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Applying to Howard University, I operated under the supposition that the curriculum would consist of the examination of classic literature, admittedly that of European origin, and then interpreting these pieces from a black perspective. I assumed that as an incoming English major, I would be challenged in the art of interpretation and literary dismemberment. I entered the Howard English Department rehearsing the lines from the mission statement, and praying to God that I would fit in. I will admit that upon arrival I initially felt at odds with the ways of the university. Calling this school a culture shock would be an understatement. What I discovered upon arrival to Howard, is the emphasis on developing a complex understanding of self, and an unrivaled appreciation for black literature. The criteria for English majors is much more varied and complex than I had originally expected. What separates Howard from its competition is the school’s unwavering dedication to the promotion and analysis of the negro race, on every level and in every classroom.
In my short time here, I have developed more than I could have ever imagined. Being recognized in high school for my oratory and expository abilities, I entered the realm of higher education extremely confident in my writing abilities. On the collegiate level, however, I have been swiftly, and rightly humbled. The process of stripping the writer of her loftiness is a tactic that, while I am not entirely sure is purposeful, is certainly one of effectivity. It is my opinion that the average freshman enters the college circuit with a nauseating air of arrogance. Perhaps this is part of what DuBois refers to as, “youthful swagger.” While entirely natural in its existence, I recognize the positive implications that come with deflating the pompous head of an incoming student, as it allows for greater aptitude to learn.
While I was not entirely prepared for the emotional trappings of college, I was relatively primed for the stresses of time management. I was aware that in college the curriculum would be rigorous and there would be no one tasked with holding me accountable. Consequently, I entered into my freshman year with a fiery commitment to keeping up with all of my classwork assignments. I recognized early on that it is very easy to succomb to laziness, so I have aspired to never allow myself to fall into that slump. My strategy is to have a strict homework schedule that I seldom stray from. The aforementioned approach does not come without difficulties. In fact, I have found that one of my greatest challenges are course assigned readings, which are often times both lengthy and dense. Initially, I was turned off by the level of difficulty of the readings; in order for me to succeed a shift in paradigm was required. Rather than regarding the readings as a burden, they become a welcome and necessary challenge. To be faced with something seemingly futile, and then later overcoming it is an intensely gratifying feeling. I believe that this is the essence of what it means to be an English major. This is a field of study that comes with endless disappointment and unfathomable moments of recompense. Moreover, there is no end to literary toil. No matter how advanced you are, there is still another level to advance to. The eternalness of study and advancement is part of what makes English such a worthy discipline, and is the core of its appeal to myself.
From an all encompassing perspective, I would say that perhaps my greatest struggle is finding the confidence to participate in class discussions. In this discipline, eloquence is everything. I feel as though part of my development as an English major has been finding the courage to speak my mind, forcing myself to ignore my own screaming insecurities. The study of English and composition helps you to organize your thoughts, to file them away systematically, then dispense them at the appropriate times. Our class discussions force us to be bold and mentally thorough, to do so is to become painstakingly in touch with the subtle workings of your mind.
The most heartbreaking part of being an English major, is the judgement that comes along with it. Unlike other disciplines where you are graded based on your comprehension of the curriculum, an English major is judged based upon the sagacity of their ideas. The grading process suddenly becomes especially personal and intimate. The professor is taking a glimpse into the inner workings of your mind and making a judgement call. The comments on papers and assignments is the tangible result of this inspection. When the feedback is good, it serves as a sort of validation in the minds of a student, but when the feedback is negative it can be devastating. I think it is fair to say that English majors, alongside visual artists, are some of the most sensitive and agitable individuals in the realm of higher education. Being graded on such a personal level is hard to stomach, but this is perhaps what makes us so unique.
Learning how to properly respond to criticism is something that the English major must learn early in their career. Indeed, going to speak to the professor during office hours can be the most nerve-racking part of the writing process. One thing that I learned quickly is to pay close attention to written commentary, and take it to heart. Allowing myself to become receptive to criticism was a very necessary part of my growth period. What I found hindered me most was that I was quick to fall into a submissionary state when faced with judgement. I have since learned the necessity of self-assertion and explaining the intentions behind your writing. This allows you to begin a tailored dialogue with your advisor of how to achieve your original concept.
If I had to assess my progress thus far, I would give myself a rating of “Excellent Effort.” While I’m not entirely satisfied with my performance in this course, I am very proud of how far I have progressed. In my time here at Howard University I have been met with various challenges. Nonetheless, I have pushed through and overcome my hindrances. That being said, my growing phase is no where near over. I still have a lot to learn about what it means to be an English major at Howard, and a successful student overall. What I can say, is that the discipline required of an English major is preparatory for the challenges which lie ahead in the upcoming years.
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