Turning Ideas to Ideals

Emory's twentieth Rhodes Scholar intends to improve the criminal justice system

Activist Heart: Rhodes scholar Chelsea Jackson will study criminology at Oxford University, which has a research center focused on the sociology of criminal justice. She wants to examine ways to reform the criminal justice system by, for instance, reducing the use of solitary confinement and expanding maternal rights for incarcerated women.
Kay Hinton

Chelsea Jackson 18C is one of thirty-two American college students selected as a 2018 Rhodes Scholar.

Jackson, a political science and African American studies double major in Emory College of Arts and Sciences, is the university’s twentieth student to be selected for the prestigious scholarship, which supports two to three years of study at the University of Oxford in England. She also is the fourth woman and the first African American student from Emory to receive the scholarship.

“I am immediately blessed to be selected,” says Jackson, who is from Lithonia, Georgia. “Just the resources available and the opportunity to live outside the US and interact and learn from scholars throughout the world is immense.”

Jackson has focused her undergraduate research and her community leadership on efforts to create a more equitable campus and Atlanta community.

“Chelsea is a passionate and committed student who uses her intellectual talents and commitment to social justice to better our world,” says President Claire E. Sterk. “She will be a wonderful ambassador for the United States and Emory as she continues her work at Oxford University.”

Jackson has been heavily involved with the Emory chapter of the NAACP and cofounded the Atlanta Black Students United (ATLBSU), a group with black student representatives from every school in metro Atlanta. The ATLBSU serves as a vital support system for students and a resource for allies.

Last year, she shifted from working as the group’s media representative to putting additional energy into her academic commitments.

She presented a conference paper last year with her adviser, Andra Gillespie, associate professor of political science and director of Emory’s James Weldon Johnson Institute for the Study of Race and Difference. The project explores how different backstories influence public opinion when it comes to police shootings. She also was named Emory’s first Truman Scholar since 2011.

“Chelsea truly embodies the ideals of liberal arts and sciences education. Her pursuit of knowledge and inquiry informs her activism and her dedication to making our society a more just one for all,” says Michael Elliott, dean of Emory College and Charles Howard Candler Professor of English. “We are extremely proud of her, and I am looking forward to watching her career unfold as she leaves our campus to have an impact on the world beyond it.”

This year, Jackson is focused on her master’s thesis as Emory’s sole BA/MA candidate in political science. Her topic: examining whether the race of the prosecutor can affect racial discrepancies in the criminal justice system when looking at matters of discretion, such as whether to charge the accused with a felony or misdemeanor.

“Chelsea is brilliant,” Gillespie says. “She came to Emory with an abundance of brain power and the willingness to do the work to develop her skills. Her keen intellect and commitment to public service and social justice make her the student you dream of having the honor to teach.”

Jackson plans to earn a master’s degree in criminology at Oxford, home to a cutting-edge research center that focuses on the sociology of criminal justice. She hopes to examine how the law can be used to reform the criminal justice system by—for example—reducing the use of solitary confinement and expanding the maternal rights of incarcerated women.

“I want to learn how race and politics play out in other countries’ criminal justice systems to see how that shapes their worldview, and to consider new ideas and ways to solve problems that I have not thought of yet,” Jackson says.

After completing her Oxford degree, she plans to return to the US to attend law school to become a civil rights attorney, either with the Department of Justice or a broad-reaching nonprofit focused on social justice.

“The more empirical ideas I can learn, the more I can see how things are done elsewhere, the more I can be a better activist and propose better solutions,” Jackson says.

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