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PWR 1JS: Writing & Rhetoric 1: Beyond DNA: The Omics Revolution Spring 2015 Instructor: Jennifer Stonaker

My PWR Story: Victoria White

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PWR 1JS: Writing & Rhetoric 1: Beyond DNA: The Omics Revolution Spring 2015 Instructor: Jennifer Stonaker


I came from a high school that emphasized writing, and already intended to minor in creative writing, so I knew long before Stanford that writing was something I loved. After switching my PWR assignment to autumn quarter, so I’d be prepared for writing here early on, I was assigned to ‘The Rhetoric of Gender and Sexuality in Pop Culture’—a subject far outside my major, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I shouldn’t have worried. For one, when I got the syllabus and saw one of our homework assignments was watching Orange is the New Black, I decided I could work with that. However, a great thing about PWR themes is that while they give you an opportunity to narrow your focus—because wouldn’t you rather research something you actually like?—they’re also broad enough that regardless of the class you take, you can study almost anything that interests you. Within my class, we had papers on the evolution of the “gayborhood,” gender identity in college Greek life, and sexuality in 12th century musical composition. I loved seeing how many different directions people had taken from the same starting point.

That brings me to another big part of PWR: how much time you spend talking with the people around you. Classes capped at fifteen or sixteen people and one-on-one conferences with your teacher are nice counterpoints to the big lecture courses a lot of freshmen take. I loved the chance to meet with Karli, my professor, and go point-by-point through a paper draft. I wasn’t so much learning about writing as about how to put an argument together. The emphasis on rhetoric had left me thinking about what made me write the way I did: why I might phrase a point a certain way, or weave in quotes from different sources in a particular order. I’d become more conscious of things I’d done in my writing without thinking—and once I was thinking about them, I could do them better.

In the end, PWR was much more than the “learn to write” class I’d expected. I learned how to research, how not to be intimidated by diving into a stack of books, how to pull together that background work into an argument and deliver it well. I’ve relied on those skills all of last year, in neuroscience and economics as much as in English courses, and I think it’s great that Stanford designs the class that way. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer, whatever you decide to study, you want to able to make an argument well. 

Victoria White

Class of 2018

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