Chelsea Hylton.
Photo courtesy of Chelsea Hylton

Inaugural Iger-Bay scholar explores identity and justice

Growing up the multicultural child of immigrants — her mother is from Mexico, her father from Jamaica — Chelsea Hylton identifies as both Black and Latina. While she celebrates her multifaceted identity, she finds that others struggle with it.

“Los Angeles is a very diverse city, but I went to predominantly white schools here and faced a fair share of discrimination and microaggressions,” said Hylton, a native of Inglewood. “I would always hear, ‘You’re not fully Black or fully Latina.’ I never got that at home, of course, but other people made me feel like I had to choose.”

She remembers reading local papers and listening to news radio with her father on the way to school — and being struck by how much of the coverage of marginalized communities focused on negative subjects, like crime.

“I felt driven to express myself through stories of people who had experienced discrimination or just other social justice issues that had had an impact on me,” she said. “By the time I was in high school, I knew that journalism was what I wanted to focus on when I went to college.”

Earning a scholarship from the Posse Foundation, Hylton enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, Madison — where she had to deal with not only her first “real winter,” but the fact that she didn’t get into the journalism program as a freshman.

“That really took a toll on me,” she said. “It stunted my confidence. But that summer, I got an internship with a Los Angeles women’s magazine, published some stories, and realized that I could do this. With a better resume, I applied again to the journalism program and was ultimately admitted.”

Hylton became the editor of the Black Voice, the student-led publication for the university’s Black community. Given the small size of that community at the predominantly white institution, she felt a strong sense of responsibility. “We were always under the microscope,” she noted. “People were always looking at what we were doing and how we were doing it. My role was to make sure that we were holding university administration accountable.”

As Hylton began looking ahead past graduation, she ultimately decided that graduate school would be the best choice for her. Noting that most of her experience had been with writing for print and online media, she saw that USC Annenberg’s Master of Science in Journalism program would allow her to build a broader skill set, one that would include audio and video. “If I could hone those other skills, that would make me a stronger job candidate,” she said.

For Hylton, attending USC also allowed her to continue a family tradition. Her father has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from USC Marshall, and in May, her older sister earned her a doctorate in occupational therapy from USC Chan.

“When I got my acceptance letter, that was the best day ever, honestly,” she said.

Being admitted to USC Annenberg also came with much-needed financial support as Hylton was named the inaugural recipient of the school’s Iger-Bay Scholarship. Established by USC Annenberg Dean Willow Bay and her husband, Disney Chairman Robert A. Iger, the scholarship uses proceeds from the sale of Iger’s memoir, The Ride of a Lifetime, to provide funding for journalism students from underrepresented backgrounds at several institutions, including USC Annenberg.

“I know it’s a cliché, but this scholarship definitely allowed me to turn my dreams into reality,” she said. “I’m motivated to make the most of the Iger-Bay Scholarship by being really involved with Annenberg Media and the media center. I’m investing myself in my craft and in my work and focusing on becoming a well-rounded multimedia journalist.”

One recent story Hylton has written for Annenberg Media she has found particularly meaningful has focused on healthcare disparities faced by women of color.

“The new abortion bans that being passed across the country just perpetuate these disparities,” she said. “I’ve been interviewing advocates and activists from different abortion access groups around the country. Being able to connect with people and have them tell their stories and experiences is the best part of this job. It makes it all worth it.”

Looking ahead, Hylton says that, even for all her expanded multimedia skills, she remains a writer at heart, and hopes to work at a major outlet like the Los Angeles Times or The New Yorker. “With everything I’ve learned and all the support I’ve had, a position like that would be a culmination of all the hard work that I’ve put in.”