Growing Pains

Surveying the syllabus for INTD 105-03 in the days before the Spring 2020 semester began, I was surprised to see our course epigraph. Previous classes featured quotes or other media that set the tone for our class, but none had an epigraph derived from our seminal text: Octavia Butler’s short story “Bloodchild.” As I would later discover, no class incorporated the epigraph so deeply either. In dialogue that serves as the epigraph, Gan tells T’Gatoi, “If we’re not your animals, if these are adult things, accept the risk. There is risk, Gatoi, in dealing with a partner.” In context, Gan is challenging T’Gatoi to allow him to keep an illegal firearm. But, more than that, Gan is challenging T’Gatoi to open herself to risk, while also sagely commenting that risk is a characteristic of all relationships. Throughout our course, amid all sorts of unexpected disruptions, the epigraph became a roadmap for the growth that we engaged in. At the same time, the essay assignments punctuated and facilitated different points of our advancement. Thus, I will separate and analyze the course epigraph in context with my expectations of the course’s work, my growth, and the unique conversations we had with our guests towards the semester’s end to ultimately reflect on Geneseo’s GLOBE initiative and what steps I can take to keep moving forward. 

In our first major class assignment, we enumerated our goals for the rest of the semester in conjunction with the epigraph and other materials. I chose to separate the epigraph into its comprising phrases and analyze each in context with the essay’s other guidelines. Now, reflecting on the semester, I find that a similar format is applicable to the current thesis, and will be, if only because it’s the clearest way for me to analyze my experience. Different phrases within the epigraph correspond to various points of growth throughout the class. For example, the first two clauses of the first sentence—”If we’re not your animals, if these are adult things”—easily apply to the development that I engaged in with the first assignment. A major topic leading up to our first assignment regarded what it meant to be a college student and some of the challenges we encountered. These discussions related to the aforementioned phrases of the epigraph because the course is intended for freshman, many of whom are just entering into adulthood. First-year college students are experiencing a transition from whatever they were before they started college to a college student, and this transition can be likened to the change Gan asks T’Gatoi to undergo regarding her perception of Terrans, from animals to adults. The phrases also inform that everything we are engaging in on campus, through the college, is an “adult” thing. This means each engagement merits careful consideration. 

The end of the first sentence then reads “accept the risk.” This neatly summarizes what students must do if they want to get anything from college and the course: they must accept the risk that comes with being involved in college-level education. This coordinated well with the goal-setting essay which demanded that we engage in some amount of risk, putting ourselves out there—literally, because we published all essays publicly on the Internet—by voicing goals for the class. My expectations and goals for the class were mixed. I registered for this class expecting to study an exciting science fiction short story and when I found out that it was more—that we would be delving into the academic partnership—I was caught off guard. My expectations had to be readjusted. By the time the deadline for our first essay came around my expectations, and goals, had not yet crystallized into something concrete. As I approached the rewrite deadline, armed with more experience, my goals were more precise and in league with class concepts. I wanted to acquire a more well-rounded view of Geneseo, of how the administration sees its students, of the principles that impacted its chief policy makers. Most of all, I wanted to approach all of the above from an academic lens that I felt was so rarely used when discussing the student-admin relationship. I was also aware that goals can be deeply personal or, at the very least, revelatory of our personalities. Involvement in this course demanded that I accept the risk of vulnerability, which allowed me to experience the growth that this essay explores. 

This begs the question of what actual growth occurred. For me growth happened in subtle unexpected ways regarding my approach to writing. One of the first growth areas include that I’m now significantly more comfortable using the first-person in academic writing when it is required. My first essay was distinctly lacking one word: I. One part of the feedback Dr. McCoy gave me that still sticks with me is “Where are YOU in this essay?” I had, and still somewhat hold, a severe aversion to putting myself into my written works. Until this semester, I was by and large able to avoid doing so; my academic writing could always be spun to not include “I”, to remain an outside party as I wrote, even as I took stances. Now, I have less difficulty inserting myself into my work when need be. Another area of improvement which can likely be attributed to what is one of Dr. McCoy’s signature phrases; that is, I do more “thinkING” about what I intend to write and I’m more cognizant of the fact that readers can’t “get inside my head.” These seem like quite obvious tips, but as a writer one of my persistent flaws include not unpacking an idea enough. Although I did first view the feedback from Dr. McCoy for my rewrites as a checklist, being consistently affronted with calls to unpack and think more deeply about the material I’m covering has ingrained in me an automatic questioning of if I am giving each idea I’m covering its due diligence, if I’m “thinkING” enough about it and being clear enough with my language. 

