Karen Villegas

Job title: 
2023 David M. Howard Prize Recipient
David M. Howard Prize

Karen Villegas is a doctoral candidate in the Berkeley School of Education at UC Berkeley. She received her B.A. in Political Science from UCLA. Karen’s overarching work explores issues of language, citizenship, and nation-building processes.

Karen’s dissertation, supported by the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues, is a study of the ideological conceptions of language and literacy practices in adult, English as a Second Language (ESL) citizenship classes. Adults enroll in these classes to prepare for the naturalization process; a means of acquiring U.S. citizenship available to lawful permanent residents after meeting extensive federal requirements. Using a range of methods, including interviews, participant observation, and archival research, Karen’s work shows how these learning spaces do not foster a sense of political incorporation or belonging, and instead position U.S. immigrants to identify as workers rather than citizens who can influence their world.

Although Karen’s dissertation identified ESL citizenship classes as indoctrinating spaces, their future work will examine the political possibilities of such spaces. While thinking beyond liberal notions of justice. Karen plans to observe, possibly even design, a community-based, Spanish-speaking ESL citizenship classroom, centering a pedagogical approach that explicitly privileges concientización by fostering critical consciousness among learners toward counter-hegemonic understandings of belonging, learning, and citizenship.

Research interests: 

Major(s): PhD Candidate, Education