Keynote Speaker:
Professor Michelle Hall Kells, University of New Mexico

"Writing Democracies: What the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement Can Teach Us About Civic Literacy in the 21st Century"

This paper foregrounds the discursive democratic literacy practices engaged by two major post-war Mexican American civil rights movement leaders (Héctor P. García and
Vicente Ximenes) used to mobilize and institutionalize major US civil rights reforms during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration.  The political impulse and rhetorical
imagination of the Mexican American civil rights movements rested upon four dimensions of democratic practice: dissent, deliberation, dissonance, and disputation.  These key principles framed the discursive guideposts of the
earliest activist work of these World War II generation civil rights organizers.  I connect these findings to the recent conceptualization and implementation of the
University of New Mexico Writing Across Communities initiative (which is currently evolving into a National Consortium on Writing Across Communities). Issues of
pedagogy and padeia play into this presentation, centering on questions about how  to educate leaders for successful
social activism and productive public engagement. Finally, I  invite literacy educators across the disciplines and
level (K-College) to join the National Consortium on Writing Across Communities to promote civic literacy and
social engagement at their institutions as integral features of U.S. literacy education programs and a way to
retro-fit traditional WAC (Writing Across the Curriculum) for community outreach and public service.

The National Consortium of Writing Across Communities represents a constellation of stakeholders locally and
nationally centered around educational principles, and cultural practices that promote the generative (creative
and life-sustaining) ecological relationships of language and literacy to the maintenance and wellbeing of human
communities. The NCWAC seeks to stimulate resource-sharing and promote research in language practices and literacy education throughout the nation to support local colleges and universities struggling to serve the vulnerable
communities within their spheres of influence.  For further information see:

Jacob & Dora Gallegos, Northern New Mexico, circa 1940

About the Speaker

Michelle Hall Kells is Associate Professor in the Department of English at the University of New Mexico where she teaches graduate and undergraduate classes in 20th Century Civil Rights Rhetoric, Contemporary and Classical Rhetoric, Writing and Cultural Studies, and Discourse Studies.  She also serves as the Director of Rhetoric and Writing and the UNM WAC (Writing Across Communities) Program Chair.  Kells’ research interests include civil rights rhetorics, sociolinguistics,and composition/literacy studies.   Kells is coeditor of Attending to the Margins: Writing, Researching, and Teaching on the Front Lines (Heinemann, 1999) and Latino/a Discourses: On Language, Identity, and Literacy Education (Heinemann, 2004). Her work is featured in the journals JAC, Written Communication, Reflections, and Rhetoric & Public Affairs as well as a number of edited books including Cross-Language Relations in Composition, Dialects; Englishes, Creoles, and Education; Who Belongs in America?: Presidents, Rhetoric, and Immigration. Kells is author of Hector P. Garcia: Everyday Rhetoric and Mexican American Civil Rights (Southern Illinois University Press, 2006).  Her current book project is Vicente Ximenes and LBJ’s “Great Society”: The Rhetoric of Mexican American Civil Rights Reform. 

Balancing extensive research on intercultural communication among Latino/a populations with a responsive teaching agenda, Kells has published extensively on issues of direct consequence to participants and larger projects emerging from the the theme “Writing Democracy.”