“Do work that matters.” This is a piece of advice that Dr. Kristi Melancon passes on to all of her students. As we were hanging out in her office, I learned about how she is doing work that matters in MC’s English Department and beyond. Dr. Melancon is passionate about social justice, and she uses a unique means to pursue this: rhetoric. Basically, she uses the study of words to do good. This is one incredible woman. And today we get to learn her story.
Dr. Melancon (aka "Dr. M") is from New Orleans, Louisiana. She has always been passionate about words and earned an English degree from the University of New Orleans. After graduation, she headed to law school with plans to go into non-profit law, but in her second semester of law school, she found herself disenchanted with law, longing to return to her first love of English. She was doing well in law school, but preferred the collaborative environment of English over the competitive world of law.
Dr. M found herself in a place familiar to many college students: she had no idea what to do. She always loved writing but didn’t know that she could make a career out of it. One day she found herself at the home of an undergraduate mentor who encouraged her to change her direction and pursue rhetoric and composition. This was just the encouragement she needed. Dr. M dropped out of law school in the middle of the semester and went on to earn her PhD in Rhetoric, Writing, & Culture from Louisiana State University.
After graduating from LSU, Dr. M arrived at MC in 2011. She has brought her drive for justice to campus through coordinating the English Education and Service Learning programs and chairing the Community Engagement Committee. She also teaches classes such as English 101, Language and Diversity, and Analysis of Discourse (her favorite). Dr. M loves getting students out of the classroom and into the community so they can take what they’re learning and use it to help others.
At MC, Dr. M has been engaging the community of those around her, both inside and outside of the classroom. She says that her favorite part about MC is the students: seeing them take risks in class, being challenged by them, and watching them grow as people. As the campus minister for the Catholic Student Association, she and her husband Rick (who also teaches in MC’s English department) get to invest in the spiritual lives of their students.
She is passionate about her students understanding the importance of English to the pursuit of justice. English matters because language matters. Language is tied up in power, which is a major component of social justice. It allows us to see through messages and be able to discern them. She wants her students to be able to look critically at the discourses they encounter every day, to recognize how language can empower and also discriminate.
As we were talking in her office, Dr. M told me that she hopes students can learn from her journey from law to language. Her advice for MC students is two-fold; first, see your work as a vocation. Do work that matters. For Dr. Melancon that means working for justice through teaching English. The other side of this advice is that it's okay to quit things. She knows from her experience of quitting law school that the pursuit of your passion doesn’t always make sense.
I ended my conversation with Dr. Melancon with an even deeper respect for her. This woman is pursuing the lofty goal of social justice through the seemingly ordinary avenue of teaching English. One conversation with her will let you realize that her love for words is anything but typical. If you see her around campus, take some time to hear her story in person. It’s one worth knowing.
- Emma: lover of rain, popcorn, and sweaters.