94 Student Inquiry Essay Examples


Katharine Berry

Jonnie Cassens is a truck driver who hoped that her move to a North Dakota oil boomtown would help her recover from her previous life in California. In the documentary “Running on Fumes in North Dakota,” she explains how the lifestyle emerging from North Dakota’s rapid oil boom isn’t as glamorous as it is often portrayed; in fact, it is a dirty and unpleasant life. Jonnie’s move from California has left her isolated and lonely with no one to turn to for support or companionship. She expresses her longing for a female friend to “gossip with” or someone she can “get a pedicure with,” but the oil boom has created a society dominated by men and a fractured community (Christenson). Jonnie may be physically alone, but she is not alone in her feeling that the oil boom has resulted in isolation and loneliness. Life-long residents and brand new residents of boomtowns fear the crime, prostitution, and influx of drugs that oil has drawn to North Dakota, and workers often face brutal conditions (Stewart). The unreliable and temporary nature of the North Dakota oil boom has disrupted the existing communities in this region and created deep divisions, preventing new communities from forming. Ultimately, the oil boom undermines community in all forms.

The cohesive rural communities that existed near oil reserves in North Dakota have disintegrated and been destroyed by the nature of the oil boom in the region (Brown). The rapid population flood has created problems of supply and demand in many aspects, especially in relation to housing. There is a great need for housing in the oil boomtowns but little availability, which drives up rent to prices approaching those in urban San Francisco (Warren). These extreme rent increases have made it difficult for many long-time residents to continue to afford their homes and many families are forced to find new housing outside of the region (Stewart). In New Town, North Dakota, a large trailer park, Prairie Winds, which has been home to several Native American tribes for decades, epitomizes this problem. The trailer parks’ new owner raised rents and evicted the long-term residents in order to provide housing for oil workers (Mufson). The original residents were left without roofs over their heads, and unfortunately this type of community destruction is not uncommon. As the oil boom drives housing prices up, families and loved ones are split up. Due to the limited availability of housing in the region, many people leave the area completely. These drastic rent increases have not only taken residents’ housing but their sense of home as well. To make matters worse, the history of oil booms in the region—which features promises of great success followed by sudden failures that leave the state in debt—has left many people skeptical, including construction developers. Since the construction industry anticipates that the region’s oil supply will eventually run out, no new housing is being built to ameliorate the housing crisis. Therefore, the high demand for housing will continue and long-term residents will be driven further from their communities.

Additionally, among residents who try to take advantage of the conditions the boom has created, there is a general consensus that the profit is not worth the trouble (Mufson). Some residents have leased out their land and minerals in exchange for a profit from the oil companies; however, the oil companies have caused physical destruction to residents’ property, leaving them disappointed and angry (Stone). In an interview with a North Dakota native published by The Washington Post, Donnie Nelson reflects on the two oil rigs on his property: “‘I don’t like what it’s done for our communities and lifestyle,’ he said. ‘We had a good life, and now it’s gone forever, or at least for my lifetime’” (Mufsan). He also reports that he would “‘give it all back for the trouble it’s been’” (Mufsan). Bert Hauge, another long-time resident, has large trenches on his property and cows with serious health problems as a result of the boom (Stone). These residents are left disapproving and discontented with the oil boom. North Dakotans remain skeptical that the promises of twenty years of success from this boom will become a reality, and instead believe that this boom will follow the limited course of previous booms (Lindholm). This bitterness has turned existing communities into a group of isolated individuals. No matter what their situation,  all long-time North Dakotans share one commonality: they miss the time, before the oil boom, when communities “didn’t lock their doors and knew all their neighbors” (Mufson). While long-term residents in North Dakota have felt their communities disintegrate, employers in the oil industry have simultaneously prevented new communities from forming. This has resulted in deep divisions between employers and employees and further divisions among employees themselves. The “suits” (as the oil industry employers are called) have dehumanized workers and created an animal kingdom of men. They have mistreated men by implementing long hours and challenging and dirty work (Gale). Employees of the oil industry are on a schedule of approximately twelve-hour workdays for two weeks straight followed by two weeks of no work, but there is some degree of scheduling uncertainty, and sudden decisions often change schedules at the last minute (Chaudhry). These conditions create the sense of a temporary and easily replaceable environment, implying that the employees are inferior to the “suits.” With uncaring employers, there is a certain degree of animosity that allows workers to be deindividualized and take on the role of “rough and tumble oil worker” (Gale). Most workers are away from their homes and families and remain free of ties to any community in the region; occasionally workers act without being held accountable. This misbehavior has resulted in rising crime and drug use, problems that continue to grow (Healy).

There might be potential for workers to bond over their dehumanization, loneliness and desire for success, but because of the limited resources in the region, workers must compete, making the formation of community impossible. The housing scarcity has created massive competition between workers over housing (Chaudhry). Temporary man-camps of workers are now abundant, along with RV neighborhoods and thousands of vehicles that have been transformed into homes (Sulzberger). This competition is a free-for-all, and men who cannot find anything substantial have resorted to anything that will be sufficient for a temporary residence. With the harsh winters, some workers are finding it difficult to even stay alive. The inflation in the region also makes eating at restaurants practically impossible (Chaudhry). In a society with so many workers in the same situation, new communities could practically fall into place, but these workers face such a range of harsh conditions and obtaining basic requirements like housing and food take precedence over forming new communities.

The undermining of community caused by the oil industry in North Dakota isn’t the state or nation’s primary concern, and it is obvious that the economic benefits resulting from the boom are overwhelming. This oil boom could bring energy independence to the United States, which some might argue is sufficient reason to overlook community destruction. However, the oil boom has also brought health risks and environmental disturbances. Do the economic benefits outweigh the environmental, health and community drawbacks of oil boomtowns? Workers begin to wonder if leaving their families and homes for an uncertain amount of time, facing hard and lonely conditions, and performing dangerous work is really worth the extra income they will make. Others may wonder if the extreme yet temporary success of the oil industry in the region should be unthinkingly prioritized, especially given the destruction to the family land of native North Dakotans.

Is the temporary success of these modern boomtowns worth the potential long-term consequences they bring? As long as the boom benefits the nation as a whole, it is unlikely that there will be any changes to the industry, which leaves the residents of these North Dakota boomtowns more lonely and isolated than ever with no definite end in sight. This leaves residents like Jonnie Cassens in her trailer, which has no running water or toilet—and instead of confiding and bonding with a friend, the only relationship she has is with her dog.


Works Cited

Brown, Chip. “North Dakota Went Boom.” The New York Times. 31 Jan. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.

Chaudhry, Mat. Northern Utopia: Rebirth of American Dream: North Dakota Oil Employment. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013. Kindle.

Christenson, James, Eliot Popko, Jonah Sargent, and Lewis Wilcox. “Running on Fumes in North Dakota.” The New York Times. 13 Jan 2014. Web. 13 Apr 2014. Video.

Cohen, Sharon. “Trying to Combat Growing Drug Trade in Oil Patch.” The Washington Post. 14 Apr 2014. Web. 24 Apr 2014.

