About this series: Building Brilliance With … is a periodic Q&A in which we shine a light on a Lawrence University staff member whose work helps support Lawrence’s students and the university’s mission.
Brittany Bell, Ed.D., is all about the student journey.
As assistant dean of students and director of the Diversity and Intercultural Center (D&IC) at Lawrence University, Bell is an important resource for students. In the D&IC, located in Memorial Hall, Bell and her staff provide a welcoming, inclusive, and creative gathering space for students of diverse backgrounds.
She came to Lawrence in early 2019 after six and half years on the staff at St. Norbert College, where she served as assistant director of multicultural student services and then student success librarian.
Since arriving at Lawrence, she has raised the profile of the D&IC, remodeled the space to make it a welcoming place where students can gather, study, and socialize, launched educational programming, and has become a valuable mentor for students and student organizations on campus.
Bell, the mother of three girls with her spouse, Chris, contributed a chapter to the recently published book, Teaching Beautiful Brilliant Black Girls. It was published by SAGE Publications and came out earlier this year. Her chapter, co-written by Ramycia McGhee, is on colorism in the classroom.
She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, a master’s from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, and a doctorate from Edgewood College.
Outside of work, Bell and her family operate the De Pere-based God’s Purpose Apparel, designing and selling clothing and accessories that feature motivational and faith-inspired sayings, with monies being donated to nonprofits serving the homeless community.
We caught up with Bell for a Q&A to talk about her work on campus and what inspires her.
What excites you the most about the work you do with Lawrence students?
It’s getting to know our students, learning more about their stories and aspirations. As I listen, I capture those first moments and then do what I can to support them along their journey. It’s exciting to do it all over again year after year.
As director of the Diversity and Intercultural Center and assistant dean of students, you play an important role in our students’ college journeys beyond the classroom. Why is that so critical to their Lawrence experience?
The best way to describe it is I am an ally, mentor, and I serve as a resource for students. Part of my role is leading the Diversity and Intercultural Center (D&IC). The D&IC is a space where students can come together. We promote programming that educates and encourages conversation, and celebrations that embrace culture and identity in oneself and others. The space and staff at the D&IC provide an inclusive environment for students to thrive personally, socially, and academically. An opportunity we’ve created is the Program for Leadership of Underrepresented Students (PLUS), a peer mentoring program that assists students during their first year.
What drew you to a career working in higher education?
My own experience. During my time in college I learned how significant it was to have college leaders and mentors who were supportive during my journey. One day after completing my internship at a news station, I remember sitting in my mentor’s office. It was the end of my junior year, and after the internship experience, I decided I no longer wanted to be a news reporter. I didn’t know what to do and felt like I had wasted time and money. My mentor sat with me and we talked, and it was that day that I learned that I had options, ones that included me doing what I loved—letting my light shine bright and helping students through their journey.
What did the past year and a half—the pandemic, the social unrest—teach you about the work you and your staff do?
The pandemic and social unrest has magnified the importance of all voices being heard. We learned how important it is to invite peers, colleagues, and friends to join us on this journey as we continue work toward creating change in our community.
What is one thing you do away from campus that helps you recharge your batteries or otherwise brings you joy?
One thing I do when I’m away from campus, besides being with my spouse and children, that brings me joy is when I’m designing. As an artist, I’m always amazed by the process from start to finish. I get to listen to the creativity from others and I take their ideas and form it into something wonderful. Since I was 5 years old, art has always been my go-to, and now when I see people wearing apparel or using business projects I’ve designed, it brings me joy knowing I’m making an impact in multiple ways.