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Shirley is a mother of three attends Greendale to study business classes so she can market her baked goods, specifically her famous brownies. Shirley is a devout Christian and has very sweet, feminine and motherly mannerisms, but also suffers from thinly veiled rage issues—her husband cheated on her and she has an alcoholic past—as well as religious-tolerance issues. She is very friendly to everyone, but sometimes has problems minding her own business or keeping secrets, and she gossips compulsively.
Shirley is a devout Baptist and is the most religious member of the study group whose surface good-natured personality belies some thinly-veiled rage issues ("Pilot"). While she is proud to be an African American woman and a mother she tries not to be defined by just those characteristics. Her age is something she is very sensitive about as she is one of the older study group members and often tries to prove to them that she is still relevant ("The Science of Illusion"). She becomes the "mother hen" of the group often offering unwanted advice or opinions to the other members ("Comparative Religion"). She admits to having a gossiping problem, one which has cost her past relationships by needlessly stirring the pot between her friends ("Social Psychology"). It's been suggested by the study group that she also has a baking problem and tries too hard to be liked by baking goods for everyone ("Remedial Chaos Theory"). She often struggles with tolerance for the other faiths of the non-Christian members of the study group ("Comparative Religion"). She has gone as far as trying to covertly baptize Annie (who is Jewish) at a pool party and suggested they baptize Abed (who is Muslim) while he was in a catatonic state("Biology 101").
Shirley enrolled at Greendale not long after her divorce from her husband Andre who had left her and their children for a stripper named Mysti. Her goal at school was to take business courses which would help her market her baked goods to the masses. During her time at Greendale she became close friends with her study group. In her sophomore year she reconciled with her husband Andre and had another child with him.
Shirley is invited to a Spanish study group by Abed along with a few other classmates. Although she discovers it's fake, she and the rest of the members decide to form a real one. She spends the year struggling to accept the fact her marriage is over and trying to build a new life while balancing the responsibilities left over from her old one. She eventually manages to juggle both her academic life and personal life all while trying to fit in with her new friends in the study group. She becomes close to Britta but comes into conflict with Pierce on a few occasions. The end of the year sees her supporting Britta bid for Tranny Queen and trying to offer the younger woman some advice on her relationship with Jeff.
In Shirley's second year at Greendale she and the study group take Anthropology together. A crazy Halloween party at the beginning of the semester sees Shirley andBen Chang having a one night stand although due to outside influences they have no memory of the incident. Shirley reconciles with her ex-husband Andre Bennettand they start dating. Her past history as an alcoholic is revealed when the study group celebrates Troy's birthday at a bar she used to frequent. She discovers she is pregnant and that due to evidence Troy presents to her, Ben Chang may be the father and not Andre. At the end of the year she gives birth in the Anthropology classroom and the baby's true parentage is revealed. She later takes a vote along with the rest of the study group on whether or not Pierce should be asked to rejoin them in the next semester. In the western themed end of the year school picnic, Shirley participates in what was to be a quick paintball game which turned into an all out war against Greendale's rival school City College. She successfully triggers a trap inside the school's librarywhich eliminates a lot of the invaders. Later, she and Britta using the Campus security patrol cart launch a last ditch assault on the City College machine gun post and succeed in taking out but are unfortunately also eliminated themselves form the game.
In Shirley's third year at Greendale, she and the study group are taking Biology class together. She discovers a shared history she has with Jeff which had a profound impact on both of them. She later helps Abed out by participating in a celebrity impersonator Bar Mitzvah in order to cancel out his debt to Vinnie. Andre proposes to her and they get remmarried in an imptomptu ceremony while at the same time she becomes partners with Pierce in a proposed sandwich shop thanks to the encouragement of Britta. Towards the end of the year, she and the study group are expelled form school thanks to Ben Chang's machinations. Once she is reinstated, she and Pierce are given the go ahead by Dean Pelton to open up "Shirley's Sandwiches" in the school cafeteria. However, Pierce takes her to "Greendale Summer Court" in order to be named sole owner of the shop. Jeff represents her against his old colleage Alan Conner who is representing Pierce. Jeff delivers a patented "Winger speech" that settles the dispute.
In Shirley's fourth year at Greendale, she is now running the Sandwich shop while finishing up her business studies at the school. She and the study group are takingHistory 101 after a registration snafu forces them to abandon their plans on taking another class called "History of Ice Cream". She invites the study goup to attend her Thanksgiving Day dinner with her in-laws. After Ben Chang returns to the campus claiming to have amnesia, she hires him as a worker at Shirley's Sandwiches. It's later discovered that she and Annie are both in contention for valedictorian which causes some tension between the two of them. This is also shown when she and Annie compete to find the perfect date for Abed to go to the Sadie Hawkins dance with. Although nervous about taking a P.E.E. class with Troy she soon finds her experience as a mother has made her a natural P.E. Coach. When Abed investigates the study group members interconnected origins he uncovers a connection between Jeff and Shirley. Back when Jeff was a lawyer he defended a stripper named Mysti who also happened to be the same woman Andre cheated on Shirley with. Towards the end of the school year Shirley, along with the rest of the study group, celebrates Jeff's graduation in a ceremony held inside Group Study Room F.
After graduation, Shirley focused too much on her failing business so Andre left her and took the kids. Once Jeff accepted a teaching job at Greendale, Shirley re-enrolled along with the study group intent on becoming a better business women. Shirley talked Abed through his latest mental breakdown and joined a special "Save Greendale Committee". She reopened "Shirley's Sandwiches" and profited during the "Ass Crack Bandit" crisis. Shirley passed the news of Pierce Hawthorne's death onto her friends and participated in a polygraph investigation into it led by a Mr.Stone. When the inquest finished, Shirley is bequeathed Pierce's time share in Florida along with acanister of his sperm. Shirley created a safe haven from a campus wide game of "Hot Lava" called "Shirley's Island" and says goodbye to a departing Troy. Afterwards, Shirley becomes a popular figure at school thanks to a status ranking app. Later, She and the committee try to move stolen merchandise and helped Buzz Hickey reconnect with his son Hank. When Greendale is about to be sold to the Subway corporation, Shirley and the committee tries to save the school. She helps distract Chang, Richie and Carl while the others continue the mission. She and Buzz are interrogated by a "psychic" Richie. When the school is saved, Shirley joined in on an impromptu celebration that broke out in the cafeteria.
Shirley was unable to re-enroll for another year at Greendale as her had become ill father and she had to relocate to Atlanta, Georgia to care for him. While she was away she left Britta in charge of her sandwich shop as accepted a new job as a personal chef for a private investigator named Mister Butcher. Although he was confined to a wheel chair Butcher was an accomplished local sleuth. Along with her cooking duties Shirley also assisted him on a few of his cases. Despite his success he was haunted by the one case he never solved involving his missing wife. Shirley had to deal with Butcher's constant depression over this which even led him to attempting suicide several times. Shirley continually reminded him of all the good he's done in solving other cases. She also assured him she'd help him until he found his wife or regained the use of his legs. At the end of the school year at Greendale, uncertainty about the future had the Save Greendale committee thinking about what to expect for the next semester. In a few scenarios each member imagined Shirley had rejoined the group. Abed thought she would resume her role as the sassy mother hen if the group. In Dean Pelton version, Shirley and Elroy Patashnik had stereotypical roles as the token African-Americans on the committee.