Introducing Jandell-Jamela Nicholas

Jandell-Jamela Nicholas is a 4th-year Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University of Toronto. She is the recipient of a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Doctoral Scholarship and works as a Teaching Assistant in the Department of Geography & Planning since 2018. Her research engages the experiences of Black and Indigenous women survivors of domestic violence within the spaces of emergency shelters in Toronto. Her work investigates how Indigenous and Black women who survive inter-partner violence and who temporarily reside in emergency shelters in Toronto can help to inform the planning and design of shelters as spaces for healing, self-determination, and empowerment. As a critical human geographer, Jandell examines the politics of gendered violence, inequality, race, and space.

One of the fundamental tenets of her research is storytelling. She believes that storytelling speaks directly to Indigenous women’s connection with the land and the ruptures of cultural continuity that occurred with the systemic dismantlement of Indigenous ways of life. She also believes storytelling helps Black women feel empowered to share their experiences of the systemic misogyny and racism they endure. Like other Indigenous and Black scholars, activists, and people who are concerned with issues of gendered social justice and change, she undertakes this work because she cares about the self-determination and empowerment of Indigenous and Black women.

Please tell us a bit about yourself (personal, academic background, and current profession)

My name is Jandell-Jamela Nicholas. I am in the fourth year of my Ph.D. in the Department of Geography and Planning. I am the first of two girls, the older sister in the family. My parents are working-class Trinidadians of Afro-Caribbean descent. My father was a sergeant in Trinidad and Tobago’s Defense Force, and my mother is a Registered Nurse at Port-Of-Spain General Hospital. I grew up in the hills of Paramin, a small community on the outskirts of Port-Of-Spain, where the locals, including my mother, spoke fluent French. At eighteen, I married my high school sweetheart and relocated to Canada. You can find me roaming the aisles of Home Sense, Ikea, and H&M Home when I am not writing. I love organizing, designing, and decorating space. I hope that one day I will become an interior decorator.

What drew you to CSES?

In 2012, I worked as a temporary factory worker. That same year, I was encouraged by one of my friends who graduated from the Transitional Year Programme (TYP) to apply to the program. The following year, 2013, I applied and got accepted into the program. It was the best decision I made. As a TYP student, I enrolled in NEW240-Introduction to Equity Studies. The theories, concepts, and processes explored in this course (colonization, settler-colonization, racial capitalism, racism, white supremacy, sexism, globalization, migration, dispossession, gentrification, accumulation, occupation, revolution, and resistance to ongoing systemic violence) gave me a deeper understanding of the socio-economic dimensions of my life as well as global and local life. In addition, I was supported and encouraged by professors Stanley Doyle-Wood and June Larkin. They provided essential teachings, welcomed my questions, and acknowledged my input. Those commitments bespeak their care. In truth, Dr. Doyle-Wood and Dr. Larkin made my transition into my academic career at the University of Toronto easier.

Tell us about the work that you do. How has CSES/ES influenced your academic, professional, and/or personal journey? What are some accomplishments or achievements that you are most proud of?

My Ph.D. study is near and dear to my heart partly because, as a Black woman living under ongoing settler statecraft, I am passionate about creating livable futures for Indigenous and Black women, especially those who survive systemic and intimate violence. Indigenous and Black women’s survival is intimately connected in Canada. Therefore, my research is situated at the interface of Western research methodologies and Indigenous ways of knowing. I have designed a two-pillar research approach that combines auto-ethnography and the Indigenous method of knowledge production through storytelling. My methodological approach is largely guided by qualitative concerns, given that I am interested in the stories of Indigenous and Black women to help inform the planning and design of shelters as spaces for healing, self-determination, and empowerment of Indigenous as well as non-Indigenous women who are survivors of domestic violence. This is an Indigenous and critical perspective to equity and social justice that moves us away from totalizing accounts of the welfare state and more towards the intricacies of its workings at the individual, family, and community levels.

In terms of my academic and professional journeys, Equity Studies offered foundational empirical, theoretical, and conceptual contributions. The frameworks, theories, and concepts have helped me conceptualize the power imbalances relating to race, ethnicity, gender, sex, religion, local and international capitalist and patriarchal policies, and politics that disproportionately affect marginalized peoples/communities. My work as a critical human geographer is grounded in Indigenous and Black feminist teachings, along with anti-colonial, anti-racism, Black geographies, and land sovereignty frameworks to illuminate the value of personal experience, (re)-claim the voices of subjugated knowledge and ensure equity within my research and the field of Geography. My work as a Teaching Assistant is to create a safe learning environment. In the space of the classroom, there is no threat of extractions. The students do not compete for intellectual superiority. They have opportunities to exchange knowledge and ideas that might be helpful as they learn from each other, build connections, and form trust-worthy relationships. I remind the students that it is not about the “best” and the “brightest” because some of our brightest minds do not have access to post-secondary education. Systemic barriers in education have forced them to drop out of school.

When I relocated to Canada, I had educational experience in Trinidad. I had neither Canadian credentials nor Canadian work experience. For these reasons, I worked as a temporary factory worker for several years. This year, 2023, is my ninth year at the University of Toronto. I am proud of the following accomplishments: I completed the Transitional Year Programme (TYP) eight-month access-to-University program in 2014. I obtained my Bachelor of Arts with High Distinction in 2018. In 2019 I fulfilled the requirements to earn my Master of Arts degree and began my Ph.D. study in the Fall semester of that same year. In addition, I received numerous awards that recognized my scholastic achievements, such as the Karen Brathwaite Award, Professor Horace Campbell TYP Co-Founder Award, the Frank Walwyn Award in Caribbean Studies, the Ivy Marjorie Maynier Award, the Jewish Immigrant Mother Prize, the United Network of Indo-Caribbean Toronto Youths Scholarship, the Paul Matthews Memorial Scholarship in the Humanities, the Streadwick Award in Caribbean Studies, the Jackman Scholars -In-Residence Award, the Frederick I. Case Book Prize in Caribbean Studies, the Kay Armatage Graduate Women and Gender Studies Entrance Prize, the Geography & Planning-Black Student Award, the James T. Lemon Memorial Scholarship in Geography and the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Doctoral Scholarship. In truth, I am most proud of the Karen Brathwaite Award. Karen Brathwaite is a founding faculty member of the Transitional Year Programme. She is also an advocate for equity and anti-racism in education for over twenty years. I am deeply indebted to Karen Brathwaite, the faculty, and the staff of TYP.