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Civil rights movement rhetoric expert featured MLK Week speaker

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January 9, 2012

Kirt Wilson, associate professor of rhetoric at Penn State University, will deliver the keynote address on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement in America at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 18, in room 204, Gorecki Dining and Conference Center, College of Saint Benedict.

His presentation, which is the highlight of the week celebrating the life of King, is entitled "Memories of the King: How the Memorialization of the Civil Rights Movement is Shaping American Culture and Race Relations."  It is free and open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to bring a nonperishable food item to be donated to the South Junior High food shelf in St. Cloud.

Earlier in the day, Wilson will also visit classes and meet with students, staff, faculty and community leaders.

Wilson is a nationally recognized expert in the rhetoric of civil rights movements and race in public culture. He received his undergraduate degree from Cedarville University (Cedarville, Ohio) and then his master's degree from Purdue University (West Lafayette, Ind.) in 1991. He went on earn a doctorate from Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.) in 1995.

Prior to teaching at Penn State, he was an assistant and associate professor of rhetoric and communication at the University of Minnesota, where he taught a variety of courses and served as the director of graduate studies for the Communication Studies Department at Minnesota.

The University of Minnesota honored Wilson with the Arthur "Red" Motley Exemplary Teaching Award in 2002 and the McKnight Presidential Fellowship in 2004. In 2002, Wilson was also awarded the Karl R. Wallace Memorial Award, in memory of the late rhetorical scholar, Karl Wallace. This award is given annually to promote philosophical, historical, or critical scholarship in rhetoric and public discourse.

Published prolifically about race and United States history, Wilson has written numerous journal articles and book chapters, in addition to a book entitled The Reconstruction Desegregation Debate: The Politics of Equality and the Rhetoric of Place. He also served as an associate editor for The Sage Handbook of Rhetorical Studies.

Other activities during the week include a series of student events organized by the Cultural Affairs Board and the Joint Events Council Cultural Committee which will commemorate the struggles and the successes of the civil rights movement.

On Monday, Jan. 16, signs saying "Whites Only" and "Colored Only" will be posted by the water fountains and doors of main buildings on both campuses to stimulate reflection.  There will be an explanation below each sign that says why civil rights are such an important part of American history. Students will be asked their reactions to the signs and those reactions will be shared with the campus communities.

Throughout the week, trivia questions will be asked on the Link (which transports students between CSB and SJU) bus so students can be engaged in learning and awareness of the civil rights movement.  In addition, a video will be created that compiles memorable speeches made by Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as other important figures in the movement. 

The week will conclude with a Soul Food Dinner Friday, Jan. 20 hosted by the CSB/SJU Intercultural Center at 7 p.m. at Sexton Commons at SJU followed by a show by performance artist David Garibaldi at 8:15 p.m. at Brother Willie's Pub at SJU. Inspired by graffiti, Garibaldi describes his art as motivated by "rhythm and hue." His King painting is a recurring favorite.