Sweet Crude Man Camp. Dir. Gale, Isaac. Prod. Alec Soth. From: Life Inside an Oil Boom. The New York Times. 8 Feb 2013. Web. 13 Apr 2014. Documentary.

Greenwald, Judy. “Rail Risks Expand As  Oil Shipments Boom.” Business Insurance 48.5 (2014): 0013. Business Source Complete. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.

Healy, Jack. “As Oil Floods Plains Towns, Crime Pours In.” The New York Times. 30 Nov 2013. Web. 13 Apr 2014.

Lindholm, Meg. “Flock to North Dakota Oil Town Leads to Housing Crisis.” All Things Considered. National Public Radio. 28 May 2010. Web. 6 Apr 2014. Transcript.

Mufson, Steven. “In North Dakota, The Gritty Side of an Oil Boom.”

The Washington Post. 18 July 2012. Web. 24 Apr 2014.

Oldham, Jennifer. “North Dakota Oil Boom Brings Blight With Growth as Cost Soar.” Bloomberg. 24 Jan. 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2014.

Schultz, E J. “Williston: The Town the Recession Forgot.” Advertising Age, 82.39, 31 Oct. 2011: 1. Web. 5 April 2014.

Stewart, Dan. “North Dakota: Trouble in Boomtown.” The Week. 19 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Mar 2014.

Stone, Andrea. “Oil Boom Creates Millionaires and Animosity in North Dakota.” USA Today. N.d. Web. 24 Apr 2014.

Sulzberger, A.G. “Oil Rigs Bring Camps of Men to the Prairie”. The New York Times. 25 Nov 2011. Web. 28 Mar 2014.

Warren, Michael. “Highest Rents Found in Oil Boom Towns of North Dakota.” The Weekly Standard. 14 Feb 2014. Web. 28 Mar 2014.

Instructor’s Memo

Kate’s essay is a testament to how individual stories can make large-scale geopolitical debates feel real and emotionally relevant. Over the past year, the news cycle has featured stories of the Keystone XL pipeline bill, global warming, and peak oil, but Kate leaves us with the image of a woman living alone in a trailer near the North Dakota oil fields. As Kate notes, this woman is surviving without running water or a toilet, her only significant relationship with her dog. Reading Kate’s paper, I am reminded that arguments—even critical and scholarly ones—are sometimes more effective when conveyed through images as opposed to direct statements.

Kate did a tremendous amount of research for this project. Her sources range from newspaper articles to videos to radio transcripts to full-length books. This research allowed her to situate her argument within the larger historical context of boomtowns while also quoting contemporary residents of North Dakota oil communities. Kate’s research also allowed her to consider her argument from multiple perspectives: if existing communities in North Dakota are undermined by the sudden economic influx of an oil boom, then the people who arrive to work in the oil fields also report feeling dislocated and lonely. In this sense, Kate’s writing helps us understand how there are always multiple perspectives on disaster.

— Sarah Dimick

Writer’s Memo

The skills I learned in English 100 have helped me to become a much better writer because I learned the basics of how to compose a good paper, not just how to write to meet the requirements for a specific paper. When told that we would write the last paper of the semester about a contested place, I had no idea what I would write about. In class, we read several pieces from various sources that gave us an idea of what a contested place could look like. I asked my parents for some examples and one of them mentioned hydrolytic fracking in North Dakota. I didn’t know much about the topic but I liked that it was a contested place in the U.S. Determining a topic to write about was one of the hardest parts of the paper for me, but I took the idea and looked at a specific aspect within the place — the communities.

I knew very little about what was happening in the oil boomtowns in North Dakota, and even less about the communities within them. In class, we learned how to: gather information and utilize library resources, integrate quotations, write a thesis, and structure an essay and the paragraphs in it; all of which made writing the paper less intimidating. I met with my teacher periodically throughout the writing process, which in turn helped me stay on top of the paper and do the necessary work to write a great paper.

I have never enjoyed writing and have instead dreaded it, generally finding it to be intimidating and overwhelming. However, after learning skills to write a good paper, meeting consistently with my teacher, and working at a steady pace, I began to enjoy writing and I eventually produced a paper I am truly proud of. Different from many of the papers I had written before, I also enjoyed researching about the community destruction in North Dakota oil boomtowns. I found the topic fascinating, so much so that I wanted to share what I had learned with others, and get involved in some way to help address the problems in the oil boomtowns.

The most challenging part of the paper was identifying what I wanted the paper to be about, and narrowing a broad idea into a specific focus that I could form into a thesis statement. I identified the main points I wanted to use, compared them and looked at what they had in common; then, my teacher helped me narrow down and look at the big picture and I determined the specific focus of the paper. After developing a thesis, the rest of the paper was easy. I realized that sometimes the thesis statement comes later on in the process, and it may change several times before it is right. The process of writing this paper has turned me into a  much better writer, and I continue to use the skills I learned in English 100 for all my papers.

— Katharine Berry

Student Writing Award: Critical/Analytical Essay
This essay was previously published in the 9th edition of CCC.


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Community Destruction in North Dakota Oil Boomtowns by Katharine Berry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


Ruthie Sherman

You open your eyes to concrete walls, three roommates, a couple square feet of space, and a toilet about a foot from your bed. You sit up, only to slam your head on the body of your bunkmate, resulting in a large red mark. You slowly stand up because you really have to go to the bathroom and 3:45 a.m. is the only time the guards are too tired to stare at you while you go. This hypothetical situation might seem terrifying, but it is like the common experience of millions of prisoners every day in the U.S. While most Americans are unaware of and desensitized from the consequences of being in prison, incarcerated Americans have to deal with overcrowding, lack of privacy, and isolation on a daily basis. How did this become the norm? How have so many Americans become so unjustifiably desensitized? How is this situation affecting different groups of people in the United States? To begin with, how did we decide that the punishment for crime should be incarceration?

Today, the concept of incarceration is normal. Most people would not think twice when a person is sentenced to time in jail or prison. However, this was not always the case. In The Historical Origin of the Prison System in America, Harry Elmer Barnes chronicles the evolution of criminal justice in the United States. Starting with the Colonial period, Barnes attributes the origin of the modern penal system to two institutions: jails and prisons, which he considers one institution, and workhouses. During the Colonial period, jails and prisons were locations meant only to hold prisoners until a punishment was decided after their trial, creating the practice of placing criminals in separate spaces from the majority of society. Workhouses were designed to repress people of lower class, especially poor people, and were not meant to punish criminals. However, the practice of forcing labor on lower class citizens originated with workhouses. For a long time, these two institutions existed in isolation from each other, containing the group they were constructed to manage.

American Quakers are credited with combining the practices of each institution. According to Barnes, “they originated both the idea of imprisonment as the typical mode of punishing crime, and the doctrine that this imprisonment should not be in idleness but at hard labor” (36). Without knowing it, Quakers transformed the perception and implementation of prison systems in the United States. They took the premise of prisons, isolation of criminals as punishment, and the premise of workhouses, making active use of unproductive members of society, to produce the modern practices of imprisonment and incarceration (Barnes, 36). However, the Quakers had no means of predicting how these principles and practices would become the platform for a dehumanized perspective on criminals.

