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PWR 1ES: Writing to Change Our Worlds (and Ourselves)

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Catalog Number: PWR 1ES

Instructor: Emily Southerton

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


Days before the January 6th insurrection, writer Amanda Gorman debated an invitation to become America’s youngest Inaugural Poet. She understood the risks of speaking to a country steeped in turmoil on a national stage as a young, Black woman. Later, in her NYTimes Op-Ed—“Why I Almost Didn’t Read My Poem at the Inauguration”— she reflected that despite her fears, she chose to accept the role as an example of hope for herself and others: “The truth is, hope isn’t a promise we give. It’s a promise we live.” Gorman’s Op-Ed shone a new light on her words from Inauguration day: “We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour, / but within it we found the power to author a new chapter.” In this course, we will take up Gorman’s call to author new chapters in our lives and worlds, using writing, rhetoric, and digital platforms as our tools.

Through this course, we will look at examples of young people who use critical digital literacy tools as writers, technologists, engineers, and activists to create change. For instance, we will consider the work of Amanda Gorman alongside young tech designers who are creating alternative social media platforms as counter-spaces for hosting new generations of voices. We will look at the Afghan Girls Robotics Team, as well as student efforts to address climate change and gun control. We will distill practices from these change-makers—and those of your choosing—and apply them to our own efforts and lives. In-class activities, like daily journaling, will promote introspection and personal exploration, while all major course assignments will provide opportunities for understanding and engaging with the worlds beyond our classroom. Following each assignment, we will explore possibilities for repurposing your work toward authentic ends, and you will be encouraged and supported to submit your work for digital or self-publication as agents of change. 

As a workshop course centered around student agency, all members of the classroom community will take both teaching and learning stances, contributing readings and insights to one another to create a more diverse and “living” syllabus for all. You will work in writing groups, as professional writers often do, to offer consistent feedback, learn and grow together, and further develop useful writing habits and skills that will support your writing and change-making efforts throughout and beyond college.

Examples of Research Topics

In PWR1, you will engage in an in-depth research project spanning several weeks. Sample research topics you might pursue in this course might examine the rhetoric of individual change-makers, like Gorman, while others might focus instead on the digital and physical platforms that she’s used to further amplify her voice and vision. Other researchers might center on a topic, examining challenges unique to Gen Z who inherit and inhabit the metaverse or climate change and explore the range of related digital projects by young people seeking to create change.

PWR 1 Assignment Sequence

Rhetorical Analysis

(1200-1500 words or 4-5 pages): This assignment asks you to analyze the rhetorical strategies of a youth-authored text of your choice that pursues social change. The goal of this assignment is to interrogate and understand how effectively the young author’s rhetoric moves its audience.  

Texts in Conversation

(1800-2400 words or 6-8 pages): This assignment marks the beginning of your research project. Here, you will research and investigate the larger research question you’d like to explore, possibly relating to the topic of how youth use writing and design in change-making projects and how they harness technology to amplify their cause. You’ll analyze how different digital sources, voices, and perspectives inform the larger conversation surrounding your topic area.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words or 12-15 pages): Your RBA is the final product of this course where your voice enters into the conversation. Here is where you’ll build on and expand the work you began with the Texts in Conversation assignment by integrating a variety of sources to produce your own complex, provocative argument as it relates to your topic.