Photo: Michelle Kells

Michelle Kells

  • Associate Professor, Rhetoric & Writing, Department of English

/ (505) 277-6347


Professor Michelle Hall Kells is the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Chicana & Chicano Studies. Her academic background aligns in the field of Rhetorical studies with Chicana and Chicano Studies through the academic fields of Rhetoric, Literacy Studies, and Linguistics. She has applied her areas of specialization to her research, teaching, and community service projects toward issues of Environmental Justice, Civil Rights Rhetorics, Land Ethics, and Ecological stewardship among heritage New Mexico Chicana/o communities for the past 3 decades. Her most recent work in the examination of Latina leadership as it related to environmental justice and labor rights through the Salt of the Earth Recovery Project was recently recognized by the Conference of College Composition and Communication with the 2023 CCCC Outstanding Book Award for her co-edited volume with Laura Gonzalez Latina Leadership Language and Literacy across Communities. She is currently working a single authored manuscript about the women of the 1950-1952 Empire Zinc Mine Strike in Silver City, NM. A chapter based on that research is included in Latina Leadership Language and Literacy across Communities. Further information about the Salt of the Earth Recovery Project is available at:   

Professor Michelle Hall Kells has been teaching, researching, and serving Hispanic-serving institutions as a teacher and professor for nearly 30 years. Her own mestiza family and cultural history in the Southwest shaped her commitment to serve Chicana/o communities through translingual literacy education, environmental advocacy, and the study of public rhetorics centered on issues of social justice. 

“We as human beings engage and understand our environments through diverse language and literacy practices. This aspect of our humanity is so very evident to us here in the state where the sacred union of nature and culture in our indigenous lands of New Mexico we can so readily see the inscriptions and rich literacy practices of the ancients etched into the petroglyphs and pottery in the very landscape we call home.” 

Hence Kells’s focus on rhetoric, writing, and translingual literacy practices as exemplified with he Translingual Literacy Studies Digital Hub at:  

“Because my family history and my deep connections to the Southwest as my place of origin both my personal and professional querencia rests (and has always rested) in Sustainability Studies and Chicana/o Studies.”  

Kells’s grandmother was one of the first and only women to work for the U.S. Forest Service in the national parks in California through the mid-1930s. Both of her grandparents were devoted conservationists and environmental advocates. She grew up embedded in the beauty of open spaces and wilderness. She also grew up close to the agricultural centers of California and became keenly aware of the political and labor issues of the United Farm Workers movement and the work of Cesar Chavez in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys.  

Professor Kells finds that the most critical issue we face today as a planet is ecological stewardship and environmental literacy education across K-16 public education. Educators need to make ecological stewardship and environmental literacy a key learning outcome of public education regionally, nationally, and globally. Kells has been designing and advocating for the teaching of ecologically centered literacy education at the K-16 levels for nearly twenty years at UNM through the Writing Across Communities approach to literacy education which foreground ecological principles in the teaching of writing across curriculum. These pedagogies and translingual literacy practices have been recognized nationally and adopted by other universities.  

“I would like to see Writing Across Communities adopted by more departments and programs at UNM as we have done in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies.”  

For further information about Writing Across Communities as ecological literacy practice see: 

Kells’s enduring commitment to promoting ecological stewardship and environmental literacy ultimately informed her decision to establish the Southwest Environmental Education Cooperative (a non-profit 501c3 organization) in 2020 as a collaborative cross-institutional advocacy and educational entity constituted by students, community leaders, and educators to foreground environmental issues and community literacy education. More information on SWEEC is available at:   

Kells has tremendous faith in the power of the individual environmental citizen and the community to inspire change.  

“I’ve spent three decades studying social movements and civil rights activism. It isn’t only the community figure heads and great leaders that inspire change. It is the single person and local community groups that sustain resistance to violence, injustice, and oppression that ultimately catalyzes social change.” 

Kells is also a pragmatist in that she believes that the particular ecological interrelationships are all synergistically connected. As such her argument is always the same to students and community members:  

“Although you may feel that your sphere of concern is much larger than your sphere of influence, take positive action where you are rooted now in your community. It matters.”   


You can find Professor Michelle Hall Kells at   

 - Professor Michelle Hall Kells, Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Chicana & Chicano Studies, University of New Mexico.