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PWR 1HT: What Are You, Anyway? The Rhetorics of Ethnic and Racial Identity

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Catalog Number: PWR 1HT

Instructor: Harriett Jernigan

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


A gas station employee in Portland tells a customer, “I don’t serve Black people.” Critics call out the fox-eye makeup trend as cultural appropriation. A graduate student and a professor at two different universities lie about their ethnicity. And since 2021, 44 states have introduced bills and other measures to ban discussions about racism and sexism in K-12 schools.

These events serve as just a few examples of how the rhetoric woven into the fabric of contemporary ideas about identity centers to a great degree on ethnicity and race. These concepts, often considered equal, are tied to social narratives that influence all our lives. Now more than ever, they serve as cultural arenas in which struggles over equality and equity take place.

In this course, we'll engage with questions about the rhetoric of identity in multiple ways. We'll examine the origins and definitions of ethnicity and race; we'll explore a spectrum of sources that describe, negotiate, and challenge the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and others in the context of ethnic and racial identity. As we progress, we will develop and write responses to the following questions: What rhetorical strategies do people employ to convey their ideas and make their arguments? How does this larger discourse influence our society? And how can we make useful contributions to this discourse?

Examples of Research Topics

For this course, you will engage in an in-depth research project spanning several weeks. Sample research topics you might pursue include replications of racism and sexism in dating apps, the tension between multilingualism and dominant-culture tone-policing, or the ethical implications of AI for marginalized and underrepresented folk.

PWR 1 Assignment Sequence

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) This assignment asks you to analyze the rhetorical strategies of a text of your choice that makes an argument about the relationship between rhetoric and racial and/or ethnic identity. For instance, you might analyze a YouTube video in which people debate removing a Confederate memorial, an op-ed from the New York Times about the 1619 Project, or the statement in which the Governor of Iowa recently deemed Critical Race Theory “discriminatory indoctrination.”

Texts in Conversation

(1800-2400 words; 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 relating to the topic. You’ll analyze how different sources, voices, and perspectives inform the larger conversation about your topic.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 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.