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My goals coming into this class were simple and nebulously-defined: learn more about Hurricane Katrina, something I had never explored in depth, and dig beyond the traditional narrative; however, I came out with so much more. I entered this course with a surface-level understanding that many parts of America remain hotbeds for racial tumult, and that there are some things that really have not changed substantially since Jim Crow. For better or for worse, issues of race are are well within the view of the public eye at virtually all hours of the day, from the Baltimore riots, to Ferguson, and to the systematic disenfranchisement of minorities in GOP-controlled states. These topics remain heavily politicized, and when this occurs in the face of constant, skewed coverage, desensitization to the issues can occur rather easily. It takes a powerful catalyst to break this cycle, in the same way that it took Twelve Years a Slave to make the institution of American slavery more than just a very regrettable chapter in a history book to me. The content covered in this class made modern institutional racism and structural violence real to me in a way that standard discourse cannot, and the value of such a cathartic experience is immense. Hurricane Katrina wasn’t just a storm that happened in 2005, it was a devastating turning point in the lives of millions — one where clear, and potentially deliberate, government neglect marred the response and exacerbated the trauma induced by an already-tragic event. I am not just content with the fact that I took this class, I am thrilled. The careful examination of different, and often conflicting, narratives and perspectives has led me to not only examine the storm with a more discerning eye, but history as a whole.
I tend to make a lot of assumptions — I give readers the benefit of the doubt and expect that a lot of knowledge is common. Over this past semester, I have come to realize that this should be avoided when trying to substantiate a written argument. Some of these assumptions can be made when operating within the ivory tower of academia, but when writing for a general audience, they cannot. This tendency manifested less in the short reflection papers, but became more apparent in the draft of the final research paper. In this paper, I allude to clear links between poverty and poor academic performance as well as the documented relationship between teacher discipline and disparate pupil-instructor demographics. In both instances, I failed to elaborate the mechanism behind the phenomenon, or really explicate how they play out in the context of New Orleans. When making an argument, especially a contentious one like mine, it’s exceptionally important to leave no room for ambiguity — leaving too much to the imagination can lead the reader to potentially form inaccurate rationalizations which could undermine the central claim of the paper. In addition to strengthening my writing as a whole, this has made page minimums much less daunting, as it becomes much easier to write at length on a topic.
Similarly, I have improved in the area of substantiation — I have begun to cite sources that back up controversial claims, at times perhaps more than is absolutely necessary (in parts of my final paper). This bears a stark contrast to some of my earlier pieces, which bordered on op-ed (see: Essay #3). In past reflection essays, it could be difficult to discern which ideas were my own and which were those of the author, such as my concept of “urban Darwinism” in Essay #1. Looking at my research paper, I feel as I’ve developed in this area, though there remains room for improvement. Following the citation of a source, it remains difficult to tell whether to analysis is my own, or paraphrased from the preceding source — in order to avoid this, I am working toward more explicitly referencing the authors when referring to analysis put forth by them.
As a person, and as an academic engaging in critical analysis, I feel as though I have developed a more hearty and healthy sense of cynicism when approaching contentious issues. The evidence of this is plentiful, given the fact that everything I have written this semester, sans the first short paper, has been a rather scathing critique of something, two of which were criticisms of the decisions and actions of those in power. I have begun to more carefully consider sources and any underlying motivations or biases that might perpetuate a skewed perspective. In my research paper, I began to not only be more discerning with which sources I chose to incorporate, but also critically analyze these “tainted” sources within the paper as a way to strengthen my own argument. The author’s intent and background are now the foremost considerations when I read and subsequently process new material. Additionally, race matters, whether we want to think so or not. Racism is not dead, and equity is not as close as we believe it to be — this belief, now more closely-held in my mind, shines through in my final research paper about educational equity.
The material that we have read in this course, particularly that relating to shoddy levy construction, has reinforced the idea that governments do not always have the best interest of constituents in mind — authority can be self-serving. This has led me not to have a disdain for those in power, but to question their intentions and claims with healthy skepticism when warranted. The turning point for this existed somewhere between When The Levees Broke and the Van Heerden reading, both of which made compelling arguments for what seems to be a recurring theme in this course — the idea that, perhaps, not all is as it seems.
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