Empowering through inclusion: Jenae Tien’s fight for diversity in media and education

Empowering through inclusion: Jenae Tien's fight for diversity in media and education

Jenae Tien is a passionate entrepreneur and author who is committed to creating safe and inclusive spaces for children to explore and embrace cultural diversity.

As the founder of the social enterprise Expand Your Library, Jenae is dedicated to normalising conversations around allyship, cultural diversity and inclusion in the education space through workshops and resources

She is also a diversity and structural change consultant, media and communication professional, and a multimedia producer.

Jenae is a mother of two and is currently pursuing a diploma in Education, with a focus on autism, at QUT.

I was born in the USA, and spent much of my life going between the US and Australia. Both countries are very much part of me. Despite their similar climates and lifestyles, I feel Queensland is more relaxed compared with California’s hustle and bustle. While there’s more representation of African-American people in America,  Australia is very multicultural too. They’re both very special to me.

My interest in promoting diversity in literature and visual materials started from personal experience. My daughter was just three when she encountered negative comments about her skin colour which left her feeling sad about her appearance. As a woman of colour I expected to have conversations about race with her, but not so soon.

I wondered how other parents and educators were tackling these conversations and did some research.

Realising the need for positive and early conversations about diversity, I wanted to take action. I decided to create a platform to normalise discussions about race and culture, making them enjoyable and accessible for children and adults alike.

Empowering through inclusion: Jenae Tien's fight for diversity in media and education

Expand Your Library started with simple conversations among mothers and kindergarten teachers about the need for inclusive books. My son’s kindergarten teacher approached me during Black History Month, wanting to celebrate our culture in a positive way. We brainstormed ideas beyond the typical narratives of struggle and oppression, focusing instead on the achievements of African American figures in various fields. These discussions sparked the idea of sharing resources and recommendations with other parents and educators.

Next, I created Deck of Diversity, a resource using flashcards that provided a visual entry point for discussions about diversity and included affirmations, explanations, and questions on the back. The response was overwhelming, with requests for workshops and school visits pouring in. My first kindy workshop left me so energised and exhausted that I took a nap in the car afterwards! Seeing children embrace their uniqueness and celebrate their differences made it all worthwhile.

In my professional life, I’ve had the privilege of working in various roles in the media industry, from radio to television and multimedia production. I’ve enjoyed the endless variety of knowing that no two days will be the same. Despite the industry’s emphasis on impartiality, I’ve come to recognize the influence of personal biases and values on reporting. Prioritising marginalised voices and striving for balanced representation has always been at the forefront of my work. Ensuring everyone gets a fair go is a tricky line that you’re walking every day. 

One way I believe the media can contribute to diversity is enabling marginalised groups to be represented positively in the media. Everyone wants to have an opportunity to tell their stories rather than only be approached when there’s crime or sadness or trauma. I think the way to fix this is to incorporate more journalists of a diverse cultural background within the industry because they can show us different perspectives based on their lived experiences.

Reflecting on my journey, I’ve faced personal challenges, including a period of severe illness that forced me to reevaluate my priorities. I had my amazing friends and family and my husband to support me but I had to realise I can’t reach my goals with nothing left inside of me. I quickly learned that I needed to stop, slow down and enjoy motherhood and getting my health back. Through resilience and self-reflection, I learned the importance of prioritising my well-being and recognizing my worth beyond career achievements.

Now, as a mother, my motivation stems from my children. Their enthusiasm and curiosity inspire me to create a better future where diversity is celebrated and opportunities are accessible to all. Initiatives like Expand Your Library and Deck of Diversity are my way of empowering children and adults to embrace inclusivity and foster understanding.

As I continue on my journey, I hope to inspire others to advocate for diversity and equity, creating a more inclusive society for generations to come. Through storytelling, workshops, and resources, I aim to make a lasting impact and encourage others to join me in this important work.

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