Goal Setting Essay: The Process of ThinkING & NoticING

Throughout the beginning weeks of American Ways: Literature, Medicine and Racism, I have begun to realize the importance of thinkING, what it means to be thinkING, and the implications it has on the course and the texts we have read thus far. The course epigraph “my job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice,” from Dionne Brand has helped foster my understanding of the process of thinkING, which I have come to see is a repetitive action of looking at current works and also continuously going back to readings and notes from the past. It’s a cyclical process that requires new understandings to be made with the progress of the course.

My primary goal for this course is to first establish a proper process of noticING and thinkING, and take what I unpack with those processes and apply it to my understanding of the course themes: literature, medicine, and racism. I feel that the ability to be actively engaged in these works can help people better develop an understanding of this country’s lack of care and failure to be actively noticing and thinking of ways to repair the damage inflicted on minorities, which is critical for change and growth. Within the community of this course, the foundation of growth is built into our collaborative efforts to care for our peers, to be able to nurture discussion and learn from our collaborations. By not learning how to notice, think, and apply, not only would I be stopping myself from learning and caring for myself, but I wouldn’t be staying true to the collaborative nature of this course. 

  The implications of proper care have been evident in the course texts we have read and been discussing over the beginning weeks of this semester. More often than not, we have noticed that what the texts we have worked with are demonstrating is a lack of care, and I first noticed this is Medical Apartheid, by Harriet Washington. The chapter that featured Ota Benga and William T. Hornaday was disturbing and alarming to read, and it was a clear demonstration of pure carelessness. Perhaps one of the most eye opening passages was the description of Ota Benga being described as “small, apelike, elfish creatures, furtive and mischievous, they closely parallel the brownies and goblins of our fairy tales,” (Washington 76). Beyond the blatantly racist description of Ota Benga, a human being who is being “given as a gift,” the fact that he was also “locked in the monkey house, before the staring crowd with keepers always nearby,” (Washington 76). Reading and thinkING about Medical Apartheid has been my first real view into racism and science in this course, and what was even more shocking was learning that this was happening in the Bronx Zoo, a place I have been to many times throughout my life. Granted that the careless display and concern for Ota Benga happened in 1906, it still is such a horrendous thing to think about. 

We have further been able to notice similar medical racism and carelessness in Toni Morrison’s novel Home. The presence of the theme of care is recurring throughout the novel, but perhaps the strongest example is with Dr. Beauregard, where he exhibits similar scientific carelessness to that of William Horndaday. Dr. Beau purposely misled Cee into thinking that he was a friend and good person, and we see this through noticING the literature on his bookshelf. We are shown, through Cee’s perspective, books such as Out of the Night, The Passing of the Great Race, Heredity, and Race and Society (Morrison 65). Through noticING and unpacking these references to literature, as a class we were able to look up and get an idea of what these works were about and we found that they all are problematic and racist texts. Going further into the carelessness, it is tragic to see that Cee has been made to feel “this was a good, safe place, she knew, and Sarah had become her family, her friend, and her confidante,” (Morrison 65). We later come to find out that Dr. Beau leaves Cee in a horrible medical state, as she was “close to the edge of life,” (Morrison 147), and she needed to be helped by Miss Ethel in order to survive. 

What I have been thinkING about throughout this course is the negative connection to carelessness, in order for me to accentuate the importance of good faith carING. By providing good faith care in the process of thinkING and noticING I feel that I am putting myself in the position to not only understand and unpack what we are working on, but also to grow my sense of recognizing what has happened historically, what is happening currently, and what direction change should be going. The knowledge and level of understanding gained from actively thinkING and noticING things in the course, both through the works we have been reading and also from collaborating with my peers, has been amazing thus far. I feel that my process for working in this class has formed (and is still forming) from realizing that learning is not linear, it is, as Dr. McCoy stated, cyclical. To read through texts and then abandon them is not how I think I am going to learn and notice. The mini collaboration exercise helped show me the impact that going back and understanding, unpacking, and connecting has in a course like this. Without returning to Fortune’s Bones I do not think that our group would have been able to clearly demonstrate what the implications of not having self identity and autonomy are. If we had not discussed and unpacked the idea of autonomy, and how we thought the parasite in the eye of fish connected to how Frank protected Cee all her life, Dr. Beau’s experimentation on her, and Miss Ethel’s healing process, then our understanding of human and self autonomy would have been incomplete. By trying to create processes that will allow myself to be thinkING and noticING better, then in turn I believe that I will be able to unpack and apply the content to both the course and my discussions with peers, and I will also be able to retain what I have learned outside the classroom in the real world.

English 101: Literature, Medicine & Racism, Goal Setting Essay

When I signed up for this class, I did not know what to expect. I thought this would be like most english classes where we are given some books and just write a paper about it with a given prompt. However, I noticed during the first class that this would be an english class I have never taken before. The first thing we did in class was talk about how we can grow and help one another grow. Everyone started at a different writing and reading level before signing up for the class but we should all have the same goal of growth. The past english classes I have taken the teachers typically assume everyone is at the same level and just want us to write. This class puts a lot of emphasis on our readings and doing a lot of analysis. We talk a lot about our readings and we get many perspectives when do our discussions. In fact, we talked about a semicolon in Fortune’s “The Manumission Requiem Bones” by Marilyn Nelson for nearly a whole class. This kind of in-depth analysis was not what I expected. We come back to many ideas which give us readers and students more time to analyze the text. This helps my growth since going back helps me think about ideas we talk about in class. This is especially useful when one of my classmates talks about something in the reading that I did not think about.

As the course has progressed, we have put a strong emphasis on analysis when breaking down text. We do a lot of thinkING, conversING, considerING, and reflectING. The “ING” being capitalized points out the act of doing. The Epigraph to our class “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice” (Dionne Brand) puts a strong focus on pay close attention to the readings and how they can relate to modern times. It also reminds us to keep track and recognize growth not only from ourselves but also our peers. I believe this is the most important part of the class as Dr. McCoy has talked about growth since our first class. For myself, in order to grow, I think the best way would be participating more and having more thoughtful discussions with the class. This would be done best if everyone else in the class also continues to grow. When we grow together, our class becomes more of a community as opposed to just a learning center. We also wanted to make sure we defined faith and what separates the good from bad. When we have our discussions, it is important to keep in mind that what people may say even if it is controversial is all in good faith.