Other growths have been spurred on through class discussion and feedback. Most notably, I learned to use less all-encompassing language. A large part of the course, to me, revolved around different experiences. From analyzing the mission statements of different colleges to talking in class about our contrasting experiences at Geneseo so far, I’ve become more and more aware that not everyone has the same experience and to use language implying such does a disservice to everyone involved. At the beginning of the semester I remember receiving push back for saying that all college freshman were emerging adults. That experience made me aware, in every instance, that people within a group did not necessarily all have the same experiences and to take care not to exclude anyone from my writing. To do so meant alienating someone as soon as they read or heard my arguments, which would only injure my credibility as a writer. Another improvement, which came primarily from Dr. McCoy’s feedback, is my effort to write more in the active voice rather than the passive I usually lean on. This is an evident benefit as the active voice makes writing more engaging to read. These are growths that will serve me well as I move forward with my learning.

The second sentence of the epigraph—”There is risk, Gatoi, in dealing with a partner”—gives attention to the partner and a partnership’s characteristics. These have much to do with the second and third major essays we wrote, about our seminal text in relation to current academic conditions and to essential services respectively. In focusing on the partner, we can engage in more, and different, growth. This development focuses outward, on our understanding of the institutions we are attending and, therefore, engaged in. Nothing accentuated this growth more than our conversations with key members of the Geneseo administration: robbie routenberg, Joe Cope, and Sasha Eloi-Evans. 

For me, these discussions led to not only a greater understanding of the motivations and current focuses of administration, but also a humanization of the people who are involved in policy-making that impacts all of the Geneseo community. We were able to see how the academic partnership—which we spent nearly a whole semester talking about—was regarded by the very people we were commenting on. Personally, this reinforced ideas that several of the administration is earnestly trying to make Geneseo a better place and cares for its student body. The fact that each administrator we met with spent a significant part of the meeting asking about how we were doing only compounds this. What’s more, hearing about the complexities Dr. Eloi-Evans faces in both representing the students and being taken seriously by faculty and colleagues was very moving and made me reevaluate my perception of her role. Additionally, showed the dedication of some admin to ensuring the well-being of the students. The sentiment of these administrators becomes incredibly important both in normal times—when we are on-campus and feel as though administration is out-of-touch and uninterested in student concerns—and when we are in periods of distanced learning, when we feel disconnected from the college and like the administration is doing even less than we were used to. 

At the end of “Bloodchild,” we see Gan reflect on his evening detached from the actual events. He says he “could remember the feelings without reviving them. I could talk about them” (p 29) and, as we approach the end of the semester, we must also remember, reflect, and—most importantly—talk about our experiences in INTD 105. These acts go hand in hand with Geneseo’s GLOBE practices in more ways than one. On a surface level, we are being forced through this essay to look at ourselves and evaluate just how much growth has happened since January. For me, this took quite a lot of effort because I’m not used to introspecting and then translating the discoveries I’ve made to paper. It has been challenging but gratifying and has left me with multiple areas where I can still evolve. The growths that I enumerated came from little-developed skills that still leave much to be desired. As I move forward, my goal is to increase my awareness of the habitual mistakes I make and to correct them, with the intention that if I do this enough, I won’t make the same mistakes. This applies to implementation of the first person in my academic work, of putting myself more in my work, as well as using language that accounts for everyone’s varied experiences. The latter is something I am incorporating more into everyday life, whilst other improvements that I highlighted can only really be exhibited in my writing. All of these are making me more capable to fulfill what I see as my end of the academic partnership I am engaging in with SUNY Geneseo. Learning about the academic partnership as a whole may not have been what I expected when I signed up for this course, but it has undoubtedly been a worthwhile experience. 

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