When prisons were established on the belief that criminals should be isolated based on deviance, the perception of criminality and punishment shifted. Instead of a societal responsibility, there was an invisible solution. Criminals were put out of sight, barricading issues of criminal justice and punishment from the daily concerns of the majority of Americans. This enabled a dependency on criminal justice policies that absolved the larger society of responsibility or of being conscious of actively pursuing social reform for people who had committed crimes. As this dependency grew and became more institutionalized, criminals became viewed as mere shells strictly defined by crime instead of complex human beings with backgrounds and identities that could contextualize their criminal activity (Meares, 8).

According to Christina Meares, some of the invisible dynamics that could contextualize the experiences of incarcerated individuals include, “homelessness, unemployment, drug addiction, illiteracy and dependency on welfare.” She continues, “These are only a few of the problems that disappear from public view when the human beings contending with them are relegated to cages” (8). When people perceive criminals, not only are such dynamics generally unacknowledged, but the multifaceted ways they impact each person depending on their identities are ignored as well. As a consequence, society’s dependence on prisons to reform members of society has ignored the dynamics that were enabling and reinforcing crime among certain groups of people (Meares, 8). An unfair practice of criminal justice was established. Prisons were expected to change and reform criminals, even while society remained silent about the contexts maintaining and reinforcing criminal behavior. The silence surrounding these dynamics, which allowed individuals to be strictly defined by their crime, along with the concentration of criminals into prisons became the foundation for a dehumanized perception of the incarcerated population. And this perception of criminals fed the rise of mass incarceration, the extreme rates of imprisonment, and the manifestation of a dehumanized and racialized perception of criminals that ignores the contexts of institutional issues of poverty and race (Stevenson, 15).

While the perception of criminals has evolved since the Colonial period, mass incarceration emerged relatively recently. During the 1980s, the dynamics that society surrounded with silence, most noticeably drug use, became the defining factors that would directly lead to the rise in incarceration. Although crime was decreasing at the beginning of that decade, President Reagan started his “War on Drugs” against the use of crack cocaine (Alexander, 3). In the introduction to her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander describes how this war was not necessarily founded on an actual widespread drug problem. She writes, “[T]here is no truth to the notion that the War on Drugs was launched in response to crack cocaine. President Ronald Reagan officially announced the current drug war in 1982, before crack became an issue in the media or a crisis in poor black neighborhoods” (3).

Subsequently, the Reagan administration even hired staff to produce a media campaign demonizing crack cocaine, which succeeded almost immediately in gaining support from both the public and the government. Unsurprisingly, many of the images used in this campaign displayed men of color wearing stereotypical inner city clothing, implying they were the villains of the crack cocaine story. Since the public had been conditioned for nearly the entire history of the United States to depend on prisons to act as social reformers, Reagan’s so-called War on Drugs could then easily and swiftly mass incarcerate the poor people of color in the United States (Alexander, 3).

The current debate surrounding mass incarceration is dominated by discussions of how this issue impacts men of color or poor white men. But it is important to see that American patriarchal society has empowered another destructive force within the emergence of mass incarceration, namely, ignoring how this phenomenon has affected women. In Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, the twelfth chapter, entitled “Mother, Mother,” grapples with the mass incarceration of women in the United States. Stevenson writes, “In the United States, the number of women sent to prison increased 646 percent between 1980 and 2010, a rate 1.5 times higher than the rate of men” (235-36). Stevenson credits two key components in the high rate for the mass incarceration of women: the criminalization of infant mortality and the enactment of the “Three Strikes” law, which increased sentences to life in prison for a crime when an offender had committed two or more serious crimes in the past (236). While the attitude towards criminals generally is defined purely by their crime, the attitude toward gender for female prisoners also shows that these prisoners are being subjected to strict and decontextualized definitions using the crime of the prisoner. Rather than just being criminals, drug users, thieves, or murderers, the attitude is that women prisoners are also sluts, horrible mothers, abusive mothers, and undeserving of help from society.

Stevenson notes, “[W]e’ve created a new class of ‘untouchables’ in American society, made up of our most vulnerable mothers and their children” (237). Rather than consider the circumstances that may have put these women in the position of committing crimes, society defined these women as despicable and abominable (Codd, 8). Once again, society is depending on prisons to deal with the larger social issues that remain out of sight, reinforcing a dehumanized and decontextualized perception of female prisoners. While defining these women as “untouchable” because of one set of actions is entirely unjustified, this perception has been particularly destructive for women of color, especially African American women.

The intersectionality of African American women’s identities and experiences reveal how they are subjected to the worst consequences of mass incarceration. Intersectionality, the inseparable nature of one’s multiple identities and how those identities simultaneously filter one’s experience, acknowledges historical influences on stereotypes and discrimination that construct these women’s experiences. In Disappearing Acts: The Mass Incarceration of African American Women, Christina Meares described her research on white and black women’s experiences in the Georgia prisons, which aimed to quantitatively assess intersectionality as it pertains to African American women. According to Meares “The sentence inequality of black women is the result of the cumulative effects of being members of a disadvantaged race, class and gender” (2). The mass incarceration of African American women cannot be credited or understood through just one of the identities they can claim, but must be understood through a careful examination of how their identities intersect to craft their experiences. These intersecting “disadvantaged” identities reveal the unique devastating consequences of mass incarceration for African American women.

African American women experience potentially the worst consequences of mass incarceration, directly and indirectly. While the culture of incarceration in the United States has conditioned society to define prisoners strictly by their crimes, mass incarceration has embedded stereotypes and perceptions of African American women that reinforce institutions of oppression and domination. In “Black Women’s Prison Narratives and the Intersection of Race, Gender, and Sexuality in US Prisons,” Breea Willingham describes how black women use writing to try to escape experiences of sexual abuse, silenced self-identity, and ostracism. Willingham quotes the writing of black female prisoners that describe sexual abuse from prison guards, a lack of support from family and friends, and a sense of isolation that extends beyond the physical prison. All three of these kinds of experiences reinforce the stereotypes that contextualized how these women arrived in prison. They support the misperception of black women as sexual objects and as less significant than other women (Willingham, 63). While examining why these black women use writing to escape their experiences, Willingham highlights the larger issue that is a relatively unique consequence for African American women: silence. She writes, “…what is different about the incarcerated black woman’s story is that it allows some of these women to express themselves and define their existence—to tell us that they still matter despite their absence” (64).

