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Visiting scholar: Dr. Rachel Zellars

Tenure: September 2021 to June 2022

Dr. Rachel Zellars, M.A., J.D., Ph.D., is a lawyer, Senior Research Fellow, and Assistant Professor at Saint Mary's University in the Department of Social Justice & Community Studies. Her research and scholarship focus on the history of Black Canada beginning with the American Revolution; slavery in the Maritimes and the lives of enslaved women; and gender violence and transformative justice. Dr. Zellars is also a nationally recognized expert in critical implicit bias, a term that she coined in conjunction with her extensive, ongoing work with the federal government and numerous private institutions.

In addition to her legal background, Dr. Zellars also holds a master's degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University and a doctorate in education from McGill University. She is currently completing the Harvard Executive Leadership Program.

Since 2014, Dr. Zellars has facilitated dozens of critical implicit bias trainings for government leaders and management, both provincially and federally. She is recognized for her ability to centre local historical contexts, locate implicit bias within living histories of antiblackness, and address barriers to personal and structural change with pointedness and vision. She also regularly facilitates critical implicit bias trainings in a multitude of areas related to social identity and difference.

In 2020, Dr. Zellars completed a five-month project with the Department of Justice Canada, where she designed the data collection stage for ongoing, transformational agency-wide work regarding antiblackness, diversity, and inclusion; designed and facilitated all of their closed employee interview circles; worked closely with their Director of Workplace Wellbeing and Mental Health to ensure proper data collection and respectful facilitation for Indigenous employees in the process; and prepared a final report detailing the findings.

Dr. Zellars has extensive experience as a skilled, compassionate facilitator and community organizer. Her strengths lie in her ability to serve as an active listener and facilitate challenging conversations with openness and nonjudgment, while clearly centring subject matter related to the experience of racialization, cultural values, diversity, and class with great comfort and care. She is trained in mediation, conflict resolution, and restorative and transformative justice approaches to resolving conflict and harm. As a facilitator, she centres a trauma-informed approach within all of her gatherings. Additionally, she is a long-time student of somatics and embodiment, two approaches to leadership for organizers that, as movement leader Prentis Hemphill writes, expand "embodied learning and relational transformation skills to broaden our community's capacity and practice of just relationships."

As an organizer for the last 20 years, Dr. Zellars' community work is committed to supporting survivors of gender-based violence through transformative justice approaches to healing and responding to harm. She continues to study, practise, and facilitate in the context of transformative justice nationally. In 2020, Dr. Zellars co-founded the Black Lives Matter Solidarity Fund in Nova Scotia, a mutual aid fund responding to the realities of COVID-19, which has raised and distributed over $300,000 to date. Additionally, she co-founded the African Nova Scotian Freedom School in Halifax in 2020 to honour the rich legacies of African Nova Scotian freedom fighters, educators, and community leaders throughout the province.

In 2021, Dr. Zellars was named as the inaugural visiting scholar at the Canada School of Public Service through the Jocelyne Bourgon Visiting Scholar Initiative. In this role, she will help to shape the learning curriculum offered to federal public servants on topics such as unconscious bias and anti-Black racism.

Originally a farm girl from upstate New York, Dr. Zellars has lived and worked in numerous US cities, as well as in Nigeria, the South Pacific and Montreal. She now lives and works in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with her three teenage children.

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