Dr. Deshawn Cook was appointed as the new director of student life for Butler College on October 25th, 2016. He came to the University from Drew University, where he served as the assistant director of residential life and the Title IX coordinator. Cook earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and an M.A. in Liberal Studies at Ramapo College as well as a Doctor of Letters at Drew University.
“Dr. Cook’s extensive experience in working with students in the development of strong residential communities, in conduct issues, and in the management of crises and emergencies has provided excellent preparation for the portfolio of responsibilities he will carry at Butler College,” Head of Butler College J. Nicole Shelton wrote in an email.
Cook sat down with The Daily Princetonian to discuss his background, his thoughts on the Princeton environment, and the goals he has for Butler College.
The Daily Princetonian: Could you tell me a little bit about your background before coming to Princeton?
Deshawn Cook: I was born and raised in New York. I lived in Brooklyn and made my way to New Jersey through College — I went to Ramapo College —and I loved New Jersey so much that I have stayed. At Ramapo I was able to serve as a resident assistant for three years in undergrad and that led to my passion for wanting to continue in residence life and student affairs. I actually started as a nursing major, and then became an R.A. and knew that nursing wouldn’t be the field I wanted to go into, so then I became a theater major. I realized that I didn’t like that as much, and so became a psychology major, and that’s what I finished with. I wanted to go into a career that would allow me to assist students and be an important resource for them. During my first year at grad school, also at Ramapo, I became a full-time residence director at the university and was there for nine years. In that time, I was promoted to assistant director of resident life and also did some human rights investigations there for the institution which led to me being promoted to deputy Title IX coordinator. This essentially put me in the place, after getting my masters and doctorate at Drew University, to get a position here at Princeton and continue doing that work, and have that opportunity to meet different students and be a part of a different culture, which is really nice. It’s been exciting so far.
DP: What drew you to Princeton?
DC: The opportunity. Princeton is a great name that’s known around the world and I wanted an opportunity where I could challenge myself. I haven’t been in the Ivy League system, both for my personal studies and in my professional work, and I knew it would be a position that I could grow in not only professionally but also as a person. All of the people that you interact with in your work really inform a part of your identity and help you realize who you are and what your values are. So I went for the opportunity. I was very nervous during the interview process and was thinking there’s no way I’m going to get this position, but as soon as I met everyone on campus and went home to process, I just knew that this was the place I needed to be and even if I’m not chosen as the next DSL for Butler College, I need to find a way to work at Princeton because the atmosphere is amazing here. It’s supportive, everyone is genuinely happy, nice, and welcoming. Some of the other places I interviewed at didn’t necessarily have that feel, so I definitely felt at home at Princeton and knew that this is where I wanted to be.
DP: What are a few of your goals for this school year?
DC: First and foremost is learning the new position, getting to know the students, and understanding what their needs are and what they want out of their experience. That informs what I do in this position. Ultimately I see myself as a member of community who’s here to be a resource that the students and my colleagues have on campus. Any and all visions that I have, that’s the ultimate goal: making sure that I create that experience that people are going to remember for a lifetime. So far, the RCAs, the RGSs, the college staff, ODUS, ODOC, everyone has been amazing in helping me build that foundation and in getting me acclimated to the campus so I can do that work.
DP: More long-term, I was wondering if there’s anything you’ve seen at the previous universities you’ve worked at you might want to implement here in the future.
DC: I definitely have a strong passion for living-learning communities, the housing that’s part of the job I had at Drew University. I know there’s a small culture here with some who are looking for those elements but I would love to see that expand if possible, if that’s something that the students want. Many different institutions call them different things, whether they’re living-learning communities, theme housing, affinity housing, it has all different types of names, but I would love to see that culture here in Princeton because it provides another space for students to feel safe, to feel supported. It allows them to be part of the academic mission of the institution because they’re responsible for contributing to the knowledge that others are gaining through their work. It develops student leaders as well, because there’s a lot of responsibility with being part of these communities. It’s bringing the academic side of the university and the residential experience side together into one place, and a lot of great things happen when you have that amalgamation.
DP: What has your new position been like? What have you thought about Princeton so far?
DC: It’s been amazing. Words cannot begin to express how happy I am here. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of students to work with, I couldn’t have asked for better colleagues. Everyone has really made me feel at home. That’s what I felt during my interview and it wasn’t just for show, it’s truly the experience here. Some of my colleagues that I worked with formerly and students who have asked about the experience here are a little jealous. They’ve asked to come to Princeton, I’ve actually had a couple of students say they want to transfer and come to Princeton because of how much I’ve talked it up and talked about how my experience has been. It’s really been great for me so far and I’ve only been here a month.
DP: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
DC: Thank you so much, Princeton, for welcoming me into the community. I hope I’m able to do great things here and live up to the expectations. I’m looking forward to great things, especially for Butler.