African American women’s relative absence from mainstream society in combination with their almost non-existent social power eliminates any potential for this group to be defined by its members. Rather, the conditioned perception of incarceration, the stereotypes of African American women, and the combination of these two socially embedded perceptions allows the dominant members of society the power to define African American women. This reinforces systemic oppression and domination of African American women, resulting in a group that exists in society without the capacity to present their own definition of their identity. The inability to construct a definition of oneself because of the intersecting membership between two disadvantaged groups is an unprecedented and unjustified consequence that uniquely impacts African American women due to mass incarceration. This complex understanding of the issue lacks the magnification received largely by African American men in mass media, further silencing African American women and distancing them from control over how they are perceived. While these issues cannot be solved merely by media attention, extending the conversation of this issue to its impact on African American women could create more opportunities for collaboration between groups to fight against discrimination and oppression. However, the mass incarceration of African American women requires a critical examination of the history of this group in the United States in order to attempt to dismantle oppressive institutional structures.

Works Cited

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The New Press, 2010. Print.

Barnes, Harry E. “The Historical Origin of the Prison System in America.” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 12.1. (1921): 35-60. Print.

Codd, Val. “Women and the Prison Industrial Complex”. Off Our Backs 31.2 (2001): 8–8. Web.

Meares, Christina Faye, Disappearing Acts: The Mass Incarceration of African American Women. Thesis, Georgia State University, 2011. Print.

Mustakeem, Sowande. “Suffering at the Margins: (Re)Centering Black Women in Discourses on Violence and Crime.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 42.3 (2014): 323-7. ProQuest. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

Stevenson, Bryan. “Mother, Mother.” Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2014. 227-41. Print.

Willingham, Breea C. “Black Women’s Prison Narratives and the Intersection of Race, Gender, And Sexuality In US Prisons.” Critical Survey 23.3 (2011): 55-66. Academic Search Premier. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

Instructor’s Memo

As the final major writing assignment for our English 100 class, part of a First-Year Interest Group whose theme was the Immigrant Experience in Education, students were asked to write an argumentative paper addressing an issue of social or cultural importance to a marginalized group. As an extra wrinkle, students were required to choose a group to which they did not belong, so that the task of advocating for the issue necessitated cultural empathy, or imagining the lived experience of people with whom one might have very little in common. The class, a diverse cohort of students who had spent the semester discussing issues of discrimination and appropriation in all of their FIG classes, including English 100, worked together to develop the theme and requirements of the final paper, which included a companion presentation/multimedia project.

Ruthie’s essay, “Understanding Mass Incarceration of African American Women,” is an excellent example of a writer framing, analyzing and making a forceful argument about an issue concerning a very specific social group. One of the most powerful moments in the piece comes in its very first paragraph. “You open your eyes to concrete walls,” she writes, immediately placing the reader within the lived experience of an incarcerated person through vivid, concrete imagery and the deft use of second-person point of view. Throughout the process of drafting and revising, Ruthie took note of the fact that she had learned to be unafraid to use such techniques, normally associated with more “creative” or narrative forms of writing, in an argumentative, academic piece of writing. Doing so here allows the author to ease the reader into the more analytical, idea-driven parts of the paper by touching on an often- overlooked truth: abstract issues have a significant impact on real human lives.

Ruthie structures this paper in a simple and powerful way. She begins by tracing the history of the more problematic trends in the American prison system, then advances her argument by narrowing her focus, first to the ways in which mass incarceration disproportionately harms African-Americans, then to the fact that black women in particular, because of the intersectionality of their race, class and gender, “experience the worst consequences of mass incarceration, directly and indirectly.”

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Ruthie’s essay is that she was able to use sources and data that did not directly pertain to her topic to make a highly persuasive argument. Early in the process, she expressed frustration with the fact that though many of the sources she was reading dealt with issues of mass incarceration, racism and dehumanization, hardly any spoke to the world of the marginalized group she had chosen to write about, incarcerated African American women. She discovered that she wasn’t researching poorly or in the wrong places. The sad fact was that hardly any scholar before her had addressed the incarceration of black women in a substantive way. Instead of taking the easy way out and broadening her topic, Ruthie decided that she would fill the missing research space—with her own paper. In the essay’s second half, she quite effectively uses the concept of intersectionality to tie the broader issues to those of her group. The result, I believe, is a powerful example of what can happen when a writer-researcher trusts her own voice in telling the story she intends to tell.

— Walter B. Thompson

Writer’s Memo

From the outset of my final assignment of my English 100 course, I was pretty excited about the endeavor because the professor gave the class some freedom in terms of the subject. There were only two real requirements when it came to the topic: it had to be about a marginalized group in American society and you could not be a member of that group. I chose to focus on the impact of mass incarceration of African American women because the discourse surrounding mass incarceration almost solely focuses on African American men. I already knew I was very passionate about criminal justice and wanted to use that passion as my momentum for working through this assignment.

Since I chose a subject that I knew was so interesting to me, the actual project of researching and writing was incredibly fluid. The larger challenge occurred in outlining how I wanted to present my research. As the details and context for my subject was so vast, I found it very difficult to eliminate information and narrow my focus. However, a meeting with two of my peers during an English 100 class proved very useful in this dilemma. During our discussion of my paper, we talked through distinguishing between information that is important because it isn’t well known and information that is important to the argument I was making in the paper. Although my excitement about my subject definitely made the writing process easier, my excitement at times overwhelmed my ability to outline the paper and differentiate the key points that supported my argument from the points that I felt were important.

This final assignment for English 100 was one of my first major research papers as an undergraduate. As such, the experience taught a few important lessons about researching and writing. First, if you have the option, pick a topic that fascinates you. I have found that if I am hungry to learn about something, the excitement and passion about a topic can fuel the process of a project. Second, research projects need and take time. DO NOT try to do this stuff overnight. Not only does that hurt your assignment, but it hurts your ability to absorb the information and grow from what you learn. Third, use your peers to help you. Peer reviews can seem tedious at first, but hearing another point of view about your work can help you see it in a different light to change the work for the better; also, the ability to give and receive construct criticism is a priceless skill. Doing this assignment also reaffirmed something I have learned a lot throughout my life: the more you put into something, the more you get out of it. Throwing yourself into your work can really change your work ethic as well as your perspective, so try to take advantage of these opportunities for growth.

— Ruthie Sherman

Student Writing Award: Informative Essay


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English 100 Course Readings by Ruthie Sherman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


Sarah Lutz

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an “anxiety disorder that occurs as a result of experiencing, witnessing, or being confronted with an emotionally traumatic event. A traumatic event is defined as a situation so extreme, so severe and so powerful that it threatens to overwhelm a person’s ability to cope” (Adriaenssens, 2016, p. 1411).

When PTSD is discussed, it is almost always accompanied by a veteran’s horrific story from war or the mental struggles one is facing after being involved in a personal and traumatic event. Seldom do people associate the risk of developing PTSD with normal, everyday jobs such as being a doctor or a nurse, yet individuals in these professions experience PTSD as well. A study conducted in 2007 by the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that “24 percent of ICU nurses and 14 percent of general nurses tested positive for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder” (Yu, 2016). Even so, PTSD within the healthcare profession is rarely talked about. PTSD is a serious consequence of having a high stress job that encounters trauma and suffering daily, and it can take on many forms. Yet the reasons why many health care professionals suffer from this condition and the toll this is having on their mental health and job satisfaction is rarely acknowledged.

Health care professionals, specifically nurses, are routinely confronted with stressful conditions and traumatic events. According to a review of research by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, “nursing has long been considered one of the most stressful professions” (Yu, 2016). Additionally, according to Jef Adriaenssens, a researcher on stress and healthcare at Leiden University, “almost one out of three nurses met sub-clinical levels of anxiety, depression and somatic complaints and 8.5% met clinical levels of PTSD” (1411). This is due to obvious reasons such as long work hours, high patient demand, and, potentially, understaffing in some hospitals. Another aspect of the profession that causes high amounts of stress is the types of traumatic events nurses are routinely faced with.

All nurses, at some point, have to deal with potentially traumatizing situations. Specifically, emergency room nurses — who, according to Adriaenssens, have the highest incidence of PTSD symptoms compared to other nursing specialties — are especially vulnerable to post-traumatic stress reactions. This can be attributed to repeated exposure to work-related traumatic events, such as witnessing the survivors of horrific accidents or “death or serious injury of a child/adolescent” which was “perceived as the most traumatizing event.” Emergency room nurses are “routinely confronted with severe injuries, death, suicide and suffering” due mainly to the fact that they are often the first to respond to situations and are often confronted with the worst injuries and the most hectic work environments (Adriaenssens, 2012, p. 1411). By working in such conditions and witnessing horrific injuries at such a rapid pace, emergency room nurses are prone to experiencing symptoms associated with PTSD brought on merely by witnessing the results of tragic events.

High rates of PTSD among military veterans occur for more obvious reasons. They are under extreme amounts of stress and are especially prone to experiencing trauma firsthand. However, PTSD in health care professionals is usually a little different. More often than not, doctors and nurses are witnessing the results of horrific and tragic events instead of having the event happen directly to them. “The natural consequent behaviors and emotions resulting from knowing about a traumatizing event experienced by a significant other – the stress resulting from helping or wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person” is known as secondary traumatic stress. In simpler terms, secondary traumatic stress occurs when PTSD symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, flashbacks, or nightmares, occur in caregivers as a response to seeing individuals who have been involved in traumatic events (Collins and Long, 2003, p. 418). Individuals, such as doctors and nurses, can become so empathetic to the suffering of others that they begin to experience classic PTSD symptoms, almost as if the traumatic event happened directly to them.

While secondary traumatic stress is the most common form of PTSD in health care providers, vicarious trauma can also occur. Vicarious traumatization is “the cumulative effect of working with survivors of traumatic life events. Anyone who engages empathetically with victims or survivors is vulnerable” (Collins and Long, 2003, p. 417). Vicarious traumatization is extremely similar to secondary traumatic stress because empathizing with the victim can cause the care provider to experience symptoms of PTSD, as if the event happened to them directly. Vicarious traumatization is different from secondary traumatic stress because of the way individuals cope after. After a potentially disruptive event occurs, the beliefs and assumptions of an individual are challenged and they begin to perceive their world differently, a phenomenon known as posttraumatic growth. The metaphor of an earthquake has been utilized to illustrate posttraumatic growth: “The traumatic experience needs to be seismic, such as an earthquake, to severely shake an individual’s comprehension of the world. These shaken assumptions may be the person’s understanding of the meaning of life; belief that things that happen are fair…” (Beck, 2016). After caring for an individual who has been through a particularly traumatic event, the health care provider begins to make new assumptions about the world and reassess their beliefs as a way of coping with the extreme amounts of trauma and stress. “Posttraumatic growth is viewed as a positive illusion that is an adaptive function to help a person cope with trauma. A positive illusion is a positively distorted belief a person creates when faced with a traumatic experience” (Beck, 2016).

As an example, vicarious posttraumatic growth can be observed in labor and delivery nurses. The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses sent out a survey to members who were labor and delivery nurses and asked them to describe any positive changes in their ways of thinking about the world or their beliefs as a result of caring for women who had undergone very traumatic births. The study concluded that labor and delivery nurses who took care of women during traumatic births “reported a moderate amount of vicarious posttraumatic growth…Appreciation of Life was the dimension of the Posttraumatic Growth Inventory that reflected the highest growth, followed by Relating to Others, Personal Strength, Spiritual Change, and New Possibilities” (Beck, 2016). After experiencing a traumatic birth, these labor and delivery nurses were beginning to alter their ideas about life as a way of coping with the stress they endured.

Even though these nurses were altering their ideas about life in seemingly positive ways, there is little evidence that vicarious posttraumatic growth is actually a healthy and long-term, effective way to cope. One explanation is that posttraumatic growth really isn’t growth at all. Anthony Mancini, an associate professor of psychology at Pace University, explains posttraumatic growth as a “motivated positive illusion, whose purpose is to protect us from the possibility that we may have been damaged.” He further goes on to explain an experimental study that found “when an event threatens our sense of self, we are more likely to believe that the event made us better in some way” (Mancini, 2016). Posttraumatic growth can be viewed as a positive way to temporarily cope with an especially disturbing event, however, it often proves to only act temporarily and rarely actually alters the individuals’ thoughts and perceptions for the long-term.

While posttraumatic growth is a way that nurses cope with the extreme stress they endure, there is very little attention on PTSD within healthcare professionals. Yet, job dissatisfaction and burn-out are becoming prevalent, especially within the nursing profession. According to mental health researchers Collins and Long, burnout can be described as “a state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long-term involvement in emotionally demanding situations” (Collins and Long, 2003, p. 420). This makes sense when discussing post-traumatic stress disorder. As nurses are exposed to potentially upsetting and very traumatic events over a long period of time, it is going to start taking a toll on them both physically and emotionally. As Laurie Barkin, a registered nurse, described, “nursing school does not prepare nurses for the experience of witnessing pain and suffering.” She goes on to discuss her story of beginning to experience symptoms such as nightmares, anxiety, and palpitations. She later learned that “my symptoms had a name: vicarious trauma… Unfortunately, appeals that I had made to the director of our consult service to allow staff process time were dismissed” (Barkin, 2014). Laurie Barkin’s symptoms began to control her life, and she eventually resigned from her job after the director of her consult service failed to give staff adequate time to process their emotions in a healthy way. This is a perfect example of how hospitals often dismiss symptoms of post-traumatic stress and vicarious trauma, and this dismissal could be leading to high levels of burnout and nurses being unsatisfied with their jobs.

PTSD is a serious, and often life altering condition, that health care professionals are faced with. The fact that PTSD is rarely acknowledged and discussed during nursing school and beyond is having adverse effects on nurses who find themselves faced with this disorder. With the prevalence of PTSD, secondary traumatic stress, and vicarious trauma soaring, new policies and practices must be put in place both in nursing schools and hospitals in order to aid the nurses affected. By acknowledging that PTSD is real in nurses and their feelings are valid, burnout and job dissatisfaction could be addressed, and nurses could find themselves more satisfied in their profession and living happier lives.

Works Cited

Adriaenssens, J. (2012). The impact of traumatic events on emergency room nurses: Findings from a questionnaire survey. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 49(11), 1411-1422.