As mentioned earlier, we spent a lot of time analyzng a semicolon in Fortune’s Bone. We were asked questions by Dr. McCoy such as “why is it there” and “what is the importance of it”. We even went back and defined what a semicolon was which was something we learned in our middle school and late high school days. This deep analysis provided commentary for our class and we worked together to try and figure out its significance. We also spent a lot of time on the line “Fortune was born; he died ” (Nelson, p.13). Even though this line was short, it clearly carried a lot of significance. Most of the class interpreted it as him being alive through his mind but not his body. However, I had a different opinion. I thought of this line as Fortune having such an insignificant life that after being born, his greatest accomplishment in life was death. The reasoning behind this was that he was meerly used as a test subject and for observation. However, after our class had the discussion, I heard different ideas such as after fortune was born, his legacy died with him. These kind of group discussions contribute a significant amount to my growth because I never would have thought about that line with that perspective.

It is important to not forget the official name of this class “Literature, Medicine, and Racism”. In many of our readings, we have indulged in racism in the past, specifically in medicine. A reading that we spent a long amount of time on was Harriet Washington’s Medical Aparthied. The story about a character who was dealing with racism in medicine opened my eyes to a whole new world of racism. It was almost hard to read when she talks about how dehumanized black people were. She goes in great detail about how black people were basically called zoo animals which was mentioned in  chapter 2 “circus africanus”. She also mentions how black people, similar to Fortune’s Bone, were used as test subjects for white doctors. They would be dissected without prior consent and were give medication without understanding the possible side effects. Although it was difficult to read through due to how vulgar it was, it contributed to my growth which I am thankful for.

Although we are only about one month into this semester, I feel like I have grown a lot. I feel as if having the perspectives of by classmates and peers has helped my understanding of our readings. Not only have I grown, but I have noticed many of my peers grow. In order to maintain confidentiality I will not name them but I have noticed more participation from them. They provide a lot of thoughtful insight that our class can debrief and think about. My hope is that we can all grow as a community as opposed to individuals in a room where we talk. I had a shaky start to the semester as I did not speak my differing opinion as much as I should have. I can monitor my growth as we continue to do our self-reflections and staying on top of the work that is given to us.

Goal Setting Essay: Growing Together

Taylor Kerr

English 101: Literature, Medicine & Racism

Dr. McCoy

ThinkING is a critical part of any course, especially in English and literature focused courses. The epigraph, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice,” the words of Dionne Brand, represent a significant part of this course. Due to the nature of this course, with many self graded assignments, collaborative essays and class discussions, it is so important to be self-aware and keep notice of yourself and others. This allows for effective conversation and a beneficial learning space. 

One of the largest parts of our course outline and even in life, is care. Care for ourselves, our peers, and the course accountability. This epigraph directly connects to the thought of care. As part of care, we must take notice of ourselves, others, and how the course progresses. This care allows us to work efficiently, work well together, and get in our best work. Quite literally, you will get out what you put in. We can track our work and effort in this course as well as our growth and progress, and this is an extremely important practice in any learning experience. Keeping in check with yourself as well as others holds you accountable and allows you to continue to progress in your knowledge and education. The epigraph refers to us and our peers, as well as Beth and other mentors. As we complete readings and discussions, Beth will offer her feedback in our thinking, and our peers will also provide feedback as well as their own thoughts. This allows us to grow as we learn other opinions, also by understanding different perspectives as valid. This ties to the notice of ourselves and the notice of others. As we notice ourselves and our peers, Beth also takes notice of us. Beth can keep us on track and assure that we are also keeping notice of ourselves and our peers. 

In the novel by Toni Morrison, Home, care is a prominent theme. There is a disconnect in Frank and Cee’s family, the care is not exactly what you would expect. Throughout her life, Cee was taken care of by Frank. He shielded her from the threats of the world, protected her when her family was not there for her, and made sure she was okay until he enlisted in the army. In addition, Lenore was put into a motherly position when Cee’s parents could not be there for her. While Lenore’s care seemed harsh and unloving, she truly did want the best for her. Since Cee was protected by Frank for most of her life, she was not exposed to harm and hurt. This is why when she went to work for Dr. Beauregard, she was unaware of his true intentions, and in a way, she was naive and vulnerable. This example displays the importance of care in good faith. We should strive to always care for the growth of ourselves and others in good faith. Referring to that, we should provide helpful feedback and contribute to beneficial conversation. Like in the novel, Home,  and many others that we may read, it is important to take notice of ourselves and others always. This allows us to grow as individuals and also together as a class, to get the most out of this course. Since this course combines both a 101 and a 439 class, we are all coming from different majors and educational backgrounds. Having a wide range and variety of knowledge and information, we can all benefit from each other’s contributions and feedback. 

As important as it is to notice ourselves and others in terms of growth, it is also important to keep notice when we are reading. One of the most important things a student and reader can do to truly understand a reading is to keep up with proper analysis. Taking notice of significant symbolism and main themes is critical in proper analysis. The main topics of this course are Literature, Medicine and Racism. These topics parallel all of our readings in varying depths. In Fortune’s Bones by Marilyn Nelson, there are evident themes of medicine and racism. Fortune was a slave whose body was nonconsensually used for medical research. His body had been passed down into the researcher’s family to help their children learn about anatomy, however, his skeleton had been renamed Larry, which diminished his identity. When his body was later donated to a museum, an anthropologist had studied his history, learning his real name and about his life. This theme of nonconsensual medical research on African American people relates to the novel, Home. Cee was taken advantage of by her boss, Dr. Beauregard. Dr. Beauregard performed gynecological research on Cee while she was working for him, and the doctor left her in horrible condition, unable to have children in the future. These paralleling themes connect to a major topic in our course, the importance of looking forward while still circling back. This practice of looking forward and circling back refers to connecting current readings to past readings and seeing the connections in characters and motifs. 

