Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

PWR 2EPC: The Rhetoric of Resilience: Telling Our Survival Stories

Main content start

Catalog Number: PWR 2EPC

Instructor: Emily Polk

Quarters offered 2021-2022: Not offered


Fall 2021: Not offered

Winter 2022: Not offered

Spring 2022: Not offered

Units: 4

Grade option: Letter (ABCD/NP) 

Prerequisite: PWR 1, ESF, ITALIC 95W, or equivalent

Course Feature: WR-2 requirement

Survival stories are as old as time. We listen with rapt attention to the testimonies of concentration camp survivors; of soldiers who have survived wars; of victims of devastating superstorms wrought by climate change; of survivors of unspeakable abuse. These stories shake us and leave us in awe. They help us to ask: How does one endure, adapt, and prevail in times of crisis? They are, at their core, stories about resilience. And they abound in every corner of the world and every part of history.

But what does it really mean to be ‘resilient’? What do we mean when we say that people or communities or systems are “resilient” after they have survived a difficult experience? While the news media blasts us with images of hurricanes, fires, floods, famines and conflict, in this course you will focus on exploring how, why, and in what ways we and the planet experience resiliency.

The term “resilience” has historically meant the capacity to absorb disturbance and reorganize so as to retain essentially the same function, structure and identity. Today it is used by psychologists, scientists, scholars, activists and others who seek to understand and explain how we adapt to, endure, and survive our challenges.

In this class, you might research Stanford’s own Resilience project, designed to change the perception of failure as something to be avoided. Or you might want to study recent psychological research about resilience in the aftermath of personal trauma. Or you might want to focus on global initiatives aimed at climate or health resilience.

No matter what project you pursue, you’ll study how people think and talk about resilience, how it is being measured in different contexts, how people work toward achieving it, and the implications of doing so for the future of our world.

Major Assignments

Research Proposal

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words) You will propose a research project that explores the concept of resiliency in an individual, group of people, community, ecosystem, or organization. You might propose to research student resilience at elite institutions or the ways in which media and popular culture portray resilience, or perceptions of resilience as they are connected to emotional and physical health and/or survival, among many other options.

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages) Addressing the research questions you've developed as part of your proposal, you will draw on your research to craft a substantial persuasive written argument of your own.

Delivery of Research

(10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support) This is your chance to move, inspire, enlighten, and inform your audience about a timely and significant issue related to resiliency. In translating your RBA from the page to a live space, you will consider the particular rhetorical needs of your audience.


(Written text of 600-900 words or video of 3-5 minutes) This reflective assignment invites you to take a narrative journey through your own experience with your project via a short 3 minute video or audio that incorporates images and/or sound. You might want to address how your understanding of the issues and the most effective ways to communicate them have evolved over the course of the quarter or how you might apply these new insights and practices in other contexts, academically or personally.