PWR 91TB: Being [Blank] at Stanford

PWR 1, PWR 2

Course Description

You are already part of the history of Stanford. Inspired by the University of Michigan’s #BBUM (Being Black at U of M) hashtag, this course invites you to research yourself and our shared institutional home at Stanford in the context of literacy studies, the study of how people read, write, and compose every day. In this course, we will use two central methods—autoethnography, which studies ourselves as participants in cultures; and institutional research, into the archives of Stanford—to theorize ourselves as part of Stanford’s past, present, and future. In this course, students will investigate and analyze culture, history, and language, with ourselves at the center of our research. Together, we will study existing research on language, culture, and education in which the identity and experiences of the researcher are central to the arguments they make. We will use autoethnographic writing prompts to better understand our own identities and experiences as college students. We will visit Stanford’s institutional archives to investigate the histories of specific institutions, events, or practices at Stanford. Ultimately, students will produce a major final project of 20-25 pages, 6-10 minutes, or equivalent that that integrates their autoethnographic findings (about you) with their institutional findings (about Stanford). Students might investigate:


  • The history or present of a club, team, publication, institution, or activist movement in which the student participates
  • The student’s negotiation of language norms at the university, whether in coursework, clubs, institutions, teams, or between friends
  • Spaces or places on or nearby campus with which the student has a relationship
  • The history or evolution of specific administrative policies at Stanford and how those affect the student experience
  • This course will be an opportunity to better understand yourself, your university, and your language practices. It also welcomes preconceived project ideas and/or small group projects.

Major Assignments


  • Autoethnographic Prompts – A central experience of the course will be writing regular responses to autoethnographic prompts, which ask you to investigate yourself, your identity, and your experiences on and off Stanford’s campus.
  • Research Journal – Students will keep an ongoing research journal in which they keep track of their notes, sources, and findings.
  • Annotated Bibliography – Mid-term, students will be asked to submit an annotated bibliography that lists and describes a selection of published articles and archival materials that will be critical for the student’s final project.
  • Final Project Pitch Presentation – Mid-term, students will deliver a short presentation to the class in which they describe their ongoing research and pitch the importance of the project to the class.
  • Final Project – This is a special projects course in which all assignments build toward the final. Students can deliver the final in the medium of their choice: as a 20-25pp paper; a 6-10 minute audio or video composition; a museum-style installation; a public-facing website; or another format. The final should integrate autoethnographic and archival findings toward an argument about some element of identity, experience, and language at Stanford.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Tessa Brown


Areas of specialization: humanities, social sciences, creative writing

Genre expertise: personal statements, grant proposals, dissertations

Enjoys coaching organizing and developing arguments

Dr. Tessa Brown, a Lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric, is a writer, researcher, and educator. Her doctoral dissertation, “SCHOOLED: Hiphop Composition at the Predominantly White University,” considered the contradictions of hiphop culture, writing education, and the fight for language rights in predominantly or historically white institutional contexts. Dr. Brown also researches social media and whiteness and femininity, and uses memoristic and autoethnographic methods in her work.

Tessa’s essays, reviews, and fiction have appeared in Harper’s, Hyperallergic, The Forward, The New Haven Review, The American Reader, and rhetoric journal Kairos. Her peer-reviewed research is forthcoming in Peitho. Her novella Sorry for Partying was honored by the Paris Literary Prize in 2014. She has written a blog, Hiphopocracy, since 2011, and lives in San Francisco.