For the first time in 15 years, the University of Puget Sound welcomed a new Director of Residence Life, Debbie Chee.
Chee replaced long-time director Shane Datwiler about six months ago.
Chee, who is originally from Nebraska, received her undergraduate degree from Creighton University in Nebraska. At Creighton, she began her work in Residence Life as a Resident Assistant, which taught her the importance of communication in a residence community.
“When I was an RA in undergrad, any time I had to confront a situation my knees started to shake. I hated it more than anything. But reflecting back, those experiences…were so important for learning how to communicate what your needs are,” Chee said.
From there, Chee obtained her Masters in Student Affairs from Seattle University.
She then worked briefly in Residence Life at the University of Dayton in Ohio.
In the fall of 1998, Chee came to the University of Puget Sound. She was an Area Coordinator for three years before working in a conduct role on campus. For the last seven years, Chee has been the Assistant Dean of Students.
This experience at Puget Sound has given Chee a good background in order to be the Director of Residence Life, according to Resident Director Starre Helm.
“She has a really good knowledge of Puget Sound, what it has been and what it hopes to become,” Helm said.
In her new role, Chee works closely with the Residence Life staff, which includes two assistant directors, three resident directors and a large staff of student resident assistants.
“We’ve got a solid program with committed RDs and committed RAs…the people working in Residence Life are committed to helping and you can’t help but be happy to be working with those people, but some of the things we have to deal with are tough,” Chee said.
Seward Resident Assistant, Quinelle Bethelmie, believes that Chee is doing an effective job of working through some of the tough situations that Residence Life has to deal with.
“Debbie’s an absolutely wonderful individual. We are so lucky to have her as a part of our staff here at the University of Puget Sound,” Bethelmie said. “She’s always willing to help and every interaction with her improves the Puget Sound experience.”
Chee has a passion for students and hopes that she can help her staff to foster a living environment that will improve this student experience.
“The students here are phenomenal. For many of them, this is the first time that other people are in their space and as uncomfortable as that is, it’s a great learning experience. I’m really excited to figure out how to help people own their living environment…What do they want from their living environment and how can we help create that?” Chee said.
To answer this question, Chee is attempting to assess where Residence Life is at and how to improve the residence community.
“We’ve been looking at things and asking why are we doing things this way.
Sometimes we learn and now we know why we’re doing it this way. Having a new irector gives fresh eyes…being new in a position allows you to rethink processes,”
to have a community that can work through conflict,” Chee said.
To do this, Chee is focusing on evaluating and improving training and ensuring that resident directors have the time to work closely with their student staff. She is also working to ensure that processes such as deciding where to live on campus are as simple as possible for students.
“Debbie has a holistic approach. One of the things that Debbie brings into this role is assessment…she’s doing a great job of assessing our programs and initiative and asking why have we been doing it like this for ten years? And if it is effective,” Helm said.
With the relatively new two-year campus living requirement for students, Residence Life is also facing new challenges about how to create new processes to meet the needs of sophomore and juniors.
“We’re still dealing with that culture shift…we’re working on strengthening our program for sophomores, juniors, and seniors that live on campus,” Chee said.
Chee and the rest of the staff hope to create an environment that is conducive for all students that live on campus.