A few people have asked me for explanations of TRw, what it is, what we did and all of that type of information. TRW stands for The Reflective Woman, and I must be a product of that title, because I'd like to reflect on the experiences I had as a student of TRW. It was an extremely positive experience, which helped me get used to St. Kate's and learn about the world and myself. It was a chance to really explore all that's out there and in me. I want to share a bit about each unit and my own reflections on the units and on the class as a whole.
One of the things emphasized to all of us when we entered ST. Kate's was that the TRW curriculum and experience would be relatively uniform for all of us. There were projects we would all have to complete and articles we would all read. That sounded a bit dry to me, but I'm happy to say it wasn't. Our professor's voice definitely came through in the final product of our class. While we completed the same major projects, different classes did the projects differently. This allowed for adaptations and uniqueness, but it also allowed us to talk about the TRW experience in our dorms and at our meals. This was extremely helpful because when you start out at a new school, it's hard to know what to talk about sometimes. It also gives instructors a common experience to which we all can relate. They know, for example, that we know what social structures are, what feminism is, what racism is and what the term social justice means. With that in mind, let's delve into what I experienced in TRW.
Composing a Life
TRW was divided up into four units. Each unit had a different theme, but it built on the other units. Each unit had several projects and readings, which we completed as well. The first of these units was Composing a Life. Basically, this was a chance to think about what the good life is, how who we are affects us, how other's reactions to us shape who we are, how we could live out the good life at ST. Kate's and how St. Kate's life-or history-was made.
We first learned about the nuns who came from France and their story. We learned that they had been women of action. They weren't about holing up somewhere, bemoaning what was going on in the world. They still aren't. They are responsible for the creation of several hospitals and schools. They took the shape of whatever they needed to to serve.
We also learned that they didn't take no for an answer in their quest for a school. When they had way too many registered students, they stayed up sewing sheets so they could house the women who came. When the city wanted to build a street, which would run through the campus, they built a building there instead so that the city couldn't disrupt the peaceful atmosphere.
After this, we read articles that introduced us to the college experience. Some of them were about things like why a liberal arts education matters. These addressed questions I've always asked, "Why do I have to take this course?" Others encouraged us to learn from others' work and writings, but make them real to us. This is something I tend to do. One of the questions I seem to ask myself a lot is "What does this mean for me." When that is discouraged, I don't flourish. Obviously, being encouraged to do this very thing made me very happy.
Finally, we learned about how people create the good life. A lot of this was learning about diversity and issues of feminism. There were articles from several different perspectives. I've already written about one, which was "Weaving An Identity Tapestry". That article talked about how different parts of our identity seem to conflict and we have to try to reconcile those differences. That was comforting to hear, because I sometimes felt conflicted and din't know how to handle that. There were articles about what it's like to go to college when you're already dealing with financial difficulties, going to college as a GLBT student, trying to deal with two different cultures and one about having a disability. I liked how each article gave us a new perspective on diversity and helped me to think about issues from multiple different perspectives. Seeing that diversity is encouraged made me feel more comfortable sharing my own perspective. I wasn't condemned for being different or struggling with others' differences. Instead, I was given the opportunity to grow in my understanding of the world and share parts of who I am with other students.
I did this in several ways. First, we had journals we were required to write. I shared those with my TRW professor, and as far as I know, they stayed confidential. It was hard at first to share parts of myself with a new person, especially when the questions didn't allow me to sugar coat a hard experience. It would have been much easier to lie about the question "What was your greatest learning experience?" Instead, I had to answer honestly and share that difficult experience with her. In the end, though, I got helpful feedback in the form of comments emailed to me and I was able to put the college experience in a better perspective. Remembering Guide Dog training helped me to realize that I had already adjusted to different experiences once and I could do it again. It reminded me that things really would work out and I really could make it. Writing about the readings in these journals helped me clarify what I had learned and what questions still remained.
Another way I shared part of who I am was through the in class discussions. They were a safe chance to ask questions and make statements. It helped me understand other ways of looking at the situations presented in the readings. I learned about others in my class and was able to relate to them more personally afterward.
Then there were the projects. One of those was a sculpture which represented us and our idea of a good life. I'm not really an artist although I love playing with clay. I ended up sculpting Julio and having him either hold, carry or stand next to important things in my life. I wrote a supporting paper which explained what everything meant and also presented the sculpture to my class. That showed my good life and gave others a way to relate to me.