In this course, we can notice ourselves and others in many ways, and thoroughly keep track of our accountability and growth. In class discussions, we talk about important points in our readings and work together in groups to answer questions. In order to do this, we must keep up with the assigned readings and articles. This allows us to fully invest ourselves in conversation and provide beneficial feedback to our peer’s reponses. We also work on a few collaborative essays, which also require reading and working together. During group work, we must keep notice of what our peers are saying and respect other opinions and ideas. We may not always agree, but discussing in groups allows us to see things from different perspectives. Seeing things in different perspectives is a critical skill of learning. Readings can be analyzed in many different ways, and many authors typically leave their work up for interpretation. Working through readings together is important, especially when dealing with sensitive topics. While we work through sensitive topics such as medicine and racism, we can learn in good faith. Our job as students in this course is to notice our efforts individually and as a group, in doing this, we can grow together in a constructive learning environment. 

Morrison, Toni. Home. ISBN: 9780307740915

Nelson, Marilyn. Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem. ISBN: 9781932425123

Goal-Setting Essay: Judge Less


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

“Judge less; think more.”—Beth McCoy

               My job is to notice. Every time I return to the course syllabus and read this epigraph, I am reminded of my role as a student, teacher and human. To me, it means that my sole responsibility is to notice, and to be okay with other people noticing too. My most important responsibility is not to assume, not to debate, not to immediately react, and certainly not to judge. My job is to notice. Eventually, and hopefully, the effect of my noticing will become understanding that grows steadily and gracefully.

               In a course setting, this means reading. It means noticing themes within material, connections between course texts, historical contexts, perspectives of authors, due dates, errors in my writing. It means noticing my own time management habits, my own participation, my part in collaborations and my care for my own growth in the course. It means noticing my professor, Beth McCoy, and my TA, Kya Primm: noticing what they choose to emphasize in class, noticing their expectations and their responses to the material, the questions they ask. It means noticing what is going on with my peers: noticing their perspectives, their growth, their understanding of and reactions to course material. It also means noticing what’s going on in my life outside of class, in my community, my family, my own head. Most importantly, it means noticing all of this without judgement.

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be Astonished.

Tell about it.

-Mary Oliver

This poem is not a part of our course material, so I won’t dwell on it, but I have thought about it often throughout the first few weeks of this course. It adds on two subsequent parts of the action of “noticing.” One, is allowing yourself to feel how you feel in response. There is a fine line between feeling and judging, and noticing comes in again, there. Many times in this class, I have learned something, or noticed something that makes me absolutely sick with disgust. I’ve noticed unfathomable things that make me feel incredibly angry and inconsolably helpless. In those moments, I have had to remind myself to notice what those feelings are, and why I’m feeling them. That’s how I work to avoid judgement.

The second element of noticing that Oliver mentions is telling others about what you noticed. This feels especially specific in the context of an English class, and especially one as collaborative as this. Here, we read, notice, and learn how to share our findings with our peers, and potentially the public.

For me, Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid has been an awesome (in the true meaning of the word) example of deeply noticing, learning, and sharing without judging. Throughout the chapters we’ve read for class, Washington details unimaginably painful and degrading actions taken by white people at the direct physical, mental, and existential expense of millions of Black people throughout several centuries. She notices, and she shares these stories in excruciating detail, leaving nothing out, and she refrains from judgement in her writing consistently and unwaveringly. In chapter 3, Washington quotes Baron Georges Cuvier, a man who repeatedly dehumanized Africans physically and verbally, writing:

“Cuvier had once noted that Baartman possessed a tenacious memory; she also spoke Dutch, English, and French. Yet, he left her this final assessment: “‘These races with depressed and compressed skulls are condemned to a never-ending inferiority.’” ( I have a kindle edition with no page numbers, I’m sorry!)

This quote ended the entire section on Cuvier and Baartman. Washington does not share her feelings on this, she does not write angrily about the racism so clearly evident in Cuvier’s perspective. She just notices, and tells about it. It’s our job to do the same.

My job is to notice. During the first week of class, Dr. McCoy asked us to look up the age of consent Wikipedia page, and read the “history” tab. Many of us were immediately appalled seeing ages of consent as low as 7 years old throughout American history, and as low as 14 in very recent years. The goal behind the exercise was a reminder to notice. Historical context is important to notice in regards to action and intention in our readings during this course. While reading Toni Morrison’s Home, I mentioned in our class discussion that I thought it was significant that Mrs. K was having sexual relationships with all of the teenage boys in the town, and that their mothers didn’t mind because “a local widow who didn’t want their husbands was more of a boon than a sin. Besides, their own daughters were safer that way” (90). This immediately disturbed me, and I felt that it was significant, and should have had some sort of effect on the development of the boys who were involved with her. When I brought it up in class, Dr. McCoy reminded me that I had possibly not taken note of the time period in which this was happening, and the age of consent that was legal and socially acceptable at the time.

These reminders in class never come across as judgements. They are reminders to notice everything we can—to think more, and judge less. This course is teaching me how to think actively, and carefully about my readings and my interactions in class. Last week, in groups, we discussed homeopathic and natural medicine as seen administered by Ms. Ethel to Cee in Home. I noticed there were certainly some differing opinions on the idea within my group, as I leaned toward Ms. Ethel healing Cee in the best way she knew how—and it working—and others saw it as a moral indiscretion to treat Cee the way she did. While my initial reaction to the conversation was to argue, or to feel offended, I eventually returned to our course objectives mentally and decided to share what I noticed about the healing rituals with my group. I also took the time to notice why some of my other group members may have felt the way they did, and found that all of us were operating and thinking in the same good faith despite our different backgrounds, majors and philosophies.

My goal in this class is to reach that mode of thinkING and noticING and not judging even sooner. By the end of this course, I hope I’ve practiced these skills enough so that it becomes my default response more often than not.

