Boxes of tissues were passed around the room as the night went on. Emotions were high, and students of all backgrounds came to speak their minds.
A crowd of over 150 gathered in the Lund Family Hall on April 5 for what was supposed to be a mediated conversation with Lund’s Pastoral resident and tenured business professor, Fr. Dan Parrish, but ended up being a platform for many to voice their grievances with him.
Students’ mentioned Parrish’s Twitter activity, and his opposition to a pride flag and statement of inclusion placed in the hall. They also pointed to a lack of professional resources on campus for LGBTQ+ students in light of these events, saying that it falls on students to be the ones offering support to this community on their own.
“Our hopes for this conversation are for Fr. Dan to understand the extent of how he’s hurt the Lund and UP community, and to apologize authentically,” Freshman and Lund resident, Reid Colkitt, said while reading a statement from Lund RAs.
The conversation was mediated by Director of Residence Life Andrew Weingarten. Students and residents began the conversation with a few prepared statements, voicing that residents felt unwelcome and unsafe in their dorm because of Parrish’s behavior, previous messages to hall staff and social media activity.
“The general intentions for this were to have a conversation,” Lund hall director Brittani Klindworth said. “Another ask from the community was an apology. And one thing that I had truly hoped to cultivate at this meeting was a space for students to have their voices heard. I agree that things can be missed in written messages, and there’s something very powerful about hearing something right in front of you.”
Many Lund residents were unhappy with how the event was planned. Klindworth told residents that the event was only open to the Lund community, and sent an email on April 2 to let them know about the event. Students felt they should have been given the news earlier. The conversation also took place an hour and a half before Lund’s Hall Mass.
According to Klindworth, this was months in the making, and took careful planning to coordinate a time where everyone who needed to be involved could be there.
Screenshots taken by students of Parrish’s Twitter account show him liking content that these students describe as sexist, transphobic and racist, as well as posts against masks and mandatory COVID-19 vaccination. Similar actions resulted in a formal report submitted a year ago, stating concerns about Parrish’s social media activity. He has deleted all but 41 of his tweets since then.
Parrish said that he uses social media differently than students and that likes do not necessarily convey his beliefs, and said it was not his intention to signal anything alienating on social media.
“I’m very careful about what I post on Twitter because I know, as you said, I’m a public person,” Parrish said. “Every morning when I get up and put this on [pointing at clerical collar] I realize ‘Dan doesn’t get to be Dan today, I have to be Fr. Dan.’ And so I have to be careful what I say, be careful how I act because I’m a public person and my job is to care for all of you.”
“The fact that I’ve fallen short on that hurts me deeply and it’s incredibly humbling,” Parrish continued.
His right to post and interact with what he wants on his personal Twitter account was not necessarily in question. However, these Tweets, in addition to a leaked email sent to two hall staff members, lead many students to believe that Parrish is not supportive of the LGBTQ+ community.
The email was sent in October, 2021, to the interim hall director and assistant hall director of Lund at the time – both of whom are part of the LGBTQ+ community. It argued against having a pride flag and statement of inclusion hung in public spaces, claiming that the primary sign of inclusion is the crucifix. Parrish stated that the pride flag is a political symbol used for various causes that do not align with Catholic teaching.
“I personally got the flag printed in August, and I hung it up myself,” Mary Markham, former Lund assistant hall director, said. “The flag was designed by the former hall director of Christie… and that flag is up in multiple places on campus. It was suggested to me in a one on one message that it should be taken down, because it wasn’t appropriate.”
Parrish also said in the email that the pride flag and statement of inclusion can be alienating to many traditional, religious and conservative students.
“I was thrown off by that email for a lot of reasons, but part of the reason is that that has not been my experience with a relationship with a pastoral resident,” Markham said. “I think that he was using his theological beliefs and conflating those with policy.”
When confronted about the email during last night’s conversation, Parrish said he had sent the email in the hopes of starting a discussion with hall leadership.
“You speak differently in candid situations,” Parrish said. “I wrote to the head staff in a way to speak about the community at a high level. I said that, if [the inclusion statement] is going to be posted, I encourage them to make sure that they wrote something that aligns with our mission values as an institution. In my opinion, the pride flag is used not only for inclusive purposes, but in a variety of different ways to support causes that do not align with Catholic teaching.”
“If you disagree with me, that’s fine,” Parrish continued. “Obviously the flag is still standing. The way that I think about Christian community is every person is welcomed and loved here.”
For Markham, it was not a constructive way to approach the issue.
“That's not how you start a conversation in a loving and caring and healing way,” Markham said. “Those words are extremely painful to read and really harmful to me as a person.”
