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Diffracting Reflections

jmorgant's picture

I enrolled in this course after Kaye recommended that I take it following an internship I had last summer at National Advocates for Pregnant Women (NAPW) that was funding by Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship. NAPW does a lot of different things, but basically provides legal support for women who have been incarcerated or had their children taken away because of a drug charge. While I didn’t get to do much reflecting on these issues specifically, this course did teach me a lot.


I entered the class a little unsure of exactly what to expect. It was my first Bryn Mawr class and my first course that was listed primarily under gender and sexuality studies (I had taken gen/sex classes in the past that related to political science and anthropology). On the first or second day, we were asked to do a “wagon wheel” and talk to various members of the class. One of the prompts was to say all the gender pronouns we knew. I began, “He, she…” The student standing across from me added, “Ze…” (What?) I responded with a smile, “It…” The student answered, “I don’t think a person would appreciate being called “It.” Okay. Got it. Can’t make jokes about gender here. Don’t want to offend anyone.


Despite this initial uncomfortable and slightly bizarre interaction, I learned a lot from my peers throughout the course. I especially enjoyed the Thermometer activity – it was interesting to hear others’ viewpoints, and I found my own changing as I listened to my peers. This class was very different from courses I’ve taken at Haverford, where more often than not, personal experiences are not valued as legitimate means of thinking about the world; professors prefer that students refer to and interpret the texts without reflection on one’s personal experiences (as though that is possible?) I began to participate more actively as the semester went on and I became more comfortable with voicing my opinion (and worried less about unintentionally offending someone). As the semester went on, I also found myself valuing to a greater extent the contributions of my peers to class discussions and the online conversation. It was different, but eye-opening, to hear to perspectives of students from two colleges, all years, and coming from many different disciplines.


I didn’t enjoy all of the readings for this course – I found Barad to be, without a doubt, one of the most confusing and frustrating things I have ever read. The writing was dense, I didn’t recognize many of the words or the language, and as a result I found it totally inaccessible, which bothered me. I understood a bit more after her class visit, but still am not sure as to the usefulness of her language (how is intra-action different from interaction? Diffraction different from reflection/interpretation?) I enjoyed Little Bee (what a relief to read a moving work of fiction for a class!) and many of the news articles we read. It was also the first time since freshman year that I read Judith Butler, and found myself reading and re-reading it through a variety of different lenses (relating it to personal experience, to political science, to gender and sexuality studies…)


The prompts for the web events were always so open, which actually was easier for me in the beginning of the course. For my first paper, I wrote a pretty prototypical political science paper. I realized with a shock that it’s kind of the only thing I know how to write anymore. Where had my creativity disappeared to? Did college in fact suck away my creative spirit, making me just another Haverford student who has perfected the 5-page paper? (Not that I’ve perfected the 5-page paper…if only!) For later web events, I found the openness of the prompt very frustrating. I knew I wanted to be creative, but I wasn’t sure where to begin. This challenged me to think in ways separate from how I’d previously been taught and encouraged to think in college – but I found myself really enjoying the opportunity to pursue and write about my interests, and I hope to continue to expand on some of my ideas over winter break. I’d forgotten just how much I like to be creative, to have the opportunity to self-reflect through writing. I wish we had the opportunity to do more of that in college. After all, aren’t we here to learn? Isn’t college supposed to be a time for self-exploration? The picture I've included in this self-evaluation is one that I took of myself in the beginning of high school, when I would mess around with Adobe Photoshop. I found myself thinking about it while writing this response - I miss the days when I was encouraged to be creative, to experiment, to self-reflect. This course has allowed me to rediscover that part of me.