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PWR 2BH: “You’re supposed to set an example!”: Rhetorics of Professionalism

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People of color in various professions Artist: Aliyah Alexander

Catalog Number: PWR 2BH

Instructor: Brittany Hull

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP)

Prerequisite: WR 1 (PWR 1; ESF; ITALIC 95W or equivalent)

Course Feature: WR-2 requirement

A 17-year-old sales associate at Banana Republic is asked to take out her box braids to avoid “looking urban.” A trans employee is fired for violating a nebulous dress code. A woman is turned down for a job at a call center in Alabama because she refuses to cut her dreadlocks. A professor tells a Latinx graduate student to speak standard English because they’re “supposed to set an example.”

According to the Oxford Dictionary, professional is defined as “a person engaged or qualified in a profession.” However, the events mentioned above serve as examples of the larger issues of dominant culture biases concerning the concept of “professionalism” in the workplace or academic contexts. Be they aesthetic, behavioral, or linguistic, many employers and institutions establish specific standards that draw a line between those who are a “good fit” and those who are not. But what goes into creating those standards, and what-and who -- do they serve?

In this speaking and writing course, we'll examine definitions of professionalism across a variety of disciplines and contexts and how people interact with them. In the process of analyzing the tensions between professionalism and equity and inclusion, we will turn our attention to how gender norms, linguistic biases, racism, and whiteness influence those tensions. Furthermore, we’ll interrogate questions like: How does the dominant culture define professionalism? How do those definitions change depending on discipline and context? How do marginalized and underrepresented people define it? How do concepts of professionalism influence/affect intersectionality? What does it mean when one’s credentials and accomplishments aren’t enough?

Examples of Research Topics

For this course, you will engage in a quarter-long in-depth research project. Some examples of research topics for this class include:

  • Investigating the gender disparities in professionalism expectations in tech
  • The relationship between monolingualism and professionalism
  • How various institutions use professionalism standards to encourage people of color to assimilate
  • Discriminatory workplace policies (i.e. dress codes, hair, etc.)

PWR 2 Assignment Sequence

Research Proposal

(5 min oral presentation; written text 900-1200 words): In this assignment, students will select and pose questions about a topic related to professionalism. Students will need to summarize the scope of the project, list their tentative research questions, methods, as well as highlight seminal texts or studies.    

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words of research-based writing; 10-12 pages): Addressing the tentative questions posed in the research proposal, students will develop a substantial academic argument using a variety of sources (library databases, internet sources, and in some cases, field research).

Delivery of Research

(10 minutes of live oral presentation with multimodal support): This assignment allows students to showcase their budding expertise on the concept of professionalism by presenting their research-based argument, accompanied by a visual aid (ex. PowerPoint, Canva, Google Slides).

Genre/Modes Assignment

(2 min informal oral presentation of visual): For companies/organizations to get people to apply or join, they promote in a variety of ways. However, one of the main ways prospective members find about these organizations is via visuals. In this assignment, students will create a visual such as: infographic, short commercial, billboard which highlights their argument and research and ultimately persuades viewers. Students will provide a 2-minute informal presentation describing their new genre.

Artist: Aliyah Alexander