Whenever I find myself on the Skidmore College campus, I immediately feel better about the world. And after chatting with Cerri Banks, the college’s seemingly fearless dean of students and vice president for student affairs, I have faith that the future’s going to be a bright one. Banks compares her job to running a household: “You’re in charge of making sure everyone’s healthy and happy and on task,” she says. And like any parent, she’s got a mind-blowing list of responsibilities. The big difference? She has 2500 kids, who leave the nest every four or so years and are replaced by another 2500, ad infinitum. The administrative duties that fall within Banks’ purview include everything from managing the residence halls, athletics department and student counseling to health services, on campus religious/spiritual life and the international student body. Sometimes, she has to make controversial decisions such as banning smoking and tobacco on campus, which she did last January (yes, puffing, vaping, hookah-ing and bong-ing are banned everywhere on campus, indoors and out).
The job might sound like a lot to shoulder, but Banks has had a lot of practice: Before she landed in Saratoga Springs three years ago, she was Mount Holyoke College’s vice president for student affairs and dean of the college, and prior to that, dean at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. And she’s been a campus role model for even longer. Growing up in Rochester, NY, Banks started out as a part-time student at Monroe Community College, and cleaned houses and worked for Citibank’s Student Loan Corporation to make ends meet. With unwavering support from her family and a number of key mentors, she eventually earned a PhD in Education from Syracuse University. “I wanted to make a real difference in the world, and I knew that college was a pathway for me,” says Banks. “It altered the course of my life; it opened up doors and opportunities for me.”
Even with the job at hand, she’s still an academic at heart: Banks taught a multicultural education class at the college last year, and her scholarly publications include a book, entitled Black Women Undergraduates: Cultural Capital And College Success.
Despite the rigors of the job, Banks has found ample time to enjoy Saratoga living. Off campus, you’ll find her browsing the latest fashions at Caroline & Main, Violet’s of Saratoga and Lifestyles of Saratoga. “I love shopping at the small boutiques downtown,” she says. You can also find her enjoying a meal at her favorite restaurant, The Mouzon House, or digging into a chopped salad at The West Side Sports Bar & Grill.
But catch her on campus, and she’s all about the students, attending their concerts and athletic events. “I have 2500 young people who keep me very, very busy every day,” Banks
says. She believes in her students. And that’s downright inspiring.