Barkin, L. (2014, July 16). Nurses and compassion fatigue. Gift From Within.

Beck, C., & Eaton, C., & Gable, R. (2016). Vicarious posttraumatic growth in labor and delivery nurses. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing, 45(6), 801-812.

Collins, S., & Long, A. (2003). Working with the psychological effects of trauma: Consequences for mental health-care workers. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 10, 417-424.

Mancini, A. (2016, June 1). The trouble with post-traumatic growth. Psychology Today.

Yu, A. (2016, April 15). Nurses say stress interferes with caring for their patients. National Public Radio.

Instructor’s Memo

Sarah’s research paper was submitted for a section of English 100 linked to a First-Year Interest Group for students interested in a possible nursing career. For earlier assignments, students had researched and read what could be termed “professional testimonial” writing about the working life of nurses––narratives from social media sites and from an excellent anthology of personal essays titled, I Wasn’t Strong Like This When I Started Out: True Stories of Becoming a Nurse (L. Gutkind, ed., 2013). These narratives provide vivid and sometimes disconcerting testimony about the singular stresses that nurses may face, especially witnessing the aftermath of traumas suffered by their patients, either before they seek medical care or during treatment. One author (Schwarz) recounts a harrowing anecdote from the early days of his training, his memory of wheeling a patient with an apparently minor complaint down the hall, and looking on helplessly as the man suddenly coughs violently, vomits “a wave of blood,” and dies within moments, sitting in his wheelchair.

From the beginning of the semester, then, we were having conversations about the possibility that some nurses might very well suffer post-traumatic stress disorder as a simple condition of their daily work lives. These early readings also allowed students to critically examine some of the lasting clichés attached to the nursing profession, including expectations that nurses will be exceptionally compassionate and selfless, quietly shouldering the daily psychological burden of caring for those experiencing severe pain and suffering. Later in the semester we read articles about the national nursing shortage and the challenges that many medical facilities face because of the regular burnout of their nursing staff. Sarah’s choice of research topic for her final research paper was thus an ingenious way of drawing together several important threads of learning generated from our semester of research and writing.

For the final paper assignment, students who are interested in a similar topic work collaboratively in small research groups to gather a range of sources about that topic––including peer-reviewed studies, articles from trade publications (targeted to those in the nursing profession), and news sources for the general public, such as national magazines or public radio. Students are able to pool their resources and learn research techniques from one another through this process. They also discuss the articles they have found in order to identify ways of narrowing down that broad topic to find a research focus appropriate for a short paper. Sarah selected the challenge of synthesizing several peer-reviewed studies, specifically those that explain the intricate breakdown of post-traumatic symptoms for those ministering to patients in the context of trauma. In this essay she is able to integrate those more advanced scholarly studies with insights provided by mainstream journalists and the author of a professional website. It’s not an easy matter to make all these different voices “speak” to one another in an analytical paper. But Sarah draws evidence from all of these sources to offer a compelling critique about the lack of attention to PTSD within the nursing profession. Hopefully by the time she begins her own training in the field, there will be greater awareness about the mental health needs of nurses themselves.

–Julia Garrett

Writer’s Memo

As a pre-nursing student, I found myself fascinated with researching different aspects of the nursing profession, from the different fields of nursing to the daily duties and responsibilities to the attributes of a good nurse. As I began my critical analysis on the more cliché and positive side to nursing, I began to receive feedback and suggestions from my peers and instructor on delving into the more unspoken side of nursing, the hardships that accompany the demanding job. I decided to follow this suggestion and focus my research on a dimension of nursing that is seldom discussed: PTSD. Nursing is usually not associated with this disorder, and for that reason I at first found it hard to find credible research that covered the topic. In the end I was very glad I stuck with the very specific topic of PTSD, because through my research I gained valuable insight into the profession.

As far as revisions go, I found it most helpful to have as many people as possible read the entire paper, or even just certain sections I was stuck on, and then leave their feedback and revisions. I then would go back and read their revision suggestions multiple times and on different days, which allowed me to formulate additional thoughts and interpret their comments in new ways, ultimately adding to my paper in ways I had not originally thought of. Additionally, with a complex and very specific topic like this, I found it very easy to want to incorporate every small detail I learned about PTSD in healthcare, regardless of whether it was relevant, and lose sight of where the main focus of the paper was going. So I made sure I created a very strict and specific outline and only gathered information relevant to the topics outlined. This helped the paper maintain a nice flow between topics and remain coherent.

Before going through this process and writing this paper, I was not a huge fan of writing critical analysis research papers. After gaining the tools, knowledge, and appreciation for gathering dependable research, utilizing the research in a way that best benefits the argument of the paper, and choosing best how to articulate and present the research in a coherent way, I learned how enjoyable it can be to pick a topic you’re passionate about and want to share with others.

–Sarah Lutz

Student Writing Award: Critical/Analytical Essay


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English 100 Course Readings by Sarah Lutz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


Madeline Longo

What would you do if you could find out what your medical future has in store for you? Would you want to find out or would you rather wait until the time comes? What if finding out could possibly save your life or could at least enhance the quality of your life? What if you found out something that you did not want to know? What if you learned something detrimental and there was nothing you could do about it? These are questions people think about before undergoing genetic testing. There are no correct answers, but different responses could result in many different outcomes.

Since the early 1900s, scientists have recognized the connection between inherited diseases and chromosomes. But it wasn’t until the 1950s that scientists started to develop tests for genetic conditions like Down syndrome (Trisomy 21), cystic fibrosis, and Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy (Dept. of Health & Human Services 1). Today, more than five hundred laboratories offer genetic testing for over two thousand rare and common conditions (1). By looking at the different perspectives of geneticists, patients, consumers, doctors, and ethicists, the many benefits of genetic testing can be shown as well as the lack of prevalence of negative outcomes associated with genetic testing.

There are two different categories of genetic testing: clinical genetic tests and research genetic tests. Diagnostic tests, pre- symptomatic tests, carrier tests, prenatal tests, newborn screening and pharmacogenomics tests all fall under the category of clinical genetic tests. These tests are ordered by a healthcare professional and are done in certified labs. Research genetic tests are volunteer based for exploratory studies. Both clinical genetic tests and research genetic tests look at DNA strands to find abnormalities that can put a person at greater risk to develop a disease. In the past, only one gene could be tested at a time, but today geneticists can screen thousands of genes simultaneously (Univ. of Iowa 2). Most people choose to have a genetic test performed to find the cause of a disease, to find out if they are a carrier of a disease, or to see if their children will develop the disease. Healthcare providers can use this information to find the best treatment and the most appropriate counseling to prepare a person for their future.

The genetic testing process can be broken down into six steps. As detailed by the University of Iowa, the first step is talking to a genetic counselor or a doctor to learn about insurance coverage and the possibility of insurance discrimination. In the office, the doctor will typically take a blood sample and send it to the lab. The next step is getting the DNA from the sample, which is followed by sequencing the DNA to look for abnormalities. The lab will then take the DNA and put it into a DNA sequencer which will collect data on the patients’ genetic makeup. The fourth and fifth steps include analyzing the DNA and then interpreting what it means. Finally, the lab will give back the results to the genetic counselor or doctor and they will share the information with the patient (3). The information provided from genetic testing can be very useful in planning for the future, but it can also be a burden to those who are not ready to accept what the future holds.

