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Spotlight on Chelsea Frazier: PhD Candidate in the Department of African American Studies

Created: October 29, 2018

Chelsea Frazier is a PhD candidate in the Department of African American Studies and a fellow in the Science and Human Culture Program. Her primary research includes Black Feminist Literature and Theory, Visual Culture, Ecocriticism and Environmentalism, Political Theory, Science and Technology Studies, and Afrofuturism. Chelsea was recently named a Presidential Fellow,  the most prestigious fellowship awarded to graduate students by Northwestern University. 

How would you describe your research and/or work to a non-academic audience? 
I study and write about Black women environmental writers, artists, and activists. People often ask me, “Why Black women?” My response is that the theories and disciplines that make up environmental studies often erase or obscure Black women's environmental perspectives – a huge missed opportunity for environmental studies as a whole because when Black women make art or write about the environment, they often take into account the ways that racism, sexism, and classism underpin environmental devastation and the way we make sense of nature. For that reason, I investigate the ways that Black women's environmental writing and art help us to better conceptualize the ways that racism, sexism, and classism limit our abilities to understand environmental crises as well as how this art outlines pathways to better solutions. 

What have been some of the most memorable twists and turns of your career? 
One of the most memorable experiences I've had at Northwestern was co-organizing the Black Feminist Futures Symposium in 2016. The two-day symposium brought preeminent and emerging Black feminist scholars together to reflect on the futurity of Black feminism in the academy. My colleagues, Dr. Brittnay Proctor and Dr. Shoniqua Roach, and I spent a year securing funding from over 20 departments, programs, and endowments on campus. We went on to lead one of the most well-attended graduate student-led events on campus that academic year. 

Tell us what inspired your research and/or work. 
My research has a number of origin points, but the work of Black women writers and essayists writing about "nature" largely inspired my research. Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, and Octavia Butler, for example, masterfully integrate environmental writing and cultural commentary into gripping narratives. They inspired me to investigate how they and others accomplished those marvelous feats. 

What is the biggest potential impact or implication of your work? 
When I began my project—and this has changed significantly in recent years—there was a very limited number of scholars working in the humanities at the intersection of environmental studies and Black feminist thought. My hope is that my research demonstrates and inspires others to recognize the opportunities that approaching their research questions from this perspective can engender. 

What did you originally want to be when you grew up? 
My "dream job" varied from week to week when I was younger—I just knew I wanted a job that required me to wear the kinds of fancy suits Robyn Givens wore in the movie Boomerang. That aside, I've always been a bookworm and I've always loved to write. None of my close friends and family are shocked that I became a writer and a scholar. 

Tell us about a current achievement or something you're working on that excites you. 
I've been asked to lead public dialogues with artists or give talks in various art museums and galleries across the country. I am currently conceptualizing a public dialogue with a visual artist that explores themes of ecology, African women's cultural productions, and domesticity. This is some of my favorite kind of intellectual work because, for me, there's nothing more exciting than talking to artists, learning about their work, and examining their unique creative processes. 

What are you most proud of in your career to date? 
I am most proud of the meaningful relationships I've been able to cultivate. No academic work is done in isolation. From the beginning stages of an idea to its publication, there are numerous relationships necessary in order to makes things happen. I am grateful for the mentors and friends that have invested their time, energy, and wisdom in me and I'm proud that I've had many opportunities to either return the support or pay it forward to others.