Courtesy of Chelsea Frazier

Prof. Chelsea M. Frazier, Literatures in English, is inspiring students to analyze themes of Black feminism and environmental thought as one of the newest faculty members in the department.

November 28, 2022

Black Feminism, Ecology and Storytelling With Chelsea M. Frazier

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Prof. Chelsea M. Frazier, literatures in English, understands the power of a well crafted narrative. As one of the newest faculty members in the Department of Literatures in English, Frazier teaches her undergraduate and graduate students how art and literature show Black women’s conceptions of the world and ecological problems — and provides them with the tools to tell stories of their own.

Frazier, who received her Ph.D. in African American Studies from Northwestern University in 2019, is a prolific writer and speaker in her field. Her work centers around the intersection between Black feminist theory and environmental thought. Frazier has authored several papers concerning environmentalism and Black feminism, and has had numerous speaking engagements in recent years. 

Currently, Frazier serves as an assistant professor in the Department of Literatures in English and the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program. Despite being a newer faculty member, Frazier has already made an impact in the department. 

“Chelsea is a marvelous addition to our department, bringing intersecting concerns with ecocriticism, feminism and Black studies — and, to top it off, aesthetics, in a wide frame of literature and visual art, involving circulations between global and US settings,” Prof. Andrew Galloway, literatures in English, wrote in a statement to The Sun. “She has hit the ground running with energetic teaching, advising and critical writing, constituting a very welcome new member of a department whose range and depth continue to be among the most impressive in the world.”

While looking for employment in academia, Frazier was attracted to a call from Cornell for a professorship in African American literature and culture, citing the department’s strong ties to visual culture, American studies and creative writing. 

“I was really drawn to the way that there was so much creative synergy in Cornell’s English department,” Frazier said. “I was also really drawn to the fact that so many of my colleagues had a sustained interest in environmental thought.”

Prof. Caroline Levine, literatures in English, served on the committee responsible for hiring Frazier out of a pool of 150 applicants for the position. According to Levine, in recent years the English department has lost several scholars in the field, leading to a gap that the search committee was created to fill.

“Professor Frazier has very impressive credentials for both teaching and research,” Levine said. “[Out of the candidates] some people really rise to the top and it’s because their research is very innovative and we know they’ll also be filling an important role in the classroom.”

Levine also noted Frazier’s work writing for the general public as a benefit.

“A lot of people in the wider world are unsure why the humanities matter and why literature and culture matter, and to have somebody who speaks forcefully on behalf of what we do and why it matters is great,” Levine said. 

For the fall 2022 semester, Frazier is teaching English courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level. She teaches a section of the ENGL 1168: Cultural Studies First-Year Writing Seminar, with the topic “Race, Gender, and Writing about Hip-Hop.” The class covers the relation of hip hop — a Black cultural art form that Frazier said is often maligned — to mainstream culture and politics. 

“The class is not about teaching music necessarily,” Frazier said. “It’s really about providing my class with a set of critical tools so they can approach hip-hop music and culture from a historically, socially and emphatically responsible lens.”

At the graduate level, Frazier is teaching ENGL 6644: Troubling Ecology, which critically examines texts she describes as Black Ecoliterature, comprised of notions of Blackness, gender formation and ecology. 

According to Levine, graduate students in particular enjoy Frazier’s work relating to questions of race in literature and culture connected to the environment. 

“A lot of [graduate students] are thinking about environmental studies, thinking about Black studies.” Levine said. “There’s a lot of grad students really eager to take her course so I think that’s a reason she was slotted into the graduate teaching rotation so fast.”

Despite the wide gap between the first semester freshmen enrolled in the FWS and the graduate students taking Troubling Ecology, Frazier said most students are new to Cornell like she is, and she hopes to offer all students tools to thrive in their academic programs and careers.

“Even though they are in different places developmentally, there’s a lot of ways where we’re all finding our comfortability and footing within Cornell, and using the classroom space as a grounding point,” Frazier said. 

Frazier is also set to teach two classes in the spring semester, both of which have had strong enrollment numbers during pre-enroll. ENGL 2560: Black Queer Writing and Media will introduce students to a variety of texts by black and queer thinkers and artists, who present alternate ways to exist in a heteronormative, patriarchal culture. She will also teach ENGL 3365: Black Ecoliterature, which will be an undergraduate companion to her graduate course.

“I definitely want to encourage students to come on down and join the conversation,” Frazier said. “If you come in with a willingness to be curious, you’re going to do well.”