Works Cited:

Morrison, Toni. Home (Vintage International) (p. 90). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Washington, Harriet A.. Medical Apartheid . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Goal Setting Essay: The Awareness of Yourself and Others

The course epigraph, a quote by Dionne Brand, says “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice,”. The first thing that came to my mind after reading this quote a few times was a sense of awareness. The idea that one should not only be aware of all the things that go on around them, but also know what they are presenting to others and what they are aware of. Additionally, it made me consider how an individual needs to be aware of the fact that what they are perceiving may not be the full picture. How one perceives others, the world around them and how they themselves are perceived has played a big part in much of the worlds’ history, and has also featured prominently in several of the works we have read since the start of the semester. In both fiction as well as nonfiction literature, the world views of the characters are often radically different based on what they notice in the world around them. This can also apply to real-life personal relations, as well as real world current events. And throughout our texts, one of the major throughlines throughout each of them seems to be one’s awareness of themselves and others.

One of the texts that I noticed about this idea was in the Journal of Clinical Investigation article by Peter Hotez, America’s deadly flirtation with antiscience and the medical freedom movement. The article discusses how, for as long as vaccinations have been around, there have been vocal groups that have actively opposed their usage for a wide variety of reasons. These beliefs stem from the ideal of medical freedom, and the alternate medicinal methods and counterarguments that have been suggested range from herbal medications to nutritional supplements, and even to the belief that the “…measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine replicated in the colons of children to cause pervasive developmental disorder (autism),” (2) These beliefs have become more and more prevalent now that the threat of Covid-19, and are an example of how one’s perception of the world can end up being a negative. By locking oneself into the belief that vaccines can only cause harm, you endanger both yourself as well as the people close to you to avoidable diseases. These groups fail to notice the overwhelming evidence that claims the vaccines are safe, and are seemingly trapped by their perceptions of what they deem to be ‘proper’ medicine. While it is definitely important to have medical freedom, it is also important to be able to notice the benefits that vaccines offer.

Another aspect of the article that fits this idea is the section about specific groups being targeted by this mentality. Many groups have been targeted by these kinds of groups, such as the Somali immigrant community in Minnesota in 2017, the Orthodox Jewish community in New York and New Jersey and the targeting of African American communities in places such as Harlem. Due to many of these campaigns, many people ended up sick with easily avoidable diseases. By viewing these sorts of groups in a harsher light, these anti vaccination groups end up putting these communities in danger simply to prove that their viewpoint is the correct one. This ties in to the idea of how one notices others, as these anti-vaccination groups take notice of groups like these and target them with their own perceptions of vaccinations. They alter what these groups notice in an attempt to control how they view a medical procedure that works to keep people safe, rather than allowing them to form their own independent opinions. And it is groups like these that make me want to better understand the work I am reading as I read it. Groups like these can come to be based on a belief that has little to no evidence backing it, and it’s a scary thought that they would put others in danger because of it. When I experience an article or book in the future, I believe that it will be extremely important for me to gather my own research on a topic I don’t understand before my opinion of the subject is affected by the author’s bias. And although I cannot affect the actions of the people in the groups mentioned before, I would hope that they would do the same.

Toni Morrison’s Home also portrays several interesting ways in which characters notice the world around them, particularly with the main character Frank. Having grown up in the small town of Lotus with parents who are hardly around, a grandmother who hardly loved him, and a sister who he constantly had to look out for, Frank’s childhood was filled with a fair amount of stress and fear. Because of this, he and his two friends grew to hate both their town and what it represented, and longed to leave it and join the army. However, when he returns to his hometown when his sister is in desperate need of medical attention, he begins to notice small things about the town that he had never seen when he was a child. As he walks down the road to pass the time, he notices small things about the town, and comments “Had the trees always been this deep, deep green?” (116). His view of his hometown had before been so affected by the circumstances of his childhood, but having returned to the town with fresh eyes. he suddenly see it for all the beauty it has always had. This ties in to the idea of how one can perceive the world around them, as so much of what you notice as an individual can tie in to your past experiences. While most people will not have as much of a troubled past as Frank, the experiences one has throughout life will nonetheless tint the way you see the world and form opinions. And it is precisely because of this that you must inform yourself about subjects before forming these opinions instead of relying entirely on pre-existing biases.

Both the article as well as the book make it clear that informing oneself on a subject before forming an opinion is vital if one is to properly perceive the world around them. And I believe this can extend to a much smaller scale as well. Even in cases like the in-class discussions that we have had so far, gaining as much information on the subject matter before the class can be a great boon for the discussion, as you may be able to provide more to the conversation. Having the course epigraph mention how important it is for me to notice things makes it quite clear that I must continue to strive to be aware of all the factors surrounding both me as well as the works we read in class. Due to this, I keep the epigraph in mind as we continue with the semester, and will pursue self-growth in regards to how I view the world around me. 

Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. Home. New York: Vintage Books, 2012. Print

Hotez, Peter J. “America’s Deadly Flirtation with Antiscience and the Medical Freedom Movement.” Journal of Clinical Investigation, vol. 131, no. 7, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1172/jci149072.

Goal Setting Essay- To Notice

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

At first when this quote was introduced to me in class I thought that professor McCoy was going to present different types of works to us and see if we can recognize the same ideas as her. However, after unpacking these readings and engaging in class discussions I began to reevaluate this quote. Now I think this quote means that as a student it is my job to notice specific details, quotes, and key terms in order to effectively perform well during class discussions. One incident that made me come to this conclusion is when I asked professor McCoy about when I will need the next book for class and she told me to look over the canvas module. At first I thought why she could not just tell me, but looking back on this conversation I can see why she told me this. McCoy wanted me to notice the modules that were presented on canvas before asking her because as Dionne Brand mentioned “My job is to notice”. After looking over the modules I then realized I have to start reading the next book, Home, by September 17.  This is where the following phrase “and to notice that you can notice” comes in. By allowing myself to notice the modules in canvas and interpreting it, I can perform the task that needs to be done, which shows the importance of this epigraph. In the following paragraphs I will unpack readings such as “Home” by Toni Morrison and Fortune’s “The Manumission Requiem Bones” by Marilyn Nelson to discuss how the structure of these texts connects to my personal life (breaking down things for better understanding).

