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Celebrating PWR’s Notable Notations (Part One): Year Two of the NCR

Editors note: This represents the first in a multi-part series we’ll be running now and in the spring this year celebrating the momentous occasions of the launch of a new Notation (the NCR), and the 10 year anniversary of the NSC. In this piece, PWR lecturer Matthew Redmond talks to NCR coordinator Harriett Jernigan about what a Notation is, and what it can provide to students. In the spring, we’ll run the second part, sharing details from the many events the Notations have hosted this year.

“A Notation,” Stanford’s website explains to undergraduate searchers, “is a designation that appears on your transcript indicating your advanced work in rhetoric and communication.” This is at least as good a place as any to start describing the program to prospective participants seeking their next competitive edge. Scrolling down, they soon learn about the two available streams: the Notation in Cultural Rhetorics (NCR), designed to “[c]onsider the ways that language, rhetoric, and ideas operate across cultures and traditions”; and the Notation in Science Communication (NSC), which develops’ students’ ability to “communicate technical information to a variety of audiences using multiple genres and modes.” 

With last year’s launch of the NCR, and  NSC celebrating ten years of making such communication possible, it seems more than usually worth asking the question: What else is a Notation?

Getting the best answers requires learning from those closest to the program. For my education and yours, I asked current NCR coordinator Dr. Harriett Jernigan to describe her experience with the program. What she described was an environment defined by diversity and an often captivating spirit of intellectual inquiry. 

“I’ve found the experience [of coordinating NCR] truly rewarding and highly collaborative,” said Harriett. “Not only do I get to work with students from all walks of life, interests, and majors, but I get to support them in completing a project that speaks completely to the things that they are passionate about and thought they’d never be able to pursue in traditional educational settings.”

To drive home the impact of a PWR Notation, Harriett shared with me the response from one student: “The Notation allows me to explore the things that matter to me in a way that nothing else does. One class covers one aspect of what I care about, and another class covers something else, but no class ever quite covers everything. And no major/minor combination does it either. But the Notation does.”

“That’s worth a lot,” said Harriett, “knowing that you’re creating a space for students to express all of their intellectual and creative interests and talents in the context of the rhetorical practices and traditions of their cultures.”

Clearly the goal of creating space for such expression has been a guiding light for the PWR Notations. By validating what students truly care about—their home rhetorics, their worldview, the entire intricate web of their academic interests—the PWR Notations enable them to inhabit the world of college intellectualism as complete human beings, checking no part of themselves at the classroom door

PWR Notations, then, like any successful program or initiative, have been a series of quietly brilliant contributions from one passionate pedagogue after another, in both the NSC and the NCR. The result is academic spaces where deeply personal yet intellectually rigorous expression, the kind that would occur far too seldom at Stanford otherwise, have become the rule and not the exception. 

students sitting on stairs
Some of the NCR students enrolled in the winter gateway course (PWR 194NCR).

As Harriett told me: “The NCR students are showing us new avenues of interdisciplinarity and the joys and rewards of supporting students’ right to their own language (SRTOL). But they are also showing us how to apply scholarship directly to communities. The NCR students are, among other things, exploring practices and traditions surrounding food, designing a Black hair care vending machine to validate and care for natural hair and Black identity, creating artwork for various social justice organizations and events, and focusing on the relationship between culture and deliberative democracy.”

Over the last two years, NCR has been progressively building on its offerings and opportunities, holding signature events for its students as well as the campus community (such as last year's Cultural Rhetorics series focusing on Mexican American RhetoricsAsian and Asian American Rhetorics, and Black Rhetorics) and expanding its range of course offerings (from PWR 194NCR: Introduction to Cultural Rhetorics, to PWR 194KTA: Critical Rhetoric: Racism, Misogyny, and the Law, PWR 91LF: The Art of Access: Disability, Creativity, Communication, and PWR 91HT: Telling your Story as Counterstory: The Rhetoric of Critical Race Theory). With 11 students in its current cohort, it looks to welcome more students into the program during its May application period.

Isn’t there something galvanic in hearing about projects like these, knowing that a space at Stanford actively nurtures them? As precarity continues to defines the existence of so many forward-thinking programs across the humanities, we should celebrate anytime quality meets continuity. PWR Notations’ provide a space for students finding themselves, complete and unabridged, as rightful participants in the endless, wondrous labor of intellectual discovery.