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Getting to Know the McLaughlin College Head: Professor Stevie Bell

Getting to Know the McLaughlin College Head: Professor Stevie Bell

By Suhel Singh Randhawa 

Founded in 1968, McLaughlin College was named in honour of the late Colonel Robert Samuel McLaughlin, a Canadian business pioneer. George Tatham, who was the founding Head of McLaughlin College, had a vision for the college to represent the whole person, and accordingly, arts, music, poetry, and athletics have a prominent place in the College’s student life. Today, we bring to you a one-on-one talk with Professor Stevie Bell, who was recently appointed as the Head of McLaughlin College. 

Stevie Bell with Kids

What I’m hearing from faculty and students in affiliated programs is a clear desire for a student-centric college community. My aim is to see college staff, work/study students, peer mentors, clubs, student council, and faculty fellows all working in concert to support students’ well-being, academic success, professional development, and social experience. 

My favourite quote is from Aristotle: “With writing you provide students with the appearance of wisdom, not with its reality.” I love to quote this back to teachers when I hear them complain about how technologies hamper or threaten student learning. Writing itself is a technology that teachers like Aristotle once viewed with skepticism. Fear of the new and untested is a natural response to technological advances that alter our ways of knowing and communicating. It’s interesting to watch how fear can fuel our reactions to new tech in education. Do we ban generative AI tools like ChatGPT? Or do we reconsider the meaning of authorship as we write even more deeply with these, our new digital pens?

My first real job, other than filing at my mom’s home office or babysitting, was in retail at a small women’s clothing store in my hometown. The owners who ran the shop were kind and supportive, but they were on a diet plan that involved counting calories. They would count the calories in my lunches too, which wasn’t ideal for my 14-year-old wellbeing. I ended up quitting even though my parents wanted me to learn professional commitment. I’m so glad I left. I learned that my health is more important than any job.

A lot of fun! As College Head for McLaughlin, I have the opportunity to support the first-year student experience in LA&PS. I work closely with an amazing team of Student Engagement Coordinators to plan orientation and peer mentorship programming that helps students make York their home away from home. I also get to work with hundreds of LA&PS students across all programs who give their energy and talents as peer mentors, work/study students, and college council leaders.

Cats! They are so underrated. 

The best part of my job is helping students see writing as something that’s totally do-able. It’s not a mysterious art! I also enjoy helping students see the university’s writing expectations in context: standard English for academic purposes is a colonial construct that needs not be accepted at face value as the preeminent mode of communication and knowledge creation. This information tends to help students see that there is room for them--for their cultures, histories, and languages--at the university. Too often the university asks students to reshape themselves in its image. What happens when we flip this dynamic and invite students to reshape the university in their image?

If you’re a reasonable person, cereal.

So many! It’s possible that challenges are fundamental to achievement... I’ve overcome many life challenges because becoming a professor requires a significant amount of work and perseverance. My family has shrunk and grown since the time I began graduate school and earned tenure at York. I’d say having children as a junior faculty member was not the easiest thing in the world. I’m pretty sure I operated on 4 hours of sleep per night for three full years. 

I've travelled to academic conferences across the US and Canada. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa, where I stayed in an ocean-side city Port Elizabeth. It was eye opening to see the remnants of apartheid in the class and racial divisions between the city’s neighborhoods and workforces. I’ve also traveled to Australia, where I visited the big cities as well as smaller towns further into the interior. It was so strange to see wild emus and kangaroos along the side of dusty roads. I have a vivid memory of giant carpenter ants crawling up my legs during a sweaty hike in the hills around Coonabarabran.

Community is key to everyone’s success. You don’t have to do it alone, nor should you! Reach out. We are here with you.