Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 began as vice president of student affairs in July. She formerly served as senior associate dean of students and Title IX coordinator at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.
How will being a Kenyon alumna help you in your new role at Kenyon?
I have a sense of the essential qualities of Kenyon, which is exceedingly helpful as I embark on this new role at Kenyon. I’m pleased to say I don’t think those essential qualities have changed in the two-plus decades since I’ve graduated, but there have been some very welcome changes in other ways, such as diversity. This is a much more diverse institution, both in terms of the student body as well as the faculty and staff, than when I was a student in the late ’80s and early ’90s. But I think just an appreciation of the College as a whole and understanding of its history and values helps to inform my work.
What does the integration of Student Affairs with academic and campus life mean to you and how do you plan to achieve that?
On a structural level, it means ensuring that people in the provost’s office are talking with people in Student Affairs, and vice versa. I think on a more tactical level, as we consider implementing some of the projects and initiatives associated with the Kenyon 2020 plan, such as a first-year experience, we need to make sure we’re working very closely together and those two areas are integrated. Because clearly learning happens outside of the classroom, just like it does inside of the classroom. Just trying to be aware of and cognizant of those opportunities and then figuring out how we can maybe implement some new ones or enhance the existing ones.
What will the integration look like on a student level?
There’s the writing and thinking pre-o program run out of The Kenyon Review. There’s also a leadership pre-o program run out of Student Activities. Is there a chance to maybe connect those in some way? Is there some opportunity for a faculty member to be involved in the leadership program? Are there opportunities for Student Affairs to be involved in the Writing and Thinking program? So that’s the sort of stuff that I think could really enhance the student experience overall, and help students to see that those connections can be really beneficial to their time at Kenyon overall. That, again, there isn’t just this divide of “well, this is what happens in the classroom and this is what happens outside of the classroom.”
How will it benefit students?
It will enhance their overall experience. I think that students will start to see and understand that those connections exist. So if it’s a student-athlete and they see that their coach is involved with an English professor, then they will maybe think of a project that they might be able to actually speak with both of those individuals and see where there are those synergies.
How do you plan to connect with students so they help inform your decisions and changes in your new role?
It’s really important for students to be involved in those decision-making processes. When we talk about putting together a committee to look at the first-year experience, [it’s important] that there be student representation on that committee. That’s absolutely going to happen. I am making a concerted effort already to just get out and about on campus. It’s very easy to sit in my office and just focus on doing work, but it’s a lot more fun and more informative to be out talking with students firsthand. I’m trying to be better about connecting via social media, so I’m learning as I go with tweeting. I will be showing up at a lot of events across the campus, just to meet with students. If you invite me to something, I will go.
What’s your favorite part about being back at Kenyon?
What’s not to love about being back at Kenyon? This is a spectacular place. I’m having a lot of fun. I think the community is so welcoming and gracious and my staff has been very patient with all of my incessant questions. I think the best part is the energy and the excitement that exists at Kenyon today, and the idea that all of us can be a part of ensuring its future.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.