‘Inside UVA’: Four Months In, New Student Affairs Officer Reflects on Role

May 1, 2024 By Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu Jane Kelly, jak4g@virginia.edu

Audio: ‘Inside UVA’: Four Months In, New Student Affairs Officer Reflects on New Role(31:48)

This week on President Ryan’s podcast, UVA’s new Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer Kenyon Bonner shares his passion for working with students. It starts, he said, from a point of “mutual respect.”

Transcript

Kenyon Bonner joined the University of Virginia as its new vice president and chief student affairs officer in January, bringing along almost 20 years of service to students at the University of Pittsburgh.

With four months under his belt at the University, Bonner joined UVA President Jim Ryan on Ryan’s podcast, “Inside UVA.”

Bonner was clear in his philosophy when it comes to working with students. “I've always viewed students as adults that are capable of doing way more than maybe the public perceives them to be able to do,” he told Ryan. So, he approaches every interaction with mutual respect. “I think it just sets a tone that I’m not talking down to students. I’m talking to them.”

Bonner’s career in higher education began as a residence hall director at Kent State University. 

The residence hall, which was populated by former high school athletes and student-athletes, had the worst discipline record of all the halls at the time. “They just put me in there and said, ‘Good luck,’” Bonner recalled.

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So Bonner set out to change the culture. He said he knew the most important thing he could do was build community and a positive sense of identity.

“We started just talking to students about this being, like, the academic hall and our community is really interested in social events,” he said. “As students started to hear that, they started to believe it and that’s when we became … a hall that didn’t really manifest itself in what people had called us or the students in terms of having discipline problems, but a fun, active, engaged community.

“I just fell in love with the idea of pulling students together, them believing in this vision of who we wanted to be,” he told Ryan. He still carries that philosophy today.

Bonner was a first-generation college student and remembers the struggles he faced, and said he  wants better for every student at UVA.

  "Too many of our students – and I was like this – come to school ... and maybe think that they're an admissions error or somehow they got here by luck," he said.

Bonner told Ryan he wants every student to know they belong at UVA. He urged students to ask for help if they need it and implored them to be curious.

“This is a this is an environment where you can learn a whole lot about the world, about people, about yourself,” he said. “We have great faculty, great research and great students, who provide that environment. So be curious. You belong here and do not suffer in silence. Please ask for help.”

To hear more, tune into “Inside UVA,” which is streamed on most podcast apps, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.

Media Contact

Jane Kelly

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications