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PWR 91HT: Telling Your Story as Counterstory: The Rhetoric of Critical Race Theory

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Catalog Number: PWR 91HT/CSRE 91B

Instructor: Harriett Jernigan

2021-2022 Schedule: Fall 2021 MW 1:30-3:15PM

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: PWR 1 or equivalent

Course Feature: Cultural Rhetorics track; WAY-CE; WAY-EDP (Formerly ED)

The course does not fulfill the WR-1 or WR-2 university requirement

Course Description

Marginalized folk know the constant, exhausting labor of reacting to narratives generated by the dominant culture that serve to perpetuate systemic oppression. Traditionally, we have responded by securing equal time for our own stories in the public sphere, addressing the symptoms of the problem rather than the cause. Critical Race Theory (CRT), developed by legal scholars in the 1970s, proposes that we instead use our stories to reframe the discussions we have about racism, particularly through a creative practice called counterstory. By exposing and interrogating stock stories about the marginalized that maintain historical power structures, counterstory transcends mere reaction and engages in action.

This course will take a deep dive into counterstory as a creative form of resistance and intercultural communication. After we familiarize ourselves with CRT, we’ll explore the concept of the stock story and the general characteristics of counterstory. We’ll interact with representative examples from authors and scholars standing at various intersections, including Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, Mari Matsuda, and Aja Martinez, as well as those written by students.

Drawing on interdisciplinary research informed by CRT, you’ll identify and develop a stock story that has had an impact on your life and then create a counterstory to interrogate it. For example, you might write a stock story encapsulating a dominant-culture narrative about immigrants, Black women, model minorities, or trans women. Then, you’ll write a counterstory that places your truth(s) front and center, exposing, resisting, and challenging the stock story.

Once you have completed your stock- and counterstories, you’ll employ new modes in written and oral communication to present them in a digital gallery devoted to using CRT to foster stronger intercultural communication and social justice. You’ll build on the skills you acquired in PWR 1 and 2 in rhetorical analysis, argumentation, and visual and embodied rhetoric through a variety of activities in and outside of class. Ultimately, you’ll have a rich e-portfolio that showcases the creative and research processes you engaged in and their results.


Assignment Sequence

Stock Story (1500-1800 words or 5-6 pages) 

You’ll write a stock story that has had an impact upon your life and that you wish to respond to in further assignments. Based on research, your story will identify stock characters and a widely-accepted yet rarely-challenged narrative promoted by the dominant culture that has placed tangible and / or intangible hurdles in your path. For example, you might write a stock story about occupying public spaces on campus, education or employment opportunity, or colorism.

Autobiographical or Dialogue Counterstory (1800-2400 words or 6-8 pages)

Drawing on our conversations and explorations of CRT, you'll write a nuanced counterstory in response to your stock story. Drawing on further research, your personal experiences, and your cultural rhetorical traditions, you’ll speak your truth(s) and directly challenge the dominant-culture narrative. You can, for example, focus on a specific incident that directly challenges the stock story and develop your ideas on that platform. Your counterstory will ideally contribute in some manner to a larger conversation about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Digital Counterstory

You'll translate the counterstory of your choice into an alternate digital genre, such as allegory or fantasy, digital quilt, spoken word, podcast, or video. These digital counterstories will then go online as a collective project that can contribute to social justice projects and can help other students learn how to create their own counterstories.

E-Portfolio and Reflection

You’ll create a representation of your work in an e-portfolio. Your portfolio should contain a brief biography, visual or musical representations of your understanding of CRT and the practice of counterstory, examples of research you conducted, and the final drafts of your stock- and counterstory. You may choose the format: video, e-publication, slide show, multimedia. Be as creative as you’d like.

Your reflection (500-800 words or 2-3 pages) should function like an extended artist’s statement, explaining the source of inspiration for your work, what issues and questions of technique interest you most, and how you seek to answer those questions. In shorter terms, your reflection will explain what you’ve made, and why you made it. You can draw in part on your Learner Biography to get you started. We’ll discuss this in more detail in class and conferences.