Winters are still an adjustment for Governors State University (GSU) counseling professor Dr. Tamekia Bell who moved to Chicago from California State University in 2015, but she quickly fell in love with the Windy City––winters and all.
Now celebrating a year and a half in the College of Education at Governors State, Bell has been honored for her success in the region as well, having received the Illinois Mental Health Counselors Association Distinguished Service Award for her service and significant contributions toward raising professional counseling standards for all counselors in Illinois.
Being involved comes easy to Bell as she enjoys being around people and working towards a common goal.
“I found one of my gifts is connecting with people and working with people,” Bell said.
Bell is abundantly involved in her field, as the Professional Development Chair for the Illinois Counseling Association (ICA,) Secretary for the Illinois Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Counseling, Chapter Faculty Advisor for Chi Sigma Iota—Gamma Sigma Upsilon, President of the Illinois Counselor Education and Supervision, and Professional Trustee of Multicultural Counseling and Social Justice Concerns for the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Counseling.
This caring and involved nature is what she incorporates in her lessons to students at Governors State University.
GSU Newsroom: What brought you to GSU?
Bell: Some of my colleagues had raved about GSU so I applied. I knew there was stability here. I met some of the faculty and staff and it was great. What appealed to me was the university’s mission. When walking around campus, I noticed the diversity of the students and staff, which I appreciate. You don’t see that much. You can have diverse students, but that’s not always reflected in faculty and staff. So seeing both sides of that was refreshing and it was important to me as a woman of color in academia. It drew me in and was a great fit for me.
GSU Newsroom: You hold several leadership positions in counseling across the nation. How do you incorporate this experience into the classroom?
Bell: One of the things I tell students is the importance of networking. All of my leadership positions have come from meeting someone at a conference with similar interests and then either presenting together or working together on a project. From there they invite me to committees, or advise me to run for leadership positions. That’s where my leadership started and that’s how I build it into my teaching. You never know who knows someone or who is looking for a position. One of the leadership positions I’m in is a national committee, which means people knew me and valued or appreciated my work across the nation. I never thought I would get the leadership positions I did, it just happened that way.
GSU Newsroom: How about your research?
Bell: One of my main areas of concentration is LGBTQ issues. My work with the LGBTQ+ has been and will continue to be a lifelong journey for me. It started in my master's program when I took my Social and Cultural Diversity course. My eyes were opened to the oppression and marginalization of LGBTQ+ individuals. Over time, I continued to increase my competency in the area and how I can advocate for, with, and on behalf of LGBTQ+ individuals.
Being cis-gendered, meaning my gender corresponds with my birth sex, and heterosexual, I have to recognize my privilege which are unearned benefits I receive because of social identities I hold. In order for me to do that, I need to interact and engage with the community I want to serve. For example, as a heterosexual woman, my relationship with my partner is "normal" and "accepted." I do not worry about displaying affectionate with my partner in public. Should we decide to get married, I do not have to worry about being denied services because of who I love.
I tell students, our textbooks give us a great foundation but they don’t paint the picture of the community and those you work with. You have to engage in the community to see that. That’s why I get involved. I can’t talk about competency with my students if I’m not doing it. And we may not always be welcomed with open arms. When I first started being involved in the LGBTQ community there was resistance which I now understand by how I was perceived. Thinking of potential religious abuse they may have experienced and the idea that a lot of black people are not affirming of LGBTQ community, that’s what they saw in me whether that was true of me or not. And I have to understand what that means to them. I tell my students, work on yourself, do your homework, research, and work with the community.
GSU Newsroom: How do you assess if your work is successful?
Bell: I like assessment. We’re in the age of accountability and we have to be accountable for what we’re doing to make sure things work. I ask my students, ‘How are you evaluating if your client is meeting their treatment goals? How do we know our theory and interventions are working?’ We have clinical judgment but we need evidence and to collect data to evaluate their progress, it can’t all be subjective. We need numbers. It can be overwhelming, but I want to know if what I’m doing is working. Is my client improving? How are my student’s doing? How is this class preparing them?
I’m helping with the assessment data for the accreditation report for The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP), the counseling accrediting body, and I’m always thinking ‘How are our students meeting the learning outcomes? What are we doing with the data, are we changing our programs?’ We need to be reflective.
GSU Newsroom: What’s next?
Bell: I’ve done a lot of service which I love, and now I want to use what I’ve learned and built and make it into something publishable. Connecting is my gift. Not everyone can connect and be approachable, now I need to navigate that into something deliverable. I’ll also be traveling to Burapha University in Thailand this January with students for the 4th International Behavioral and Mental Health Conference. We'll be immersing ourselves in the culture of Thailand. We’re getting involved.