I also interviewed someone who has a good life and learned about her life. I can't share much since the paper had to stay confidential. I learned things that surprised and showed me even more why I respect her and encouraged me that I too can compose the good life.
Experiencing Art And The Aesthetic
Just the title of this unit made me cringe. Are is something that most people relate to visually. Finding help to relate the concepts tactually or in other ways that made sense to me was more of a challenge. Most of the time, I was able to make the concepts real, but this was definitely more difficult than the previous unit was. I started to really feel the differences between the way I relate to things and the way others did. When I wrote about even the more simple concepts, I always felt like I was writing BS and losing credibility fast. I didn't do too badly in that unit, so it must not have been that bad.
One of the most difficult concepts was the concept of the "critical eye". I always felt that I was at a disadvantage as compared to the other students. Yes, I could understand the concepts, but did the concepts look the same to me as the other students? I felt like I was being set up for failure when I had to "analyze" a utilitarian object using the artistic concepts. I knew how the BrailleNote Mpower felt, but did it look that way? I managed to write my gallery card and give the presentation. It seemed okay, but there was always the question "Am I doing this right?"
One of the things that really built up my confidence with these issues was our class visit to the gallery on campus. I was given the opportunity to analyze a sculpture. I worked with the director and she really helped me feel more confident about my abilities to enjoy art. She even let me look at paintings with my face right up to the glass. That helped a lot.
We moved from observing beauty to being a part of beauty. We learned about a Native American tribe that surrounds themselves with beauty, but they believe the process is more important than the product.
We also learned about how writing can be an aesthetic experience and how it can be a healing process as well. A social worker shared her work with youth and poetry and gave us a chance to write our own. This gave me a chance to learn more about myself and write down my feelings. It also challenged me to be more mindful as I write and also let whatever needs to come out come out.
I started thinking of writing as an art and started challenging myself to use it that way again. I didn't have as much time to devote to this as I would have liked, but it really is something I'd like to focus on during break.
We also learned about the process of authentic movement, where movement is beautiful and we get the chance to move how we want without worrying about where we are and whether we're safe. As I've said before, that's not something I usually get to do. I'm always worrying about where I am in space, what's around me and whether my movement is acceptable. In this case, those worries weren't an issue because we had someone watching us, we had to close our eyes and our object was to move how we felt we needed to move. This was absolutely exhilarating! It was a great way to relax and really feel like things were going to be okay no matter where I went. I didn't need to listen to what was going on around me; I didn't need to be aware of anything other than my body. That is definitely cool!
I also worked on the observation of movement in a different way than other students in my class did. They, of course, watched the mover, kept her safe and reflected on her movement. I felt the movements of the instructor. It was kind of like hand over hand but the opposite. It was great! With all of the work I put into moving, especially with RSD and the tendon issues, I don't often think of movements as anything other than things that must be controlled to bring about some purpose. It really helped to see another person move and see that as beautiful.
Over all, this unit gave me the opportunity to think differently about beauty and see myself as part of the beauty-making process. It also gave me a chance to see how art can heal and how I can be a part of that.
Lastly, it gave me other ways to assess my response to a piece of art or everyday object or experience. Instead of just saying, "I didn't like that play", I can discuss what elements were missing or poorly done. I learned this skill through writing a performance review. By clearly thinking about my response to the experience and the elements, I was able to give constructive feedback.
Searching For Truths
The next unit honestly scared me a lot. I knew that this unit would test my research skills and ability to discuss issues. I usually feel backed into a corner when my perspective on an issue is challenged. It's not something I'm proud of, but it is how I am.
This unit ended up turning out okay, though. The research was difficult, and I didn't feel as connected to the unit as I had for the previous two. Part of this was because of medications; part of it was just me. But there were several observations and interesting things that happened in the unit.
One of the coolest things for me was being challenged in a non-confrontational way to think outside the box when it came to issues of faith and culture. I'll tackle the culture one first because it's slightly less controversial.
We learned a lot about how truth isn't the same to everyone. What I say is true may be different from what you say is true. We also learned that how we view an issue can define what information we find about that issue. For example, we read an article called the Aggressive Egg. That article talked about the traditional view, which says that the sperm is aggressive and has to fight to get to the egg to fertilize. In actuality, scientists have discovered that the egg draws the sperm to itself and chooses the sperm. We talked about how that can be a positive view for women and fits with a feminist worldview, but it may not be accepted as easily.