In order to evaluate the benefit of genetic testing relative to the possible burdens it could pose for a patient, it is important to look at the causes and the need for genetic testing. Genetic testing can be most useful for diagnosing prenatal abnormalities, cancer, and Alzheimer’s. Prenatal genetic testing is a way for the parent to find out if the fetus has a genetic condition. Typically, most people who are participating in prenatal genetic testing are looking to see if the fetus has a chance of developing autism, Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Tay-Sachs disease, or sickle cell anemia (Chen 125). This information can help the parents of the fetus to make an informed decision about whether or not to continue the pregnancy and allow for early interventions with affected newborns. Predispositions to cancer can also be predicted using genetic testing, and with the prevalence of cancer in today’s society, early testing and treatment of cancer can save countless lives.

Genetic testing for cancer can have many outcomes. In the article “The Breast Cancer Gene and Me” published in the New York Times on September 25, 2015, Elizabeth Wurtzel shares her experience with genetic testing for breast cancer. Elizabeth Wurtzel is a descendent of the Ashkenazi Jews. Biologically, that means she has a one in forty chance of being breast cancer or BRCA-positive, which is ten times the rate of the rest of the population. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with breast cancer before these tests were available and had to go through eight rounds of chemotherapy and a double mastectomy. All of these treatments might have been avoided if she had been tested for a genetic abnormality earlier because she could have chosen to have a mastectomy with reconstruction to keep the cancer from spreading. Wurtzel’s experience suggests how useful genetic testing can be because it would have clearly benefited her health as well as the quality of her life. She serves as an excellent example for why many who have a history of diseases in family or cultural lines from genetic abnormalities should get preemptive genetic testing.

Another predictive genetic test can be conducted for Alzheimer’s. By looking at the experience Jane Neilson had with predictive testing for Alzheimer’s disease, the benefits of genetic testing become even clearer. In the article, “A Patient’s Perspective on Genetic Counseling and Predictive Testing for Alzheimer’s Disease,” Neilson offers her opinions on genetic testing and shares her story. Neilson comes from a family with a history of Alzheimer’s disease and was concerned with her own susceptibility. This led her to request information about predictive genetic testing. She describes how she thought long and hard about the possible outcomes with her husband, and ultimately agreed to continue with the process because it would be better to know ahead of time if she will be affected by the disease so she could plan accordingly. Unfortunately, Neilson learned at her first appointment that she was not qualified for the specific DNA test because of her family history. In the article, she writes “after all my introspection on the subject, there were no clear answers, only fog. I went through agony and soul searching only to be cheated. No tests were available for me. I was also relieved. I didn’t have to go through with it.” Neilson continued to describe how she came to terms with temporarily not knowing her medical future, but she’s optimistic that a test will be available for her someday. Neilson’s case acts as an example of the negative side of genetic testing and its potential burden on a patient for future health problems. Neilson’s case also acts as an example of how genetic testing is not always an option for patients, despite a person’s interest in finding out their genetic predispositions and medical future.

Besides the patients who directly benefit from genetic testing, the families of people with genetic diseases can benefit as well. If a person has been established as at-risk to a disease, family members can also undergo the process of genetic testing. They can have the same benefit of knowing what their future holds and having a chance to prepare for what is to come. They will then also have the possibility of stopping or slowing the progression of the disease. Stephen Post and Peter Whitehouse write about the possibility of someone experiencing “relief from not carrying the familial variant” in “The Clinical Introduction of Genetic Testing for Alzheimer’s Disease.” A family member finding out they do not carry the variant could provide an even greater benefit to the patient and other family members. That is because it would determine the disease is not genetic and most likely stems from an environmental or lifestyle issue. In turn, this could give researchers and care providers more information on the progression of the specific disease.

The patients and families mentioned here so far all see the value in genetic testing, because of the benefit it promises in terms of planning for their futures and the possibility of controlling the full effects of a known disease before it can get worse. In addition, people without a specific disease concern have shown an interest in knowing about themselves and their genetic DNA makeup, and genetic testing can allow for this. Today, many people feel like they have a right to their DNA information and believe they have ownership of their genetic makeup. Now that the means for testing is available, it is more common for people to “seek such testing ‘out of curiosity,’ for the ‘fun factor,’ because they self-identify as early adopters of new technologies or because they want to contribute to genomics research” (Bunnik, Janssens, Schermer). This shift in attitudes towards the adoption of genetic testing shows that testing isn’t only for a patient’s use, but for an interested consumer to use as well. The consumer notion is that genetic testing has psychological, social, and emotional benefits.

Since there has been a tremendous consumer interest in genetic testing as a social and psychological trend, labs have started to offer direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing. This at-home genetic test is a way for someone to find out their genetic information without a genetic counselor or a doctor involved. Typically, one who purchases the kit will either take a cotton swab sample from the inside of their cheek or collect their saliva in a test tube and send it to the lab. The consumer will be notified when their results are ready. The problem with this method is that the average consumer will not know how to read their results accurately. A person might, for example, assume they have a life threatening disease when they don’t. Also, at-home genetic testing does not look at environmental factors, lifestyle choices, or family medical history, all of which can play a large role in the probability of developing a disease. One study on DTC genetic testing has this to say: “the present findings suggest that general practitioners should have the ability to clarify for interested individuals the way in which different genetic mutations are characterized by different risk probabilities, and the meaning attributed to these risk probabilities” by showing the “inconsistencies in the extent and quality of information provided by DTC testing” (Sherman 712). What this means is that the DTC at- home genetic tests cannot provide information as accurate as lab performed tests, and thus it is important to contact a professional to go over the results if they are not clear.

In general, professionals who can evaluate genetic results value the life of the patient and want to provide them with the best healthcare possible. Doctors see value in genetic testing because it provides them with a greater understanding of an individual patient, and it can help them direct the patient down the appropriate path given the specific set of circumstances. In a study of 363 doctors, ninety-eight percent said they would refer their patients to a genetic counselor, and ninety-five percent believed that the doctor has the responsibility to counsel patients about genetic testing (Menasha, Schechter, Willned 144). This significant number shows the value healthcare providers see in genetic testing and how they want to support their patients throughout the genetic testing process. More specifically, Stephen Post and Peter Whitehouse argue that more government funding should be given to genetic testing research because it can be so beneficial for the patients (835). With more funding, geneticists would be able to do more research on other diseases which, in turn, could help more people detect such diseases, slow their progression, and possibly stop the disease completely.

