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PWR 1JI: Let’s Get Radical: Rewriting Our Shared Systems

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Catalog Number: PWR 1JI

Instructor: Jill Schepmann

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: None

Course Feature: WR-1 requirement


For better or worse, we are all bound to one another in systems. Education. Health care. The legal and criminal justice systems. Mass transit. Public parks. The power grid. Supply chains. The electoral college. The postal system. City recycling and waste programs. Cooperative living communities. Your favorite apps. Our workplaces. The unions we might belong to there. If we start simple with Donella Meadows’ definition of a system as “an interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves something,” we’ll recognize systems everywhere. But who decides how systems are structured, or which values drive systemic goals, or who benefits the most (or least) from a system?

In this class, we’ll first ground ourselves by analyzing a small sample of texts and voices as they perform and press against their own genre systems. We’ll consider how authors work to create common ground with their audiences at the same time as they challenge expectations. How can we learn from these models to take more risks in our own writing? You’ll then be free to identify a system in line with your own interests that you would like to research and investigate over the term—big or small; public or private; local or national; human, natural, or machine. You might consider water rights and responsibilities in California during a drought, follow the money trail around increased college tuition rates, or ponder the ethical questions of intellectual property in ChatGPT or other Large Language Models (LLMs).

Whichever system you choose, you’ll explore how it was created and how it’s maintained and challenged. You’ll locate and engage with the essential texts, key terms, and conversations around your system and identify the benefits and harms of that system on people and/or the environment. How do systems become racist, classist, sexist, hetero- or cis-normative, ableist, or just straight-up destructive? What role does language play in these structural oppressions and exclusions? How might we liberate or redefine systemic behaviors so that systems become antiracist, inclusive, equitable, sustainable, and just? Is systemic change possible or enough within current constraints? And if not, what other options might we consider? Ultimately, from your research you’ll craft your own argument in response to key questions of your system. You may even choose to propose an “emergent strategy” for your system as the activist adrienne maree brown has defined it: “how we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we long for.”

If you’re interested in policy, design, education, operations, organizing, technology, engineering, activism, social work, or just pressing social issues in general, this class will offer you the freedom and tools to dig deep in your research, engage as a creative problem solver, and grow as a writer in a close-knit and supportive community.

Major Assignments

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 a system.

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 a system of your choice. You’ll analyze and assemble different sources, voices, and perspectives in a larger conversation responding to key questions related to your system. For instance, you might explore the challenges and benefits of hiring and retaining diverse workers in the tech industry or causes and harms of the opportunity gap in public schools. Your final TiC will take the form of a transcript for a podcast episode or a discussion panel.

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 you’ll build on and expand the work you began with the TiC assignment by integrating a variety of sources to produce your own complex, provocative argument related to your selected system.