Christopher Smith, a former public health advisor with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), joined Kenyon on Oct. 16 as director of the Cox Health and Counseling Center. Smith arrived just as the telltale signs of fall began to hit Gambier: the sight of gold-crowned trees, the crunch of leaves beneath your feet on Middle Path and, with the arrival of the “Kenyon Krud,” the sounds of coughs and blown noses.
We sat down with Smith to discuss his holistic, community-oriented approach to campus wellness and his plans for keeping students healthy this fall.
What are your goals as director?
Right now, our goals are to promote a one-center philosophy on campus, support our staff to best serve the students, and incorporate prevention. The perception that I get is that the campus truly looks at health and counseling as two different centers. They’re not. They’re one. Helping the campus to understand that really puts us in this beautiful space of synergy to care for the entire person. Secondly, I want to support our staff, to make sure they have everything they need to best serve the students. And, lastly, prevention. I’m a public health guy. The difference between medicine and public health is that medicine treats illness and individuals; public health prevents disease in populations. Really, what I want to do is seek this beautiful marriage of public health and treatment on campus because, if they can coexist, not only will it make a better space for the students, it will allow us to take some of our staff that are here in the Cox Center and get them out on campus.
How do you plan on collaborating with students, parents, faculty and staff to achieve mutual goals?
For me, the goal is to remain accessible on campus, to be willing to listen and to be available as a partner. I welcome ideas, criticisms, thoughts and feedback. We don’t operate in a vacuum here. As students see me, they should introduce themselves. I'm going to try to do the same.
How has your public health background prepared you for this position?
Drawing from a few aspects of my personal career adventure, I’ve helped conduct sexual health surveys at the Arizona Gay Rodeo Association; I did environmental public health inspections in Louisville, Kentucky; and, when I went abroad for the CDC, I helped the Liberian Ministry of Health build public health infrastructure to respond to outbreaks. Very diverse communities, very diverse projects. And I think Kenyon is very diverse. I can take lessons from these experiences and apply them here, to Kenyon. Also, I’ve got this greater sense of community. I want to apply the lessons I’ve learned and my community-centric focus to see what we can do to build a healthier space on campus.
What advice do you have for students looking to stay healthy this fall?
I’m going to give you a list:
— Ben Hunkler ’20