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Jamie Fialek's Honorable Mention Reflective Essay

Jamie Fialek was awarded $100 for this essay reflecting on her Celebration of Learning experience.

To whom it may concern,

As an undergrad, I explored the topic of race through a senior research capstone.  I was a French and studio art major and approached my topic through those lenses, studying the literature and art of Martinique, a Francophone island in the Caribbean Sea.  Through the writings of Patrick Chamoiseau of Martinique, I realized that black Creole artists possessed an inherent need to explore the past, present, and future of their race.  I saw how Chamoiseau struggled to represent and to come to terms with his own racial and cultural identity.  I intended for my capstone to be a study in diversity with global connotations, not simply a case-study of one small corner of the world.  I like to think I succeeded.

As a self-proclaimed baby scholar, I stuck to what I knew, developing and expanding my French skills and feeding my interest in art philosophy.  The process of writing my capstone therefore inevitably highlighted those strengths I already knew I had developed.  However, the research surprised me in other ways.  I admit that within the context of Academia, many research projects, including my own, may seem dry and irrelevant, filled with vague buzz words like "Diversity" and "Race."  However, my capstone was the catalyst which propelled me from Academia into the real world.  Exploring Patrick Chamoiseau's personal and social challenges as a mulatto writer lit my interest in diversity, changed the way I understood racial and identity development, and most importantly, ignited my thirst for social justice.

At that point in my life, I was attending Augustana College, a small, expensive, private, primarily white liberal arts college in the heart of the blue collar city of Rock Island, Illinois.  Like many of my fellow classmates, I hailed from the affluent Chicago suburbs, and spent my college years in what was openly referred to as the "Augie bubble."  Surrounding the campus were Latino and African-American communities whose inhabitants seemed to penetrate the bubble only to deliver pizza, while their white counterparts-students like myself-obtained their education.  "Discrimination" had heretofore been merely a buzz word to me, but my research opened my eyes to the challenges faced by Latinos, mulattos, and blacks in my local community.  As my senior year went on, I found I could no longer ignore the irony that many people who grew up in Rock Island could not attend my school.

This is how my capstone guided me to Teach For America, an organization for which I applied and was accepted.  Teach For America places quality leaders in low-income rural and urban schools across the U.S.  As Chamoiseau hoped to give a voice to his people through his writing, so I hoped to give a voice to my students by providing them with the education they deserved.  My journey came full circle as I learned I would be teaching secondary French in a predominantly African-American, low income community in downtown Baltimore.  There, in Maryland, my strengths and passions would meet the needs of a community, and my research on race and identity would be put to the test.  Thankfully, I had at least one topic with which to breach the taboo of race in my inner city classroom-Patrick Chamoiseau.

My research, along with my newfound calling, urged me not only to understand but to confront issues of race in America.  I felt personally fulfilled, and yet I was not satisfied.  More than anything, my research was a starting point, a vital step for me before jumping into an inner city classroom filled with low income, African American students.  Caribbean Francophone literature may seem a dry topic at first glance, but it left me full to bursting with questions, comments, opinions, and doubts.  I wanted to address all those doubts, and knew I would in the coming years.  Chamoiseau granted me a brand new perspective, and a challenging but exhilarating life after college.


Jamie Fialek