University Stories | Fall 2023

Dr. Gillian Siddall Takes the Stage

Lakehead’s New President has Bold Ideas

"I want to give back to the university that's given so much to me," says Dr. Gillian Siddall, Lakehead's new president and vice-chancellor.

"My Lakehead story began in 1998 when I accepted a position as an English professor before becoming the founding director of the Teaching and Learning Centre and, ultimately, the dean of our Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities for six years."

Head and shoulders view of Dr. Gillian Siddall outside wearing a black blazer and a white and black patterned scarf

On July 1, 2023, Dr. Siddall commenced her tenure as Lakehead's eighth president—and our first president with a humanities background. Her area of research is Canadian literature, and she says that one of her favourite works is Ann-Marie MacDonald's novel Fall on Your Knees.

"It's an epic story about a troubled family in Nova Scotia that takes on issues of inter-generational abuse, racism, sexism, and homophobia, as well as the healing and generative effects of improvised music."

Dr. Siddall has an HBA and an MA in English from the University of Guelph and a PhD in English from the University of Western Ontario. Jazz is an equally important part of her life and work—she says that two of her favourite songs are "Lush Life" by Billy Strayhorn and "St. Thomas" by Sonny Rollins.

Her research also focuses on musical improvisation—both within and outside literary contexts—and she's a talented jazz vocalist, choral singer, and co-founder of the Guelph Jazz Festival.

"I love the way jazz, particularly improvised jazz music, relies on collaboration and collective listening and music-making," Dr. Siddall says. "It can be surprising, affirming, humorous, and moving. Musicians and listeners alike can move outside of conventional modes of thought and expression, and that can lead to productive change."

This gives her a unique approach to the decision-making process—an ensemble ethos with the aim of fostering greater engagement and increased support for Lakehead.

Dr. Siddall has successfully used this method in her previous roles as the vice-president, academic and provost of the Ontario College of Art and Design University from 2015-18 and in her most recent position as the president of the Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

"I believe in the skills and talents of each person and recognize that our collective contributions inevitably exceed our individual work and performance," Dr. Siddall explains.

She similarly believes that universities can help create positive change by addressing the major challenges of our time.

"Profound transformation is necessary to address huge global problems including the climate catastrophe and social and economic inequalities," she said in the How I Lead Change podcast in 2022.

Despite these challenges, Dr. Siddall is confident that Lakehead will advance its priorities in reconciliation, climate action, equity, diversity, and inclusion, and excellence in research, teaching, and learning.

"There is so much to build on," she says. "In addition to our strong international presence and stellar research record, Lakehead gives students a small university experience combined with an incredibly diverse array of programs. For me, Lakehead is a really magical place."

Dr. Siddall, her partner Laurel, and their golden retrievers Maisie and Callum spent the summer reuniting with friends and family. It was also a productive period during which Dr. Siddall met with members of Lakehead Orillia and Lakehead Thunder Bay as well as members of the Fort William First Nation and the Rama First Nation—on whose territories our two campuses are located—and community organizations throughout these regions.

"I've missed being here," Dr. Siddall says. "The opportunity to return to Lakehead has filled me with purpose and joy."

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