The late Cerri Banks ’00, G’04, G’06, who served as the University’s Vice President and Deputy to the Senior Vice President of Student Experience, as well as Chair of the School of Education’s Board of Visitors, is among four luminaries who will be recognized with honorary degrees from Syracuse University at the 2023 Commencement on Sunday, May 14, at the JMA Wireless Dome. Banks will be named a Doctor of Humane Letters (posthumous).
An outstanding leader in student affairs and a scholar-practitioner of education, Banks dedicated her life’s work to the betterment of the student experience. She passed away on July 31, 2022; parents Deryk and Cynthia Banks will accept her honorary degree at Commencement.
Banks had a lifetime legacy at Syracuse University: as an engaged alumna, a staunch supporter of her cherished School of Education and the University, and a beloved leader and mentor in the Student Experience division. She was a thought leader in the field of student affairs, recognized for her work at the intersection of scholarship and practice, teaching and research, academic affairs, and student affairs.
A three-time graduate of Syracuse University, Banks earned a bachelor’s degree in Inclusive Elementary and Special Education, a master’s degree in Cultural Foundations of Education and a Ph.D. in Cultural Foundations of Education, all from the School of Education, along with a Certificate of Advanced Study in Women’s and Gender Studies from the College of Arts and Sciences. Her doctoral research focused on student engagement and belonging, examining how Black women undergraduates found ways to succeed on predominantly white college campuses.
From there, her research, scholarship, and leadership continued to develop and deepen into an exemplary professional life of service to student affairs and success. Before returning to Syracuse University in 2021 as Vice President for Student Success and Deputy to the Senior Vice President of Student Experience, Banks had been Skidmore College’s Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Affairs for nearly five years, overseeing all student services, serving on the President’s Cabinet and overseeing the bias response group and the COVID-19 campus planning and response. She served in similar positions at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA, and at William Smith College in Geneva, NY, where she was also Director of the President’s Commission on Inclusive Excellence.
Once at Syracuse, Banks quickly made an impact on the student experience and on University-wide initiatives through leadership roles involving critical initiatives. In addition to her role with Student Experience, Banks served as a member of the three-person interim leadership team charged with advancing the University’s diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility priorities and strategic planning efforts. She co-chaired the search for a new Chief Diversity Officer and played a crucial role in creating open lines of communication between students and administration, serving as a fierce advocate and a mentor for students. As an alumna, she established a national mentoring presence and skillfully chaired the School of Education Board of Visitors for eight years, playing a key role in the school’s Re-design.
Banks was a highly respected and internationally recognized academic leader and a prolific scholar. Among her published works were Black Women Undergraduates, Cultural Capital and College Success (2009); Teaching, Learning, and Intersecting Identities in Higher Education (2012); and No Justice! No Peace! College Student Activism, Race Relations and Media Cultures (2020); as well as numerous articles, book chapters and presentations on culturally relevancy, identity and learning, and other subjects.