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PWR 1JI: Let’s Get Radical: Rewriting the Rhetoric of 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 electric grid. Supply chains. The electoral college. 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 semester—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 algorithm design on TikTok.

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 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 systemic behaviors so that systems become antiracist, inclusive, equitable, sustainable, and just? Ultimately, from your research you’ll 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, operations, organizing, engineering, activism, or just pressing social issues, 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 how different sources, voices, and perspectives inform the larger conversation about your topic. 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.

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 proposing changes to your selected system.