Join us each month as we explore New College with Principal Bonnie McElhinny.
We debut our Principal’s Corner series in a place that has no actual corners to speak of – the New College quad, a space that is defiantly not a quad in the traditional sense of the term. New College’s central outdoor courtyard is the perfect place to enjoy the last days of warmer temperatures. Nestled in the serpentine space between Wetmore Hall and Wilson Hall, the quad serves as a conversation of sorts between two buildings which each have a distinct voice. It’s a central gathering place for many social events throughout the academic year, and during the sunny days of summer, it’s also where you can often find New College Principal Bonnie McElhinny.
“I spend as much time out here as possible”, says McElhinny. “I truly believe that it is the heart of the college and the embodiment of so much of what makes New College unique – a quad that is just a little outside the box.”
For McElhinny, the quad is more than a place to grab a quiet moment during a busy day. It’s a space she thoroughly incorporates into her New College life. This includes the curriculum for her first-year course “Living on the Water”. For one of their class assignments, students create poetry about water, which they then recite outdoors. The quad’s winding pathway provides a perfect stage for these performances, as it streams through the space much like the water that inspired them.
While these paths are well travelled by students navigating their way around the college, McElhinny feels that the quad is often underutilized as a gathering space. This is something she would very much like to change. Tentative plans for the revitalization of the quad were created prior to the college’s 50th anniversary, but the need for a central plaza and year-round student space was a more pressing concern. However, ideas of how to use this area more effectively continue to be a conversation for the college’s administration. One of McElhinny’s ideas is to initiate conversations with Indigenous members of the U of T community about thoughtful use of space, place, and territory.
In the meantime, McElhinny suggests that one way to increase the personality of the quad could be to give it a name that better captures its spirit. Perhaps one day the college will run a campaign to give the New College quad a name properly befitting a space that, like the college it belongs to, is less about corners and more about curves.
This article first appeared in the October 2019 issue of New(s) Update. Click here to see the full newsletter.