Both patients and healthcare providers see value in genetic testing, but one of the main issues with genetic testing is the ethics surrounding it. In “Ethical Language and Themes in News Coverage of Genetic Testing,” David Craig breaks down the issues of genetic testing into four different categories: (1) whether you want to know your likely medical future, (2) what you would do with the information, (3) the complexity of the choices people face because of developments in genetic testing, and (4) the possibility of discrimination based on genetic information (165-166). It could be argued that whether or not you want to know your likely medical future is not related to ethics as closely as the other three categories. Whether or not a person wants to know what their medical future holds is a personal choice, and genetic testing is very black and white. It is what people choose to do with the information from genetic testing that brings ethics into question and causes genetic testing to enter a grey area.

As an example of the grey area of genetic testing, let’s look at a situation involving a pregnant woman. A pregnant woman can decide whether or not to find out if the fetus she is carrying has Down syndrome before a child is born. Ethics comes into play when a woman finds out that her fetus does have Down syndrome, and is deciding whether or not to terminate the pregnancy based on this new information. Another example of a genetic testing controversy would be undergoing genetic testing for a specific disease that does not have a cure. Knowing that you are a carrier of a disease and not being able to do anything about it except wait for it to worsen seems awful and could put the patient into a state of depression. A third ethical controversy surrounds genetic testing and stem cell research. Because of developments in genetic testing, scientists are able to alter embryonic stem cells, which can lead to the possibility that parents will someday be able to modify their children’s physical appearance and create what is called a “designer baby.” This example alone brings in a whole new level of ethics to the idea of genetic testing.

As for the ethics of non-patient choices regarding genetic screening, tests are added to one’s medical profile, and this can lead to the risk that genetic discrimination could increase dramatically. The National Human Genome Research Institute says that “Genetic discrimination occurs if people are treated unfairly because of differences in their DNA that increase their chances of getting a certain disease.” This includes a health insurer refusing to give coverage to a woman who has a DNA difference that raises her odds of getting breast cancer. Another example provided by The National Human Genome Research Institute is that employers could use DNA information to decide whether to hire or fire employees. In fact, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA) was passed to protect Americans from being treated unfairly. This law aims to prevent discrimination from both health insurers and employers. It was put in place to ease concerns about discrimination that might keep some people from getting genetic testing. It also enables people to take part in genetic research studies without fear that the information could later be used against them.

By looking at the many perspectives from geneticists, patients, consumers, doctors, and ethicists, I believe the major benefits of genetic testing outweigh the possible negatives. I’m especially persuaded by the fact that genetic testing is very important for those who have a family history of disease because the detection of predisposed diseases can help slow or prevent disease progression. In a beautiful conclusion to her article, Jane Neilson writes “genetic testing is more than genes. It tests personal beliefs about life, disease and healing. Use your gifts of knowledge, professionalism, and caring with patience.”

Essentially Neilson is saying that there is so much to be considered with genetic testing, and that genetic testing can lead a person to question their own personal beliefs. It also leads people to think about their finances and about how they want to spend the rest of their life. Knowing this information, do you think you would undergo genetic testing? In reality, there is no correct answer to the question, but I know that I would want to know what my medical future has in store for me. It wouldn’t matter whether or not it’s something detrimental. I believe the possibility of knowing ahead of time would only enhance the quality of my life.

Works Cited

Bunnik, Eline M, A Cecile J W Janssens, and Maartje H N Schermer. “Personal Utility In Genomic Testing: Is There Such A Thing?.” Journal of Medical Ethics 41.4 (2015): 322-326. Health Source:
Nursing/Academic Edition. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

Chen, L.S., et al. “Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Qualitative Study of Attitudes toward Prenatal Genetic Testing and Termination Decisions Of Affected Pregnancies.” Clinical Genetics 88.2 (2015): 122-128. Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition. Web. 12 Oct. 2015.

Craig, David A. “Ethical Language and Themes in News Coverage of Genetic Testing.” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 77.1 (2000): 160-174. Humanities Full Text (H.W. Wilson). Web. 19 Oct. 2015.

Department of Health & Human Services 2010, Fact Sheet 1— Genetic Testing: How it is used for Health Care, viewed 2 Nov. 2015, http://report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/Pdfs/GeneticTesting-How ItIsUsedForHealthcare(NHGRI).pdf

“Genetic Discrimination Fact Sheet.” Genetic Discrimination Fact Sheet. National Human Genome Research Institute. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.

“How Does Genetic Testing Work?” Iowa City: U of Iowa, 2013. Print.

Menasha, Joshua, Clyde Schechter, and Judith Willned. “Genetic Testing: A Physician’s Perspective.” Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine 67.2 (2000): 144-51. Bioethics Research Library. Georgetown University. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.

Neilson, Jane. “A Patient’s Perspective on Genetic Counseling and Predictive Testing for Alzheimer’s Disease.” Journal of Genetic Counseling 8.1 (1999): 37-46. Springer Link. Web. 13 Oct. 2015.

Instructor’s Memo

This paper is Maddy’s response to a “contextual analysis” assignment—a longer paper requiring students to unpack a culturally relevant topic from different perspectives. Students contextualized the topic of their choice through the lenses provided by various stakeholders. Maddy wanted to tackle a controversial issue in order to understand more fully why it sparks such fiery debate. While she eventually changed her topic from reproductive health to genetic testing, she maintained her attention on a controversial topic that she wanted to understand better.

I like the way that Maddy uses this paper to weave together an opening background on genetic testing in general with a more substantial consideration of multiple different perspectives on this issue. She writes about genetic testing’s influence on patients and patients’ families, the manner in which it’s approached by the consumer genetic testing market, some doctors’ opinion on this issue, and what ethicists have said about it as well. There is a lot of ground to cover across all these perspectives, and Maddy’s careful organization makes it all clear. One of my favorite parts is when she dives into the ethical considerations of genetic testing and uses the David Craig piece to divide these arguments into different categories that she then connects with specific examples. In so doing, she provides an excellent example of merging outside sources with original content in order to make sense of a very complex issue.

— Matthew Fledderjohann

Writer’s Memo

This paper is a response to a contextual analysis assignment. We were asked to pick a culturally relevant theme and evaluate the topic through at least three different perspectives. Originally, I planned to write about Planned Parenthood and reproductive health. I wanted to work with a topic that was controversial and would challenge me to learn about multiple sides of the debate. After completing some preliminary research, my interests evolved from reproductive rights to learning more about genetic testing.

I had very little knowledge on the subject prior to this project, but I liked that it was a relatively new field of medicine. Before looking into scholarly sources, I spent time reading relevant opinion editorial articles published on the New York Times website. I was able to learn about what genetic testing specifically entails from the perspective of patients and patients’ families, doctors, ethicists, and the consumer genetic testing market. My next step was finding scholarly articles to support the opinions through the specified UW- Madison databases. Although genetic testing is a relatively new science there was a lot of helpful information from a variety of perspectives. After completing my research and crafting a thesis statement that would allow me to incorporate multiple perspectives, I created an outline for the paper and started writing and then rewriting based on the feedback I received from my peers and instructor to create my final piece. I’ve had time to revisit my work on this project and have not identified any significant changes, although I will continue to monitor new research on this very interesting topic.

 Madeline Longo

Student Writing Award: Critical/Analytical Essay 



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