Students across campus know Deb Boykin, William & Mary’s longtime director of residence life, for her personal attention during the annual housing selection process.
Boykin’s fans, however, extend beyond the College’s brick walls: The Virginia Association of College and University Housing Officers (VACUHO) recently renamed its highest award the Deb Boykin Outstanding Professional Award, honoring her service to the housing profession across the state.
Boykin ’76, M.Ed ’82, who is also associate vice president for student affairs (campus living), has worked in residence life since her time as a student here. She has been director of the department since 1993 and will enter the 34th year of service to her alma mater in December.
“Deb Boykin is the consummate residence life professional, having served in nearly every employment category during her W&M career—student staff member, live-in professional, and full-time administrator. Not only does she mentor our students, she has also been an incredible role model for professional colleagues over the years,” said Ginger Ambler, William & Mary’s vice president for student affairs.
For Boykin, the honor is the product of a fulfilling career that shows no signs of slowing down.
“I really am thrilled and honored about it. So often awards are named after people after they retire or die, but I’m obviously here alive and not planning on retiring anytime soon. It makes it extra special that I will be able to go to the conference in November and be there when an award is given that has my name on it. It boggles my mind in a way,” she said.
With her characteristic humility, Boykin was quick to redirect attention to the residence life staff and students in campus housing.
“The award is very humbling to me, but I’m equally humbled by the students who let all of us into their lives,” Boykin said.
She noted that the residence life field has kept her engaged since she first became involved with it because residence life affects every aspect of student life.
“We joke here that we deal with toilets to trauma, drains to drama,” Boykin said with a grin. “Within a 15-minute time frame, we can be dealing with an overflowing toilet and then dealing with somebody having a roommate conflict.”
Boykin’s awareness of the pervasive influence a students’ housing experience has on his or her academic experience has guided her leadership of residence life. In addition to her continuation and development of residence life’s guiding philosophy of self-determination, which existed during her time as a student, Boykin has worked to emphasize the importance of having students live on campus.
“Research has always validated that living on campus for just one year means a student is more likely to graduate, more likely to have good grades, more likely to be connected to resources and more likely to be connected to faculty members,” she said. “William & Mary has always been residential. We’ve gotten it right here from the start in that regard.”
Boykin has been involved with the residence life field beyond William & Mary through her involvement in numerous professional associations in which she has engaged in an exchange of ideas with housing directors from around the world. In addition to staying abreast of current developments in the field, her participation has allowed her to develop relationships with housing professionals at other institutions.
Boykin has served in a multitude of positions within these organizations, including VACUHO president in 1994, president of the Southeastern Association of Housing Officers (SEAHO) in 2003-04, and chair of various committees of the Association of College and University Housing Officers–International (ACUHO-I) during her time in the profession. She also represents ACUHO-I on the board of directors of the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS).
Her contributions to the residence life field have been recognized before. In 2004, VACUHO honored her with the award that now bears her name, and in 2005, ACUHO-I presented her with the Herstory Award, which recognizes an outstanding woman professional who has served the housing field through contributions to the advancement of women in the profession, significant contributions to the goals of the organization and dedication to the housing profession.
“Deb has dedicated her entire career to raising up housing professionals in the state of Virginia, and we knew of no other person who exemplifies the spirit of the award,” said Jimmy Whited, past president of VACUHO and director of housing at Emory & Henry College.
“When we notified Deb we gave this reasoning: In our estimation, there is no one in the state that has promoted and mentored more people to the profession; better represented their institution, state and region; or illustrated the ethical principles by which we govern ourselves. For those reasons, we chose to honor Deb,” Whited said.
The feeling is mutual.
“Anytime I go to these conferences or have any kind of involvement with the associations, I come back enlightened and with new ideas about how we can do things here that will improve the quality of life for our students. And that, ultimately, is what every housing director in the country is trying to do,” Boykin said.