Fortune structured his book, The Manumission Requiem Bones, into small sections with a few words on each page. Diving deeper into these sections, Fortune uses detailed and vivid words to describe Fortune’s life. The line “Fortune was born;he died ” (Nelson ,13) was so small yet big simultaneously.The meaning of this line can be interpreted in so many ways and that is what made it powerful. When I first read this line I thought it meant that Fortune was menatlly alive, but he was physically dead. However, after spending almost an hour on this single line with Professor McCoy and the rest of the class, I heard different perspectives that made me second guess my thoughts. People mentioned that although Fortune was born, his legacy died with him. I was surprised at how individuals in class can reflect on the same line differently. In the beginning I thought that going over this single line was just wasting time, but after hearing the voices of my classmates It made me go back and reevaluate the line. Now if you were to ask me about this line I would say Fortune, who was a slave, was born into this world to work under authorities and was stripped of his identity with nothing left to offer to his community. Furthermore, Fortune’s states ““For I am not my body. I am not my bones, I am not my body.” The author constantly repeated “I am not my body” to showcase that although one can live inside of a body, it may not really be who they are. It is like judging a book by its cover. You can not see the life of Fortune’s mistreatment and hard work through his bones. 

Moreover, Toni structured her book, “Home”, into larger sections that included chapters. In these chapters she chooses to have some chapters shorter than the rest like seen in chapter 7. Morrison discusses  the childhood of Frank’s life as she mentions, “You never lived there so you don’t know what it was like”(Morrison,84). Similar to Fortune’s bones, Frank believed that no one could really know his life if they never lived it. Frank refers back to his childhood and explains to readers how horrible it was to live there. However, as a reader I began to question why Frank would recall a moment that he hates so much. It is here that I began to reveal my job of “noticing”. Noticing the repetition of Frank’s childhood experiences in the book made me curious. In the book Frank states, “Nothing to do but mindless work in fields you didn’t own, couldn’t own, and wouldn’t own if you had any other choice” (83-84, Morrison). Frank explains how poorly his family was treated back at home. After reading this passage I began noticing things from a different perspective and that where “to notice that you can notice” (Brand) comes in. Then I came to a realization that Morrison purposely structured some chapters short to abruptly explain violent or devastating events that were still important for readers to know. This heightens the importance of structure.

Each book is broken down into a specific way. Marilyn Nelson incorporates short poems by writing into small sections, whereas Toni Morrison has lots of chapters where some are long and short sections. However, both books talk about the mistreatment of both Frank and Fortune. After carefully evaluating both sources I believe that one main goal for myself would be to break down passages, vocabulary words and phrases so that I can critically analyze each part and fully understand what is going on. Another goal for myself would be to ask more questions when I am confused because although I can deeply think about it, my classmates may have some great points that I can reflect on. So with that being said this course epigraph, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”–Dionne Brand” is a great way to critically analyze, interpret, and give feedback to my peers.


Nelson, Marilyn. Fortune’s Bones: A Manumission Requiem. Asheville, N.C: Front Street, 2003. Print.

Morrison, Toni. Home. New York: Vintage Books, 2012. Print

Goal setting: reflection, discomfort, and care

Jacob Clarke 

Dr. McCoy

ENG 439


Thus far, this semester’s study of American Ways; Literature, medicine & Racism have proved just as challenging as rewarding. During the first class meeting Dr. McCoy spoke on the need to face discomfort in order to understand and address the content we’re grappling with. It’s clear that avoiding discomfort is futile and counterproductive when seeking the truth, it’s absolutely necessary to acknowledge this discomfort so that we can continue learning, rather than running from uncomfortable topics. In addition, we spent a good deal of the first session going over our mutual commitment to peer growth. This emphasis is reflected in our course grading model as well as the course epigraph from Dionne Brand: “My job is to notice … and to notice that you can notice”.

After taking the time to understand the demands of the syllabus, it was important to me to begin shifting focus on contemplatING and unpackING rather than empty recapitulations of “safe talking points”. Its clear to me that the course compels us to invest in our own growth, to focus on practice over product, to “think more, judge less”. I find this power simultaneously freeing and intimidating, it allows me to focus more on the content itself and my own intellectual growth rather than pulling my hair out trying to write what I think my professor wants to read. 

From the beginning of the semester I knew that this content could be difficult and sometimes painful to interact with. I believe that growth is almost always uncomfortable, by practicING and showING our care, we can understand the “what, why and how?” of intersections between American Literature, Racism and Medicine, but just as importantly honor and venerate the tremendous amount of resultant human suffering. 

I feel challenged with my ability to sit in discomfort when reading Harriet Washington’s Medical Aparthied. Reading the accounts that Washington gives of individual stories of medical professionals abusing other humans is painful, unpackING the material per the course guidelines I find especially difficult. For example, the medical specticalization of Africans described in chapter 2 “circus africanus” was gut-wrenchingly uncomfortable, but the true challenge for me was the unpackING of Washington’s recount of the career of James Marion Sims, the “founder of gynecology”. Here we’re told about the myriad of medical experiments on he performed enslaved african women without sterile conditions, anesthesia, or basic patient rights by a number of other standards, in the process both hiding the crimes against humanity behind medicalized jargon, while justifying any transgression with racist antebellum rhetoric. Eventually his work led to a new understanding of the disease neonatal tetanus as well as the first successful repair of the Vesicovaginal Fistula, both legitimate advances in medical advances which have undoubtedly saved thousands since. Understanding this, Washington invites us to begin unpackING the implications, was care distributed equitably then? Is the good that comes from these advancements distributed equally now? What does it mean for people interested in medicine that such an essential breath of scientific understanding was informed by such irrevocable cruelty? What does it mean that this type of experimentation was condoned and encouraged by the state? None of these questions have easy answers and it’s important to answer them even though it makes us uncomfortable.

