In 2012 I received an award of which I am enormously proud, the Vicente Ximenes Scholarship in Public Rhetoric and Civic Literacy. I received it largely for work I had done over the previous four years in UNM’s Writing Across Communities initiative, and I saw it both as a validation and a spur to work harder and more seriously towards my goal of being a citizen scholar. I felt this way because Dr. Ximenes was such an accomplished citizen scholar himself, and if my name was to associated with his I had much to live up to. That was only two years ago, so I am still a long way from my goal, but I am working at it. With Writing Across Communities I led two Civil Rights Symposia and served as secretary of UNM’s Core Curriculum Task Force, which led to an appointment as senior writing fellow for the Dean of Arts & Science’s Writing Intensive Learning Communities Pilot Project. Beyond these endeavors I served for one year as a writing tutor for American Indian Student Services, and for two years as Assistant Director of Core Writing in UNM’s English department. I am a recipient of the Office of Graduate Studies’ Future Faculty Award, the Susan Deese-Roberts Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award, and a year-long fellowship from the Russell J. and Dorothy S. Bilinski Foundation, under which I am currently completing a dissertation on the environmental activist Aldo Leopold, which I will defend this Fall.
For me, Dr. Ximenes’s accomplishments provide a kind of model – not in precisely what he did, because I know we all have our own contributions to make, but in how he lived out his principles. He dedicated himself to helping people at the economic fringes of society speak for themselves and live with dignity. He understood that civic action requires an understanding of people’s daily lives and how they are affected by their relationships with their government, their jobs, and their families. I try to remain mindful of these principles in the way I conduct myself as a scholar, teacher, and colleague. In my dissertation, I argue that Aldo Leopold’s life and work are most useful to us when viewed through the lens of what I am calling “citizen ecology.” A citizen ecology represents the full range of activities an individual brings to bear on living conscientiously within a polity. Drawing on green citizenship, publics theory, ecofeminism, theories of rhetorical silencing, and genre theory, my dissertation explores Leopold’s large archive to show how citizenship is enacted at the intersection of the public and private spheres; how Leopold’s activism in the Southwest tragically exploited and silenced Apache, Navajo, and Pueblo peoples; and how he used different genres to speak for non-human nature in the democratic process. The dissertation concludes by arguing that both citizenship and environmental rhetoric are most useful to scholars and activists when understood as forms of practical judgment that shape and respond to complex problems.
Dr. Ximenes’s living out of his principles also informs my teaching. In Writing Across Communities we talk about teaching three kinds of literacy to our students: civic, academic, and professional. With these fluencies students will be well positioned to move purposefully in the world in and beyond our classrooms, and to see the connections between their political lives, their academic lives, and their professional lives, as Dr. Ximenes did so clearly. We also talk about honoring the fluencies students bring to our classrooms, and about making clear to students that their new literacies are additions to rather than replacements of the ones they developed before we met them. Dr. Ximenes used his position to amplify the voices of people who might otherwise not have been heard. In similar if more modest ways, I try to help students amplify their own voices with new fluencies, new literacies, while honoring the ones they bring from their homes and adopted communities. Dr. Ximenes will continue to effect positive change while being greatly missed.
c/o Professor Michelle Kells, Associate Professor, Rhetoric & Writing, University of New Mexico