Thursday, March 13, 2014

Vicente Ximenes’ Legacy of Citizen Scholarship, by Brian Hendrickson

The other afternoon, on my way across campus to conduct my dissertation research, I happened to run into my mentor, Dr. Michelle Hall Kells, heading home for the day. I had been working on the webpage to honor Dr. Vicente Ximenes and the scholarship that bears his name, and I had a question for Dr. Kells, whose current book project examines Dr. Ximenes’ key role in Mexican American civil rights reform. Over the years I had studied under her and worked alongside her on UNM’s Writing Across Communities (WAC) Initiative, I had often heard Kells refer to Ximenes as the cofounder of the American GI Forum, but I had trouble finding that reference elsewhere. When I mentioned that to her, Kells explained that Ximenes had yet to receive the recognition he deserved, but that Ximenes should be considered a cofounder of the American GI Forum for the role he played in shaping the organization into one that would in large part determine the outcome of the 1961 presidential election. And it was Ximenes, Kells insisted, that had provided the blueprint for the work we had been doing these past ten years at UNM under the banner of the WAC Initiative.
       I’ll leave it to the expert, Dr. Kells, to reveal the details of Dr. Ximenes’ legacy, but the gist is this: The American GI Forum was not much more than a small network of veterans and church groups scattered across Texas when it came under the leadership of Dr. Vicente Ximenes in 1951. At that time Dr. Ximenes was an undergraduate at the University of New Mexico, but in collaboration with other student-veterans, he was able to transform a loose-knit and at that time largely campus-based initiative into a force that united the southwestern Hispanic community under the banner of civil rights reform. It was Ximenes’ aptitude as a citizen scholar—one who navigates fluidly the often conflicting but always overlapping spheres of academic, professional, and civic life—that forged his path from leader of a student organization at UNM to advisor of the President of the United States on Mexican American civil rights.
       I am humbled to have received the honor of a Vicente Ximenes Scholarship in Public Rhetoric and Community Literacy for my work with WAC at UNM. The extent to which my organizing work has been informed by Dr. Ximenes becomes more apparent as Dr. Kells shares through her scholarship more and more of the blueprint inscribed in Ximenes’ rhetorical legacy. Already I am indebted to Ximenes for the concept of the citizen scholar, upon which my dissertation research is based. My study, “Toward a Rhetorical Paideia of Writing in/across/beyond the Disciplines: A Genre Ecology of Citizen Scholarship in the School of Engineering,” follows engineering students involved in a humanitarian project that requires they navigate the often conflicting but always overlapping professional, academic, and civic economies of writing that comprise that endeavor. I hold that such an endeavor is in fact an instance of citizen scholarship, and the cultivation of the citizen scholar the primary objective of liberal education in the 21st century.
       What I want to know is how we can better prepare students for participation in acts of citizen scholarship that will inherently require them to write in, across, and beyond disciplinary and cultural boundaries and ultimately define for themselves what it means to be an active participant in the democratic process. It is my hope that this research will inform the way that inter/disciplinary capstone courses are designed and implemented here at UNM and elsewhere, and thus how writing is taught across the curriculum to prepare students for successfully completing such capstone courses and achieving other goals in their professional and civic lives. I know that the most effective teaching and most impactful learning don’t occur in the classroom but in interactions like the one I recalled above, within instances of citizen scholarship wherein students and their teacher-mentors collaboratively endeavor to effect real-world change, in this case, in a way that honors the legacy of Dr. Vicente Ximenes. It is therefore my hope that the impacts of my own citizen scholarship will serve as one way in which Ximenes’ legacy will live on in the lives of students here at UNM and elsewhere.

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