In addition to this consciousness of discomfort, I’m interested in this course’s commitment care as well as to peer growth. Dr.McCoy made it clear that as we’re moving back into an in-person model of instruction, it’s necessary that everyone comes to class not only thinking about how they can succeed, but how we can all succeed as a dedicated team. This vision requires both sincere effort and deliberate strategy of each individual to implement. I began to see these pictures more clearly from the readings, especially through Frank’s sister, Cee in Toni Morrison’s Home. Perhaps Cee’s biggest obstacle to her development throughout the novel is her tendency toward codepedndence, always having a protector to look to and resolve her issues, up until their separation, “[Frank} would, as always, protect her from a bad situation”(51). When Cee is forced into a situation that requires healthy scepticism,self- respect, and personal resilience she finds herself helpless before promising that she would protect herself by the end of the novel. In the same way, persevering through discomfort and through confusion presses us students to invent and discover novel interests and skills that inform our academic career. By the end of the Home, Cee has been challenged to the point of reconceptualizing the limits of her capabilities, I hope to have a similar journey of growth through this course by testing myself and reevaluating my capabilities as an academic voice.

Another example of growth that’s stuck with me since the original reading is Marilyn Nelson’s note on the nature of requiem and honoring the dead with both solemn mourning and  jovial celebration. Nelson briefly references the “second-line parade”, the traditional New Orleans post-funeral celebration as a form of honoring and remembering. Nelson is careful not to REDUCE fortune’s story to a form they can digest, but puts CARE into honoring all that we know about Fortune, and appreciating the possibilities that were never recorded. Nelson never aims to reconcile, or resolve these issues because she understands that as a witness to fortune’s story hundreds of years after his life and death, it would be ludicrous to put herself in that position. It was helpful for me to see how Nelson approaches Fortune’s story with the aim of CARE over RESOLUTION.

Reflecting on all of these points, I have a better idea of what I can expect from my goals for the course going forward. Firstly, I plan to hold myself accountable for thinking critically about the perspective about the literature, especially careful to consider biases of scientific racism within the established medical mainstream, as I’ve realized how powerful and subtly pervasive it can become in practice. Next, I plan to persevere through inevitable discomfort, there are unavoidable reckonings that will challenge my ever-evolving perception of the world, and even compared to the beginnings of this semester I feel as though I’ve learned a great deal about how to work with concepts despite discomfort. Lastly, I will make sure to emphasize my ability and capacity to care. Showing care, taking care, analyzing care, carING; these are essential attributes of growth on the level of the individual as well as the group. Acknowledging this, I believe in the benefits that will come from extending that care to my peers grappling with the very same content. My ultimate hope is that I, along with my peers in class, will grow to become more capable, more critical and more caring individuals by the semester’s end.


Goal-Setting Essay: Look to Yourself

  When reading the course epigraph by Dionne Brand, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice,” the words that stand out to me the most are, “My job is.” The notion that it is solely my job and my responsibility to remain accountable for the work I produce, and the work I put into class, is one that I am aiming to focus on this semester. The accountability I place on myself, directly correlates to what I will get out of this class, and out of life as a whole. If I choose to exist as if others must hold me accountable or push me to do the work I need to, I will never succeed or live up to my fullest potential. The concept of accountability is one that can be seen throughout the literature we have read so far this semester. 

In Toni Morrison’s novel, Home, Miss Ethel speaks to Cee after treating her. She understands how much Cee has gone through in her life, and was previously harsh and quite cold in her delivery of treatment and healing. This behavior is better understood when she says to Cee, 

Look to yourself. You free. Nothing and nobody is obliged to save you but you. Seed your own land. You young and a woman and there’s serious limitation in both, but you a person too. Don’t let Lenore or some trifling boyfriend and certainly no devil doctor decide who you are. That’s slavery. Somewhere inside you is that free person I’m talking about. Locate her, and let her do some good in the world.

This quote is extremely powerful in that it is brutally honest. She does not sugar coat, nor does she treat Cee like a child in any way. Miss Ethel makes it very clear that it is Cee’s responsibility to take care of herself and not allow others to control her life or her happiness. She must take accountability for how she allows others actions to affect her, and choose to find strength in those challenges in order to use them to “do some good in the world.” As it is Cee’s responsibility to do this, it is my job, within this class, to hold myself accountable to how I treat myself as well as others. I am in control of my own growth, my ability to remain open minded and compassionate to not only my classmates, but to myself as well, as I navigate through this class and the course material. 

  Marylin Nelson’s Fortune’s Bones, tells the story of a slave named Fortune, whose skeleton was preserved and hung in a museum under a false name. When this was discovered, historians took accountability for the mistake, and removed Fortune until they could properly display him with an accurate name and life story. This reminds me to keep myself accountable for my mistakes. I may not always be perfect when navigating sensitive subject matter such as the experiences of people of color, specifically stories I am not able to relate to in any way. It is important that I learn from any mistakes I may make, and continue to remain open minded to the fact that I must navigate the Black literary space with understanding and acknowledgement of my privilege as a white woman. It is possible that I will make mistakes, not only in my engagement with the literature, but with my work ethic and contribution to the class. There may be times when I do not keep up on readings or coursework and it is only the responsibility of myself to catch up and change my study habits, if necessary. I will continue to hold myself accountable for how much work I put into the class, the work I produce for this class, as well as how I approach sensitive topics and conversations with my peers. 

Harriet A. Washington’s book Medical Apartheid, is a groundbreaking example of holding others accountable for their horrific evils. This book outlines the centuries of horrific experimentation African Americans suffered at the hands of so-called “medical professionals.” These accounts are extremely disturbing and heart wrenching to read. Washington goes into specific details regarding the mutilation of female slaves, the “scientific racism” that was used to justify these actions, as well as the belief that “The problem of slaves would disappear with their color” when describing the skin bleaching that was used in an attempt to turn Black Americans’ skin white. Navigating this material has been mentally and emotionally difficult, but has made me realize the importance of accountability when it comes to the way I go about reading and understanding the importance behind this history. I read with an open mind and heart to experiences I know I will never be able to fully grasp the extent or weight of, as well as acknowledging the privilege I hold in my ignorance. I will never fully understand what it is like to exist in America as a person of color, and I must recognize the space I am navigating as a white woman, and how I go about holding myself accountable for the way I approach topics and conversations within this course. 

