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Self-Evaluation Reflection: Now is the Start

nbarker's picture

Self-Evaluation Reflection: Now is the Start

For me, this has been an incredibly difficult and incredibly valuable semester of work. This was by no means a “typical” semester, if such a thing can be said to exist at Bryn Mawr. I feel that I have progressed greatly as not just a scholar, but as a thinking person.

I have struggled with health concerns throughout this semester. The first month of the semester, I spent being sick with one thing or another: first heatstroke for the entire first week, then two successive colds, and the fibromyalgia complications that came from those first three things. Then came my trip to Camphill, which was amazing, but took a physical toll on me, from the sheer amount of walking, plus difficulty getting the kind of food that works with my condition. In the middle of the semester, I attempted to come off of one of my medications, and switch to another: that backfired tremendously, coming to a head with a visit to the emergency room, and yielding my honorary membership in the “Concussion Club”, along with a few of my fellows in the class. These episodes of illness greatly affected my initial bonding with the 360 class group.

At first, I felt very unconnected and isolated in the group, when it felt like everyone else was already making their bonds—I was afraid of being stuck on the outside, as has happened to me in the past. In addition, the many upsetting events that occurred on campus all in a cluster, that is, the Transgender Admissions debate, then the Confederate Flag incident[1], greatly increased the load on my sickness-impaired mind. It was especially the Transgender Admissions debate that weighed on my mind, as I felt I had an opinion that was different enough from what the group felt that I was afraid I would be ostracized for expressing it. It took me a long time to work up to posting Cautiously Optimistic, and I’m still not sure I got all my thoughts down in a way that could be heard. One of the things that I still struggle with is judging the “quality” of my writing—I’ve now begun to realize that I need to rely on other people for help with this, as a way to develop that skill in myself. I’ve learned I need to plan ahead on my writing more, and have others read it and offer commentary, on pieces that are more significant, or are designed to be persuasive. I’m planning to apply this to my process of applying for a Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowship—more on that later!

However, I did end up bonding well with the group, and in ways I wasn’t expecting! Part of it was that we were all going through similar difficulties, and there is much bonding to be had in shared adversity, not just shared experience. The whole campus seems to have felt a certain zeitgeist of stress: it has been a feeling of chaotic change, and not easy change. It is the start of many things coming to a head, not just on our campus, but also in the world. I am hopeful that recent events are symptomatic of our country coming out of a period of complacent ennui, and instead coming to a place of activity again. This change really feels like it started with the Occupy movement, and I am hopeful that it is continuing in the recognition of transgender people (most notably Laverne Cox, whom I had the privilege and pleasure to hear speak at Haverford). The Ferguson protests, and those spawned after, feel much like the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement: I am hopeful that this is the beginning of another, new Civil Rights Movement, a movement with even more intersectionality, of a more Third- and Fourth-wave feminist movement, one that will start with addressing the continuing problems of race in this country, and by so doing bring up the other oppressed identities that intersect with race along with them, but especially in terms of class, age, gender, and ability. I am hopeful that we are coming out of a period of complacent ennui and shifting into a period of progress.

My own development in this course has somewhat paralleled this trend I am seeing: I shifted from a period of simply reacting to stimuli, while being ill, to being proactive and trying to actively think and change my circumstances. This semester, I was able to think much more deeply, and work as hard and as well as I could, while learning to work around my impairments and disability.  I know that I did to the best of my ability, even if it wasn’t my “potential” best. I know I didn’t have as much of an opportunity to do the breadth of work that I wanted to do, but I had the opportunity to try out depth.

I know I have learned how to find the “edges” of my learning: I have found where I have gaps in knowledge, in understanding, and in opinion. I know better what I am skilled at, and what I am not. I also know that I am much more skilled, and even very good, in things I used to think I was lacking in (more on that later).

Some examples: I have gained a more contemporary focus to my ways of thinking/meaning/learning. What initially used to attract me to archaeology and history so much was that I thought that using the past was really the only feasible way to be able to go into the future informed. Now I realize how much is here, and recent, in this very wide, diverse, globalized world, and that too can be used. I can find what is already there around me, and find ways of knowing and using that knowledge.

I have also become much less long-winded, though I am still not a terribly concise speaker. Instead, I have become much more clear, more explicative. I have learned, and am still developing, my ability to express myself clearly and accessibly. I have also become much less denigrating of myself: I now am looking at myself more constructively, even positively.  I’ve struggled with crippling self-doubt for many years: now I am starting to turn that ability to look at things critically around, from the negative and destructive, towards the positive and constructive. As Mohanty noted in our reading, one cannot build an entire ideology against! You must also have something to build towards.

This has led me also to realizing the truth of the concept of interdependence: by negotiating in a group of people I knew little of, I have learned much about how, what, what with, and how much to trust others. The theater game “Yes, And…” comes to mind in this situation: many of our conversations were about very difficult topics, and looking at them from a frame of “yes, this is true”, and then complicating/complexifying that was really what our discussions were based on.

My self-presentation has also become much less of a performance. I have much more of a sense of being, and owning my self. Now I have learned why I think what I think, and I have begun to develop the tools to learn why I think what I think.

On a more practical level, I’ve also found  a topic I want to explore for my thesis. I am looking to develop my essay “What Will You Gain When You Lose?” into a proposal for a Hanna Holborn Gray Fellowship! This is what I will be spending most of my winter break on, in addition to studying for the GRE. I have found many new directions in my thinking, including an interest in activism, especially in terms of disability rights.

I have learned that I can grapple with difficult concepts, and I can make myself heard and hear-able. I am finally realizing that I am capable.


Do you hear, do you hear

That sound

It's the sound of the lost gone found

It's the sound of a mute gone loud

It's the sound of a new start


Unafraid you can name your scars

With a touch of a new heart

--A Fine Frenzy, “Now is the Start”


[1] What was especially shocking to me about the Confederate Flag incident is that I was decently well acquainted with one of the people who displayed the flag—I never would have expected that of her.