Chelsea Jimenez

PhD Student Chelsea Jimenez Receives Award for Racial Justice Research

Chelsea Jimenez, a PhD in Urban Education student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, received a 2024 Student Scholar Award from the School of Law’s Center for Civil Rights and Racial Justice (CCRRJ).

Jimenez is one of seven award recipients who were selected for their work in advancing civil rights and racial justice through academic, research, legal, or practical applications. 

A $1,000 award will support Jimenez’s dissertation, which focuses on the language and literacy practices of the Gullah Geechee people in South Carolina, a cultural community of enslaved Africans and their descendants in the Low Country and Sea Islands of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. 

“The language and literacy practices of the Gullah Geechee people were retained from their African ancestors and cultivated over space and time,” says Jimenez. “I will focus on how the Gullah Geechee women used their Gullah language to maintain and shift the literacy practices that they used to understand and navigate the Sea Islands that they are native to, as well as the mainland of South Carolina.”

Gullah Geechee communities have maintained native African ways of living, and up until the late 20th century, were separated from the mainland and mainland society. 

“While I’m from South Carolina, I have learned very little about this community, their language, or their cultural practices,” says Jimenez. “It is significant to me because they are recognized as an Indigenous people and have many rights and claims to their own cultural traditions, practices, and land.”

Jimenez is spending the summer organizing a genealogy of the Gullah Geechee and investigating how South Carolina legislation has influenced Black language and literacy over time. The state passed the country’s first anti-literacy laws for Black people and instituted anti-critical race theory legislation in the present day. 

As a former teacher with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the University of South Carolina, Jimenez decided to pursue a PhD to learn more about working with students of different cultural backgrounds in urban settings. She says the Pitt Education PhD program has helped her develop research that challenges education, power structures, and praxes of domination while refusing narratives of anti-Blackness in schools and society. 

“General teacher education is often not focused on how to educate students who are frequently not included in textbooks or students who do not come from nuclear, heterosexual, upper-class backgrounds,” says Jimenez. “I figured the PhD could help me become a better educator or help me understand the context of the education system better, and it has surprisingly helped with both!”