People of Georgian: Anti-racism learning circle sparks professor’s equity work

What’s your story?

The Georgian community is full of unique, inspiring perspectives —and we’re sharing them as part of an ongoing series.

People of Georgian: Meet Jennifer Shelswell

I’m a member of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. For years, I was hiding who I truly am.

Many people would look at me and be like, “OK she’s married to a man, with three children” and would assume I’m heterosexual.

A family of two adults, two children and a baby stand outside of a brick house.

It’s just very important for people to be able to feel they can be their true authentic selves without hiding.

As more people model and live their truths and demonstrate what inclusive spaces look like, it’s my hope that students and faculty and staff and co-workers would, too, feel safe in those spaces.

If I’m not modelling that and being my true self… why would they, you know?

‘It just really opened my eyes’

I really started getting into equity work after I participated in an anti-racism learning circle at Georgian based around the book Me and White Supremacy. My twin sister, Janice Desroches, also runs learning circles.

It just really opened my eyes. You don’t know what you don’t know.

These underlying biases and things that many of us don’t realize we have. You just stay ignorant to what’s really going on.

Twin siblings with long brown hair and wearing black, stand together and smile.
Jennifer, left, with her sister, Janice.

My sister Janice and I were like, “What can we do to continue this work? What can we do to bring more education and awareness into educational institutions so they can provide learning opportunities where we get as many allies on board in order to create safe spaces?”

So last July, we co-founded Chapters 4 Change.

Our mission is focused on helping to dismantle racism and discrimination through the promotion of reading materials and amplifying authors’ voices, especially authors within the BIPOC and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, individuals with physical differences, and other minority groups.

We create monthly educational resources around adult and child’s books, and once a month we try to host an author interview.

We’ve also been facilitating learning circles. The first one is the one through Georgian, The Savvy Ally learning circle. And we’ve also partnered with the District School Board of Niagara.

Demonstrating belonging and equity in the classroom

As an Early Childhood Education professor, I really try to embed that sense of belonging and equity in my classroom, too.

It’s more than just saying that, it’s demonstrating it.

I do daily wellness checks with my students to see how everybody’s doing as they come into the space, and I let them know it’s a safe space and what’s expected of the room.

I’m trying to embed some components I’ve learned into some of my courses and assignments, and I’m helping develop a guide for other faculty on what changemaking looks like and providing resources.

A person with long brown hair, wearing a black lace dress, smiles and holds an award outside.
Jennifer received the Award of Excellence – Academic from Georgian’s Board of Governors’ Awards of Distinction.

It truly takes a full community to promote change and to make change happen, so I want to say thank you to the many partnerships and people who have been on my journey with me.

“We can all be changemakers. Even very small things can make a huge difference.”

Jennifer Shelswell

Many people get nervous about joining learning circles because they’re afraid they won’t know enough information or that they might say the wrong thing.

I’d really encourage people to step outside their comfort zones and start doing equity work in any way you can.

It doesn’t have to be anything huge to start, we can all be changemakers. Even very small things can make a huge difference.

Jennifer Shelswell, Professor in Early Childhood Education, Human Services and Community Safety at Georgian’s Orillia Campus.

She recently received the Award of Excellence – Academic from Georgian’s Board of Governors’ Awards of Distinction.

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