Throughout the remainder of this class, my goal is to hold myself accountable in all aspects relating to the course. I will hold myself accountable for the work I produce, the work I put in, for understanding my place within the Black literary space, and for treating others, as well as myself with compassion and open mindedness. I hope to continue to work hard this semester, to learn as much as I possibly can, and to engage in meaningful conversations and dialogue with my classmates. If I have learned one thing so far from this class, although I have learned many things, it is that there is so much we can learn from others. Twenty students may read the same piece of literature, but they will all take something completely different from it. We are all navigating this space in different ways and it is so important to remain open to what we can learn from each other. It is our own job to allow ourselves to listen and learn from the experiences and interpretations of those around us. I hope to continue my own personal growth throughout the remainder of the semester, as well as to contribute to, and watch the growth of those around me in class.

Noticing your own flaws: Goal-Setting Essay

The idea of noticing that runs through our course epigraph strikes me as particularly important not just in the literature we read for this course, but also in our growth as people. One goal that I came into this course with is to be a better listener. While I have always excelled in a classroom setting, I’ve usually played the role of the resident hand-raiser. The student in every class whose voice can be heard in every discussion. The one ready with an answer to almost every question the professor asks. This has been one of my biggest strengths throughout my academic career, and I’ve always taken pride in it. It’s not until my past few years in college, however, that I saw the both/and of this situation. The same enthusiasm and willingness to speak up that drove me to actively engage in every class discussion could also lead to me dominating conversations and bulldozing over my less extroverted or confident classmates. The same eagerness to share my learning that led to me raising my hand could (and has) lead me to interrupt the insights of others. Often I find myself so fascinated by the things that I notice that I’m more interested in sharing them than I am about hearing what others have noticed. 

I’ve made a conscious effort to amend that a bit this semester. I’m trying my best to take a step back both in whole-class and small group discussions, and engage in the observations and insights of my classmates without always responding with one of my own. This is in part due to experiences in other classes, and in part due to several friendships I’ve made with classmates and fellow students who I know to have just as many valuable insights and thoughts as my own but who I know, either from being in classes with them or from their own accounts, don’t tend to share them as often, either for fear of being wrong, an aversion to attention, the assumption that these insights are not important or valid enough to warrant sharing, or any number of other reasons. In almost every case, my initial reaction to my friends and classmates’ relative lack of verbal class participation was frustration. If you have all these ideas and insights about what we’re learning, why wouldn’t you share them? While all the reasons I listed before were some of the more common threads, by far the most common was some variation of “it’s not like I need to, there’s plenty of others that will speak in class anyways”. This answer stuck out to me. As an Education Major, most of the other reasons I heard for why my fellow classmates and friends don’t speak up more in class came from issues I recognized as things that were mostly the responsibility of a professor to fix, largely due to them being the only ones with the power to do so. If a student is afraid of being wrong for example, it is on the teacher to create a classroom environment where being wrong is not only allowed but celebrated, referred to as “a culture of error” by Lemov in his book “Teach Like a Champion” which was used as a textbook in one of my education courses. In contrast to this, the idea of “other voices will be present anyways, so no one will notice or care about the absence of my own” is not really something a professor can fix on their own. Sure, teachers can stress the importance of everyone’s unique perspective and experiences, but without a class of students that are attentive of each other and willing to make room for everyone’s voices, no action on the part of the teacher or professor will be enough. 

That is largely why I’m trying to get better at talking less, and putting more time and effort into noticing the ideas and insights of my classmates when it comes to the learning we’re doing. I’ll be the first to admit that I am in no way disciplined enough to stop myself from speaking at all in class, and I confess that despite my best efforts, I still have trouble reining myself in enough to keep from dominating some conversations. But it’s something that I’m working hard at consciously noticing and getting better at. 

As for how all this ties in to what we’ve been reading, learning, and thinking about in class so far. I’d argue that many of the texts we’ve read so far have largely concerned people in dire need of self-reflection. Doctor Preserved Porter, for example, displays a painfully obvious  lack of self-awareness in the section in Fortune’s Bones written from his point of view. His obsession with examining the corpse of the man he enslaved for years with absolutely zero regard for the wishes of Fortune’s own family or even Fortune himself is the entire reason that the section “On Abrigador Hill” reads like the narrative of a delusional man engaging in a perversion of the highest degree. This effect is even more profound when contrasted by the first speaker in “Kyrie of the Bones” who is at least self-aware enough to recognize that the reason they renamed Fortune’s Skull was because “It was easier/to face him with an imaginary name”(Nelson page 21) then be confronted with the fact that Fortune was a real person, just like anyone in the Porter Family. 

We see the same blatant lack of self awareness in Frank Money throughout most of Toni Morrison’s Home. While Frank at first seems at least self aware enough to understand that his PTSD brought on by his time in the Korean war is a problem, everything else he does in an attempt to solve this problem seems to be the lack of any introspection on his part. We see him turn to love as a solution, and while being with Lily alleviates some of his worst symptoms, he still has difficulty regulating his emotions in certain situations, and shows clear sign of depression in his inability to complete even the most basic of household chores upon Lily’s request. We later see him attempt to ease his symptoms with alcohol, which also doesn’t help. Later, after engaging in physical violence in the form of assaulting a man, we see Frank fail to connect this to his PTSD at all, instead believing his symptoms to have gotten better due to his ability to remember his time in Korea without immense mental and emotional stress. What’s striking about Frank is that we know that his lack of self-reflection is a deliberate choice, as we see through the italicized chapters (in which he is presented as writing his account of his experiences to Morrison) that he is entirely capable of deep introspection. In chapter 14, when he confesses to being the soldier that murdered the child, in part because he was aroused by her, we see him unpack his thought process, along with the guilt, shame, and fear that his arousal toward that girl caused him. So when we as readers see him thinking about how much better he’s doing after beating a man up and actively enjoying it, we know he’s being willfully ignorant. 

