UVicEd PhD candidate chosen for Canadian Excellence Research Chair cohort

Chelsea Thomas and her four children.
UVicEd PhD candidate Chelsea Thomas, alongside her four children.

Understanding who we are and the people around us gives us a better understanding of our local and global community. CERC Migration is undertaking the i am... project to take a closer look at the stories that young Canadians can tell us about who we are and who we want to be.

UVic Education PhD candidate Chelsea Thomas has been selected to participate in the competitive new cohort project in collaboration with the Toronto International Film Festival. The project is a Digital Storytelling Research Project of the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration, at Ryerson University. After submitting a proposal exploring her sense of identity and belonging (or not belonging), Thomas was selected to join the project this fall. Now Thomas is completely the five-month journey with the inaugural i am... cohort, receiving mentorship and support to produce an engaging and creative video of our unique story.

Read the below Q&A to learn more about Thomas and the i am... project.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your area of research?

A. I was born and raised on the traditional territories of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations. I am a Canadian-Afro-Caribbean-Celtic woman. Daughter of Catherine Thomas and Winston Dowrich Jr. and Granddaughter of Dorothy White and Garth and Barb Thomas, and Rita Scantlebury and Winston and Sonia Dowrich Sr. I am a mother of four and aunty to many more. Our family embraces unschooling as a philosophy for life, meaning that our children do not attend formal school nor do we necessarily adhere to curriculum in our educational processes. This way of knowing-being-doing is intricately connected to my work as a doctoral candidate in the Faculty of Education at UVic.

Using autoethnography, my research is exploring my lived experiences with poverty, youth school disengagement and unschooling to ask questions about social class and belonging in K-12 education through a decolonial womanist lens. I chose the PhD program at UVic because of its flexibility with only four required courses that enables me to prioritize motherhood and maintain my commitments to my family while pursuing graduate studies.

Q. What is the i am project? How did you find out about it?

A. i am… is a Digital Storytelling Research Project of the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Migration and Integration, at Ryerson University led by project directors: Anna Triandafyllidou, and Cyrus Sundar Singh. This fall, CERC Migration invited graduate students from across Canada to submit proposals to be part of an exciting opportunity to capture their creative reflection in a three-minute video exploring their sense of identity and belonging or not belonging. I received notice of the project through a UVic Faculty of Education email. We were told that the selection panel was overwhelmed with many strong proposals and that those of us who made the final selection provided a well-articulated story that could be expressed well through video. 

Our inaugural i am... cohort has now begun an exciting five-month journey where we are receiving mentorship and support to produce an engaging and creative video of our unique story. Updates for the project will be provided during the course of the project and can be found here.

Q. What was the focus of your application? 

A. The focus of my two page proposal responded to the following questions: 1) Who do I think I am? 2) How do others see me? And 3) How do I wish to be seen?

Inspired by the following quote by Yomi Tomusha, “I am complete, and I embody layers of identities that belong together. I am made of layers not fractions,” the intent of my application was to capture the nuances of my hyphen experience growing up in Canada as a mixed ancestry, black-bodied mother-researcher-educator-activist from a complex social class background with poverty-class roots.

Q. What are the next steps now that you’ve been selected?

A. Since the beginning of November, we have gathered once or twice weekly to attend workshops in an online format. The mentors and project directors have brought a wide range of skills and expertise to guide us as we create a three minute digital storytelling. Over the next few months we will collect raw footage and edit to our final cut stage, at which point a professional editing company will polish off the finished product. I am learning so much about digital storytelling and look forward to using what I’ve learned in the future as well.