In another reading, we learned about the lack of medical care in our own country as well as in others. We also talked about culture clashes and medical situations. For example, some say that acupuncture isn't beneficial; it can become a delicate issue. Other cultures of people may not agree with our western view of medicine. That challenges us to dialogue about the differences and come up with a solution for each individual.
Then, there were the issues of faith. I was honestly nervous about this part of the class. Would my personal beliefs be respected? Would I be able to hold onto what I believe? Would this help or hinder my faith walk? I'm happy to say that the articles helped me grow. I learned a lot about myself and about God. One of the articles we read was about the struggles some women have relating to God as a male. This has never been an issue for me, so it was harder to understand that. One of the cool things shared in this particular article, though, was the author's perspective on gender of God. She didn't necessarily think that God has a sex, but she pointed out that although we believe Jesus is male, he has many characteristics, which are commonly associated with women. These are things such as compassion and caring. This is helpful for people to be able to relate to God. In other words, the characteristics of God are not just masculine. This concept is foggy for me, and I honestly don't care. When all is said and done, I want to say that I was concerned with issues of following Jesus, not worrying about what my faith says about being a woman.
We also read an article excerpted from the book "When Bad Things Happen To Good People". I've heard this article criticized before, but I can't remember where or why. What I got out of it was that even in the bad/difficult/tough times, God still has a plan for us. This is written by a Jewish Rabbi, so he's not going o be quoting the new testament, but it mad me think of Romans 8:28.
This unit really taught me a lot. Besides getting the chance to work in a group and present different sides of an issue before writing a paper on it, I got the chance to see how God can teach me in surprising ways and from surprising sources. I learned that insisting "This is right", isn't always the way to go. Dialoguing with others about issues and learning about their position is extremely important. It doesn't require losing your faith, morals or values. It just requires openness to learning new things and listening.
Working Toward Community And Justice
This unit gave me a chance to learn about how I can take action in many different ways and on many different issues. It gave me a good way to learn to voice my concerns about things going on in our world. I learned that being an activist doesn't have to mean that I get myself thrown in jail. I can engage in community development or social justice anywhere and at any time.
We had an amazing speaker talk to us about community development. She taught us that we need to start with listening. That's something that carried nicely from the Searching For Truths unit. We need to listen to people where they are. It's too easy to decide that you want to help someone and decide how you're going to help him or her without listening to where she or he is. Once you listen, you need to get the person or community to see what you're seeing. Sometimes, that means you have to change your view. It's a constant dialogue. Then, you can develop a plan to deal with the problems you collectively see. That should involve the community or person being served. This was exciting to me. So many times, I've seen help get shoved down others' throats because no one bothered to ask what could be done to be helpful.
We also learned about ways to engage in social justice in our actions (from the clothes we wear to the coffee we drink, we can make a difference with our buying power). This unit really made me want to get involved and fix the problems I see in the world today. But like the progression in the class, it has to start with me.
The over all Impression
I've really only talked about the structured activities, writings and articles so far, but I can't leave out the in-class interactions. These actually happened out of the class as well as inside of that classroom. They were just as important to help me through the class.
One of the things that I will never forget is the way our professor treated us. She really listened to concerns and questions and had an open door policy. If I emailed a question to her, I got a good answer. She didn't expect me to function the same way as the other students either. Most of the time in classes, I get my assignments back from the instructor. If I'm lucky, they go over the grade with me orally, but most of the time, I have to get someone else to go through it. Not in this class. She actually took the time to email the grades and comments to me without even being asked. It was as if she took for granted that I would want to have the same access and acted on the assumption that I would. She gave me the option to find a different way to handle this, but made it clear that she didn't mind emailing the grades. That was just neat.
When we had a presenter for any class session, she let them know that there would be a student with a visual impairment in class. She made sure that as much as possible, things would be accessible. If there would be something that needed to be adapted, she made a suggestion and asked me if it was okay. She really involved me in the class as an equal. This, in turn, gave me the courage to start asking for equality, confidentiality and respect in other situations. I actually started asking for medical papers beforehand so I didn't have to fill them out in a lobby. I started suggesting that other options be made available and expecting to be treated like an independent person. Instead of hating a situation, I started to change it.
Basically, this class helped me see that there are options. I really can do something about things I don't like and I can do it in a way that doesn't hurt anyone else. I started to respect myself more too.
I know this was long and intense, but I hope this gave you a better picture of TRW and what it meant to me. I'm so glad I was required to take this class!