This is my senior year in college, and while I plan to go onto graduate school, the fact that I’m graduating from Geneseo this spring and crossing what is considered by many in our society to be the final threshold into adulthood. It’s making me reflect on the type of student and person that I am, have been, and want to be. Given that I will likely be going into teaching soon, it’s also making me reflect on the type of teacher I hope to be, and one of the main things I want to be that I have noticed that I haven’t always been in the past and still have a hard time being in the present is a good listener. I want to be someone who people want to talk to, about anything from their thoughts on what we’re reading and learning about in class, to their day, to the things they love, or fear, or are passionate about. In order to be that person, I need to be able to listen more attentively, without catching myself thinking about what to say next while others are still speaking. I hope to use this class as an opportunity to get better at this. 

Goal Setting Essay: Accountability

The course epigraph, written by Dionne Brand, states that “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.”

Since hearing this quote the first day of class, I have thought a lot about how this relates to the idea of accountability. During one of the first few classes, we discussed the importance of accountability within this course. It was established that throughout the semester it is important that we each take accountability for our actions. These include both good faith and bad faith actions. I believe that accountability has been a recurring theme in our class, especially in some of the readings that we have done so far. In literature, it is important for authors to illustrate their characters’ good faith and bad faith actions. This allows the reader to hold the character accountable for their actions and hope for a good faith outcome. I have seen this consistently illustrated in the texts that we have read so far this semester in which accountability is not achieved until the end of the text.

In Toni Morrison’s novel, Home, it is illustrated how easy it can be to avoid accountability for poor actions. For example, Frank flashes back to an occasion in which he witnessed a guard shoot a Korean girl that stumbled upon them while scavenging for food. Frank justifies the guards decision by stating that the guard was not disgusted by the young girl but instead, “..he felt tempted and that is what he had to kill” (Morrison, 96). From a reader’s point of view, they believe that Frank feels accountable for the death of the Korean girl and that is why he is rescuing Cee from the doctor. The reader interprets him watching his friends die and the Korean girl die as motivation to save Cee before she dies. Frank’s accountability for these actions can be seen as deceitful to the reader as they reach chapter fourteen of the novel. In this chapter, it is revealed that Frank was the one who killed the Korean girl by stating, “I shot the Korean girl in her face” (Morrison, 133). This comes as a shock to the reader and their view of Frank is now changed. Frank admits to this because he feels sorry that his sister will not be able to have children. In an effort to take responsibility for the killing of the little girl, Frank enlists the help of Cee. Frank digs a grave and buries the remains of a man that had been brutally murdered by his own son in a death match. The grave reads “Here Stands a Man” (Morrison, 145). I believe that this grave illustrates Frank. He is taking accountability for killing the little girl by burying this man. In a way, Frank is also burying his past self and taking steps to move forward in life. By including the final chapter of the novel, Morrison shows that Frank has taken accountability for his actions and can now peacefully move on with his life.

Another text that has been seen to exhibit the theme of accountability is, Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem, written by Marilyn Nelson. Fortune was an African American man that died. His skeleton was used by doctor Preserved Porter in order to study human anatomy. It is written that Fortune’s bones “..say only that he served and died, that he was useful, even into his death, stripped of his name, his story, and his flesh” (Nelson, 13). Throughout this text, the reader can see that Dr. Porter and his family members were never held accountable for working on the body of Fortune. A line that illustrated importance to me states, “I enter Fortune, and he enters me” (Nelson, 19). In this line, Dr. Porter is taking accountability for advancing science however, he is not being held accountable for violating the basic human rights that Fortune had. Fortune was a slave in his life and in his death to Dr. Porter. Fortune’s skeleton was studied by all members of the Porter family and for many generations. Fortune’s name was forgotten and replaced with the one ‘Larry’ for a century because “..it was easier to face him with an imaginary name” (Nelson, 21). This illustrates the lack of accountability the Porter family had for studying Fortune’s bones for many centuries. I think that it also shows that as generations went on, they realized that Fortune was a person and should be treated as more than just bones. The accountability for the actions of Dr. Porter had been reached when Fortune was displayed in a museum. It took several generations for Fortune to get the recognition that he deserved. Many believe that Fortune still has more to teach us. I believe that Fortune can teach us about the importance of accountability. 

Each of these works of literature help to exhibit the importance of accountability. As shown in both Home and Fortune’s Bones, accountability is not achieved until the end of the text. In the case of Home, Frank is able to take accountability for his own actions by burying a man that was brutally murdered. This illustrates the growth of the character throughout the novel. Frank was determined to suppress his memories of the war in order to save his sister from the death that his friends faced. By the end of the novel, Frank had taken accountability for killing the Korean girl by making a proper grave for a man murdered by his son. In the case of Fortune’s Bones, Dr. Porter was unable to take accountability for dehumanizing the life of Fortune. I do not believe that the Porter family, even generations later, was ever held accountable for their actions of using Fortune for advancements in human anatomy. I think instead that justice was received for Fortune when he was placed on exhibit in the Mattatuck Museum. I think that by doing this, people can take their own accountability for the things that happened to Fortune in order to learn from his experiences. 

One of my goals this semester is to take accountability for my contributions to the class and group discussions. I realize that I am often hesitant in voicing my thoughts and ideas because I may be intimidated by the thoughts of my fellow peers. I need to recognize that my thoughts and opinions are also important to the discussions and can help my peers to think in a different way. It is important for me to use my voice in the beginning of discussions so that I do not grow more intimidated towards the middle or end of the discussion. Another goal that I have is to hold myself more accountable for the readings. Oftentimes I feel that I do not set enough time aside to prepare the readings for class. This is often because I am overstudying for another class. This causes me to feel rushed with the readings in order to be prepared for class. I want to set aside enough time to prepare the readings and understand them better by connecting them with our course concepts. I think that by taking accountability for the readings I will be able to contribute more to class discussions by having a deeper understanding of the readings. In other words, my main goal for this semester is to spend more time taking apart the readings in order to contribute my thoughts and ideas to the class more confidently.