought and will have a profound effect on everything that I encounter in the future. I can confidently say that I am now better equipped to navigate the world and have a positive impact on my fellow human beings. There is still a lot for me to learn and much room for me to grow, but the experience that I had during this course has set me on a path to becoming a more complete and socially responsible human being.

Watching: A Self Reflection

This semester, many things have been drawn to my attention and I have been able to see others noticing things that were brought to their attention. This class has helped me understand what it truly means to notice things. It isn’t just about paying attention to ideas,  phrases or characters, it is about understanding and deeply thinking about what you have seen or heard. The course epigraph is “My job is to notice…and to notice that you notice” a quote by Dionne Brand. This epigraph was what drove the class, either by being talked about directly or by being in the back of our minds. 

Throughout the class and the books we have read, I have noticed many things. I have watched my peers read passages of the books we are reading and everyone has different things that are called to their attention. I have seen many whole class discussions where one person has seen something in a passage and others are able to relate and elaborate. I have also said things within discussions that people have bounced their ideas off of. The literature we have read creates pathways for meaningful discussions to occur. 

One discussion that really made an impact on me was our discussion about words. When reading Zone One by Colson Whitehead, there were many words in the book that not many people knew, and so we discussed these words. The conversation stood out to me because it made me think about how different everyone really is, just by saying words differently.  Even just within the state of New York, there are so many different accents and ways to say things. Everyone is different and that is okay. I also saw something similar happen within Zulus by Percival Everett. The book had many misspellings throughout and some people caught it while others did not. This also speaks to the fact that people may spell things wrong but others will still understand what they mean, just like when people say things differently, the idea is still the same. 

One of the first things we did in class was take a bouncy ball and bounce it off the wall. This was to symbolize how thinking and noticing works. This was the first thing we did to introduce the epigraph, showing that everyone has different things that they are aware of. Everyone also has their own ideas that we can bounce off of each other. We all start with one common idea and many others form from that. We can discuss what certain things mean in a book or a passage and each person has their own interpretation of what it means. Such as when we discussed the book Zulus by Percival Everett, and how ideas within that book may be represented in other pieces of literature. I saw that the idea of the body as the most important thing in medical research was also represented in the book Fortune’s Bones by Marilyn Nelson when we were shown that the bones of the man underwent many medical experiences. This connected to Zulus because the main character also was the subject of medical experimentation that she did not specifically want. I saw this happen to my peers throughout the semester, more so towards the middle and end. More people began to connect the texts within the group discussions, which allowed others to see those connections and make them personal. As people became more comfortable in groups and with each other, discussions flourished. 

My peers were able to connect ideas found in one book to a previous book we had read, as many ideals and concepts were repeated throughout the literature. Such as the idea that many minorities struggled with the medical field for equal protection against harmful procedures. This idea was prevalent in many of the books we read. 

Within the main book we always connected back to, Medical Aparthied by Harriet Washington, the author discussed many horrible experiments that African Americans had to endure. Even in the first chapter, the author discusses the fact that “Enslavement could not have existed and certainly could not have persisted without medical science” (pg 26). This quote is important because it describes how the world of slavery could not have existed without the medical world. If people had stopped preforming medical experiments on slaves, slavery would have ended because there would not have been as large of a need for them. The book also discusses how African Americans have been used as medical testers for years and how these abuses have harmed society as a whole. 

We connected our other readings back to this book because each other piece of literature has had that same idea embedded within itself. Each story we read in class discussed some minority, real or imaginary, that had injustices against them. Such as Zone One and the groups killing the zombies, and in Medical Aparthied, the doctors killing slaves for research. The doctors used medicine and research to justify killing innocent slaves, just as those in Zone One used the zombies taking over the land to justify killing them, rather than just containing them. Each book had a similar connection to the course materials and the course epigraph. This idea connects to the course epigraph because within each piece of literature, there was something you could notice that you also saw in another book. The course epigraph helped us see the connections between the books. The epigraph also helped the class to work through each book on its own, because it allowed us to make connections to other parts of the same book. 

Throughout the course and the semester, I have grown in my writing and seen how others have as well. It was a privilege to be in this class with all of these people, learning about something that not many people get a chance to learn. I enjoyed being in this class this semester and look forward to how it can help me in the future.

Walkers, Skels, and Biters Oh My!

In reading Zone One by Colson Whitehead, I was met with a concept within horror fiction I am all too familiar with from reading other series and watching media within the zombie genre. For whatever reason, the characters in a zombie movie or a zombie novel never just call zombies zombies. Despite the zombie being one of the most popular and perhaps the most recognizable monster within horror fiction, the characters always behave as though they have no idea what’s going on when their zombie apocalypse starts up.

In every piece of zombie related fiction there’s always some dialogue which goes something like this. “Should we call them Walkers because of their slow rate of movement? Perhaps we should call them Biters because you know, they bite?” They’re zombies. You know what a zombie is! Just call them zombies!

This is important however, for the world building aspects of the zombie apocalypse, to enable the violence which will be done to these creatures. Action involving the slaughter of the shambling undead is only entertaining for a general audience once the creatures have been sufficiently dehumanized and we no longer sympathize with them. Zone One does an excellent job of diving into this and got me thinking about how the names we use take away the empathy we feel towards other groups of human beings.

It connected within my mind to an episode of the award winning psychological horror series Black Mirror titled Men Against Fire. Much like in Zone One, the story follows a military force clearing areas of biological threats, these being diseased individuals or people with genetic weaknesses. The similarity of these stories follow a theme of doing whatever it takes to survive by way of dehumanizing the enemy. Violence against the dehumanized gray horde is easier than it would be to project human characteristics onto these adversaries. However, there is a more interesting and less commonly utilized method of devaluing the enemies present to the characters in Zone One. Characters project the qualities, tendencies and personalities of the people they dislike onto the zombies. The ways characters respectively choose to go about this speaks to who they are and what their background in life has been.

Zone One is a story about rebuilding society. It is a narrative which revolves centrally on the concept of reclamation and the taking back of New York City. New York City is a place containing many different kinds of people from many different classes and backgrounds. New York city is also the place of origin for use of the term Skel.

Some characters choose to imagine the skels as the rich, people with privilege and power that they themselves never had. In doing so, they are easy to think of as villainous and deserving of the dispatching they are to receive from the hunters. Likewise, and in better accordance with the namesake of the skels, other characters imagine the infected as being criminals. They choose to think about the infected people as scum. The name they give the infected is worth paying attention to. As per it’s definition, a Skel, is a homeless, vagrant who engages in criminal activity.

This is the most interesting case I have encountered as to the naming of a zombie in fiction. It is not a simple reference to the behavior of the popular monster, but rather a comparison to an undesirable element of society. In making this the slur of choice survivors use to refer to the infected, Colson Whitehead gives weight to the mindset of his characters. In doing so, and throughout the narrative thread of the book, Zone One transcends the simple tropes of mindless zombie slaying and serves as a commentary about class and dehumanization of those whom society is pitted against.