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Joy Jacobson

Compassion, Poetry, and DACA

By Joy Jacobson

September 6, 2017

Rio Grande/Rio Bravo, J. Stephen Conn, flickr

“There is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws,” attorney general Jeff Sessions said yesterday, in a surreal usurpation of the word compassion. In announcing the end of the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, he made 800,000 young adults brought to this country illegally as children vulnerable for deportation as soon as March of next year.

 

Compassion literally means “to suffer with.” But like me you may be blocked from this suffering by a bout of compassion fatigue, brought on from the relentless assault of terrible news. Others have called it outrage fatigue or resistance fatigue. But because Sessions bastardized compassion, I think it’s important to reclaim that concept.

 

To suffer with: I am not vulnerable for deportation, yet I want to cultivate the ability to understand what this policy change means for people who are. I’m also overwhelmed; I’m afraid of the responsibility I bear in our culture; I want to hide from it.

 

And so I turn to poetry.

 

Sherman Alexie’s new poem, “Hymn,” is an incantatory series of rhyming couplets through which we can, along with the poet, declaim: “I will sing for people who might not sing for me. / I will sing for people who are not my family.”

 

Claudia D. Hernandez crossed the Rio Grande/ Rio Bravo with her family when she was 10 years old. “The River Never Happened to Us (ii.)” ends with this startling image: “Yet   we   continued   to trickle / shards   of   mud,   as   if   the river   had never happen to us.” Hernandez’s poem is part of an online collection featuring nine undocumented poets, curated by Christopher Soto and published by Southern Humanities Review.

 

Li-Young Lee describes his writing of his poem “Immigrant Blues,” which begins with a line his father told him as a boy: “People have been trying to kill me since I was born…” Click the audio link to hear him read the poem, and then listen again.

 

Eduardo C. Corral provides the poetic perspective of a child of an undocumented immigrant. “In Colorado My Father Scoured and Stacked Dishespresents a series of heartbreaking images, told in a heartbroken voice: “Once, borracho, at breakfast, / he said: The heart can only be broken // once, like a window.”

 

Guatemala-born poet Alex Alpharaoh performed “WET: A DACAmented Journey” in Los Angeles in August. “Soon the witch-hunt will begin,” he chants. “Which one of you brought the matches?” In an interview posted yesterday, he said of people who deny the importance of immigrants to America’s culture: “They’re not paying attention, and they’re not really looking at their history.”

 

Let’s pay attention. Let’s look at our history. Tell me what you’re reading.

Joy Jacobson
Joy Jacobson is the CHMP’s poet-in-residence and cofounder of our Writing Reflective Narratives for Clinicians program.

When Beautiful Turns Ugly

By Joy Jacobson

August 18, 2017

Pedro Reis, flickr

Beautiful. I overuse the word too. It’s a superlative that has denigrated from its Proto-Indo-European roots meaning “reverence” to the ubiquity of emoji. Almost half a billion Instagram posts bear the hashtag #beautiful.

 

Though it still resides in the eye of the beholder, this week we saw beauty twisted into a poisonous usage. “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments,” President Trump tweeted in reference to confederate statues, followed by this, in his typically passive locution: “…the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

 

This Orwellian twist in meaning enacts a kind of linguistic violence. It may be that all wars begin as wars of words, internecine splittings and divisions within a shared tongue: civil wars, where your beautiful is my ugly. . . But when our political leaders engage in this sort of carjacking of meaning, the consequences resound throughout the culture.

 

Today, members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, some of our standard-bearers of beauty, resigned in a letter of protest of Trump’s “support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville.” Of the many reasons cited for their resignations is this indispensible statement addressed to the president:

 

Art is about inclusion. The Humanities include a vibrant free press. You have attacked both.

 

Each of us has to find our own no, that universal utterance in the face of oppression. The monuments in question are indefensible, themselves expressions of racist terrorism, and must be resisted. That is, white supremacy isn’t a beautiful part of our national heritage to be celebrated. The Charlottesville violence made that very plain.

 

A couple of friends and I are slowly making our way through The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, a 1966 book by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. The authors brilliantly demonstrate how language, a human construct, has its role in constructing humans, as well. They write that language has the ability to “crystallize and stabilize for me my own subjectivity” and that people “must talk about themselves until they know themselves.”

 

But, they write, we also inherit our language, and therefore our self-knowing. They posit that this semantic heritage, both personal and historical, results in a “social stock of knowledge” that is passed down from generation to generation. And it makes me wonder: can we become more aware of how language shapes us? Can we somehow make visible the unseen roots of our implicit biases?

 

And so for today’s resistance, I say, let’s reclaim beauty. It can begin with a poem, with a video of newborn’s first smile, or it can begin with no.

Joy Jacobson
Joy Jacobson is the CHMP’s poet-in-residence and cofounder of our Writing Reflective Narratives for Clinicians program.

Nurses and Patients and Plagiarism, Part 2

By Joy Jacobson

May 23, 2017

Matt Saunders, flickr

In the six years or so that I’ve blogged at HealthCetera, I’ve written about the use of reflective writing in clinical practice and education, and I’ve examined poems that elucidate aspects of health and health policy. And in that time the post of mine that has been viewed most often—by far—is one I wrote three years ago, “Nurses and Patients and Plagiarism: The Consequences Aren’t Merely Academic.”

 

Why is there such an enduring interest in plagiarism? My post looked at a couple of literature reviews that suggest academic dishonesty among nursing students may have implications for ethical nursing practice. A new search shows the problem is far from resolved.

 

Last November, for example, the UK weekly journal Nursing Standard reported the results of its investigation that found thousands of UK nursing students had committed academic fraud, 79% of the cases involving plagiarism (the article is free but requires a login).

 

And in March Australian researchers Lynch and colleagues published an integrative review on plagiarism in nursing education (login required) in Journal of Clinical Nursing. The study illuminates several fascinating aspects of the plagiarism problem in nursing:

 

  • Students’ cultural or language background does not affect their likelihood of plagiarizing.
  • Many nursing students simply do not understand the basics of referencing and paraphrasing.
  • Inadvertent or accidental plagiarism is common.
  • Students are more likely to plagiarize if they are at risk of failing a course.
  • As unethical behavior in academia becomes “neutralized” and then “normalized” to nursing students, they are more likely to continue to engage in unethical behavior, with serious implications for clinical practice.
  • Some faculty find it an “enormous burden” to deal with academic dishonesty.
  • The threat of punishment has not reduced plagiarism in nursing education.

 

That last point seems important to emphasize. Just today a writer in Inside Higher Ed, Jennifer A. Mott-Smith, suggests that unless a student submits a paper she paid someone to write or copied and pasted it entirely, academic plagiarism should not be punished—that it instead should be seen as a teaching opportunity to help students “continue to practice the difficult skill of using sources.”

 

That has been my approach as a writing instructor with nursing students. But this can’t mean pretending it’s not happening. Rather, it requires something extra from nursing faculty and institutions—namely, real time spent on teaching writing as a process in which the student learns to think. Otherwise, the copying culture will not abate.

 

I’d like to hear from others, both nursing students and faculty. Is plagiarism an issue for you? How have you handled it?

Joy Jacobson
Joy Jacobson is the CHMP’s poet-in-residence and cofounder of our Writing Reflective Narratives for Clinicians program.