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Where do you consider to be your hometown?

Matthews, North Carolina

Janae Shaheed smiling and wearing a copper-colored cardigan.
Janae Shaheed

What is your degree program?

Department of Psychology and Neuroscience; Developmental psychology, Ph.D. program

What motivates you?

There’s a quote that I keep on a Post-it note above my desk that has been a sort of mantra or reminder of why I do the work I do: “Someday, I think, I will, with my own full shape, fit into all the places that, at first glance, feel too small for me.” — Navja Sol, The First Time; Love InshAllah. When I first came across the quote during undergrad, as a Black, queer Muslim, I was struggling to find a place where I could be my whole self and fully accepted, and this quote served as a reminder that I have the right to exist in my “own full shape.” I don’t have to shrink important parts of me to fit mainstreams society’s standards. This quote serves as encouragement to take up space, even when I feel uncomfortable, and strive to create inclusive and welcoming environments. My research on positive development among Black LGBTQ youth and young adults also directly relates to this idea being able to honor our full identities. I focus on how youth and young adults navigate perceived conflicts between their race and sexual orientation and/or gender identity to develop an integrated sense of self. A large part of that research also considers how family and community contexts can function as supportive resources to facilitate positive identity development, emphasizing these ideas of love, inclusion, and acceptance. When I think back to what I want the impact of my research to be it’s really rooted in helping create environments where we can exist in our “own full shapes.”

Why did you choose UNC-Chapel Hill when deciding on a program/place to study?

The biggest factor driving my decision to attend UNC-Chapel Hill was my lab, the StAR Lab. My advisor, Dr. Shauna Cooper is someone who encourages students to stay true to their passions and unique perspectives, and it was important to me to be supported by someone who will allow me to pursue academia without losing myself/pressuring me to conform to disciplinary norms. Also, after meeting my lab mates who are now my close friends, I knew it would be a collaborative and supportive environment. Through the ups and downs of graduate school, my lab has been my greatest support system and the biggest cheerleaders.

How have you built community at Carolina?

The Initiative for Minority Excellence, has been instrumental to me finding community outside of my lab and department at UNC-Chapel Hill. Participating in Writing Wednesdays, Sisterhood of Empowerment in Academe (SEA), and Black Graduate and Professional Students Association (BGPSA) has helped me connect with other graduate students and feel less alone.

Describe DSS in five words!

A home away from home.

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