Many students in the crowd felt similarly to Markham, and pointed out that there is a lot of trauma associated with the cross and the Catholic religion. Students felt that he did not properly address this concern.
“One of the things that I was most upset about is the fact that a lot of us do have religious trauma,” sophomore Chloe Tatro said. “And he didn't address that at all… I chose to come to the University of Portland because of what they say about inclusion and community and how they feel about people of color, sexuality, etc. This is not what I signed up for... I think that Fr. Dan needs to be held accountable for his actions and if that means taking a leave of absence to further educate himself, then so be it.”
Students pressed Parrish for possible solutions to the problem, and ideas on how to move forward. Parrish said he wants to mend the relationship if possible, and that he would use social media differently. He also said that he would continue to educate himself via social media and other online platforms.
Parrish only apologized when prompted by a person in the crowd asking for a formal apology, to which he responded by saying “I was not aware that I hadn’t apologized... I do apologize, and I’ll be very careful what I’m apologizing for because I do not mean to signal anything about my beliefs through these likes. That was not what I was trying to do.”
“I know that might be hard for you to believe because you use social media so differently,” he continued. “It was not my intent to signal that to anyone. So I apologize for liking things that send a message to people that I agree with these positions or that I align with any of these things, because I don’t.”
Parrish said that it is unclear how they can move forward and find ways for the University to be authentically Catholic while being welcoming to all students, but is hopeful that there is a way to coexist. He went on to say that he believes nothing but what the church teaches.
Throughout the night, Parrish repeatedly said that he values all people, and treats everyone as “children of God” – the highest compliment, in his eyes.
Students asked him if his version of Catholicism was not accepting of LGBTQ inviduals, and he responded by saying that the church is not accepting of some of these individuals’ actions, such as same-sex marriage.
Parrish expressed a deep regret that his actions caused the Lund and UP community pain.
“The fact that anything I’ve done intentionally or unintentionally has hurt someone makes me feel terrible,” Parrish said. “I hope, I wish, I pray that every student feels loved and welcomed here. We have more work to do to make that happen.”
He did not directly apologize for his remarks on the pride flag or the statement of inclusion.
While the conversation was a start, many students felt like it was not satisfactory, or even helpful, and did not think his plan for change was adequate.
“Fr. Dan in this conversation kept saying that he uses social media differently than our generation does and was dancing around the fact that he has hurt many people with the tweets that he has liked, and… just defended himself and tried to make it seem like he was ignorant as to what he was doing,” former Lund RA and alum Brienne Pfeifer said. “I think it was a very unproductive conversation that needs a lot more work.”
Weingarten said that further conversations are to come, but it is unclear when and how this problem will be resolved. Pastoral residents do not fall under Human Resources like other employees, but are instead managed by Campus Ministry.
“I think the event and conversation served as an important start for us,” Weingarten said. “I'm grateful for the students who attended and spoke up, for Fr. Dan who listened and shared, and for Brittani who arranged the event. Dialogues like this will help to strengthen our community. We ran out of time, yet we only scratched the surface. I look forward to continuing the conversation.”
Several students have suggested that, because of his beliefs, he is not fit to be a pastoral resident or to support LGBTQ+ students.
“It concerns me because I do not believe that with that positionality he is able to support them in the way that he should,” Corrado Hall RA Grace Mariano said.
Many of the Lund RA’s who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community feel that they aren’t being respected as employees while working alongside Parrish. Some suggest the best way to move forward is to remove him from the hall.
“I think it validated a lot of the ideas we had regarding Fr. Dan’s beliefs, and how we are accepted, or not, in the dorm,” Lund RA Daniel Mesquiti said. “Quite honestly I think removal from the dorm [is the best option]. I don’t think he is fit for the job.”
Parrish hopes the issue can be resolved through further conversation, and wants to rebuild trust with the community – something he admits he’s not sure can be achieved.
“I mean, if somebody wanted to see some sort of action here, they would have to file something somewhere,” Parrish said. “I hope that doesn’t happen, I mean, this is my home too. I’ve lived here since it opened and I plan to live here for a long time, and I want to serve my students.”
No matter what comes next, students agree that this is just the beginning.
“If I were to sum this entire conversation up in one word, it would be unfinished,” junior nursing major Chivon Ou said. “But for better or for worse, it feels like a continuing dialogue.”
Markham mentions that this issue is much larger than just the conversation held last night.
“I want to note that, in terms of knowing what to do next, I think accountability has to come at multiple levels, not just with one person,” Markham said. “I will say there is more to this story.”
Austin De Dios is the Editor-in-Chief of The Beacon. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Brie Haro contributed to this story. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kimberly Cortez contributed to this story. She can be reached at Cortez25@up.edu.
William Seekamp contributed to this story. He can be reached at email@example.com.