Dr. Jama Shelton joined the Silberman School of Social Work faculty in Fall 2016 as an Assistant Professor. Prior to arriving at Silberman, Dr. Shelton was a postdoctoral research fellow at the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research, NYU Silver School of Social Work. They were also Deputy Executive Director of the True Colors Fund, a leading non-profit organization that works to end LGBT youth homelessness.
Dr. Shelton earned their Ph.D. from the CUNY Graduate Center and the Silberman School of Social Work, and their MSW from NYU.
Dr. Shelton is a highly accomplished scholar and practitioner who has worked in many different settings to address homelessness among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. In particular, their research focuses on the experiences of transgender and gender-expansive young people who are homeless or unstably housed. Silberman faculty members S. J. Dodd, Deborah Tolman, and Gerald Mallon advised Dr. Shelton’s dissertation, which used phenomenological inquiry to explore the meaning of trans-affirming housing in young people’s own voices, along with policy analysis to understand LGBT youth inclusion efforts in federal housing policy.
“I want to broaden the conversation about circumstances causing LGBT youth homelessness,” Dr. Shelton says. Their research shows that many unstably housed LGBT youth have run away from intolerant family homes – but their individual backgrounds are not all that determine their outcomes. “The barriers LGBT youth face are structural,” Dr. Shelton emphasizes with regard to housing stability, “and rooted in cisgender frameworks and expectations that many people haven’t even thought about.”
While situating those barriers in a context of systemic inequality, Dr. Shelton remains undaunted in their commitment to pushing them. “Now is really a moment for LGBT youth,” they affirm; “Policymakers are placing a new focus on youth and families,” which creates a unique opportunity for “[implementing] housing models that truly work for these young people.”
This engagement with policy and praxis guides all of Dr. Shelton’s work. Reflecting the research tradition at Silberman, and in the social work profession, Dr. Shelton concertedly develops their findings into a platform for social change. They have done so throughout their career in several practice capacities; as the director of a partnership between the True Colors Fund and Covenant House; and as the leader of the collaborative LGBT Youth Homelessness Prevention Initiative based at the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which brought together a total of six government agencies.
Dr. Shelton’s zeal for action and inclusion carries over to the classroom, which they strive to make “integrated and entwined” with their work in the field. “I try to bring the voices I encounter in the field, into the classroom conversation,” says Dr. Shelton, elaborating that “I bring in practice leaders and others who know more than I do; and I try to bring not only contemporary events but also contemporary methods and media, which all strengthen the links between the class and the communities we’re talking about.”
In addition to bringing the world of social work to students, Dr. Shelton also helps students bring students’ best work to the world of social work. They express, “I love to help [a] student realize they are a creative person, to facilitate their identifying a passion and their saying ‘Wow, I can go create something’ driven by what they want to learn.” At Silberman, Dr. Shelton teaches many classes including the child welfare platform course.
For Dr. Shelton, being part of the Silberman faculty is “like coming home”, although in a new way. “I really believe in public education, and I really believe in community-based practice,” Dr. Shelton articulates. “Silberman is rooted in social justice. It will enable me to practice what I preach.”
The Silberman School of Social Work is very excited to have Dr. Jama Shelton on the faculty.