OPINION: Veritas vos liberabit

By Mary Markham | April 18, 2022 4:31pm

Photo courtesy of Mary Markham.

If we haven’t met, my name is Mary. I also go my Mar (“Mair”), and my pronouns are they/them and she/her. I am the Hall Director of Fields Hall and former Assistant Hall Director of Lund Family and Mehling Hall. During my three years at UP, I’ve interned with the DIP Programs and worked with FGEN students for my graduate program, coordinated the LGBTQIA+ Employees Affinity Group, was on the staff Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and designed trainings for RAs on trauma-informed practices and LGBTQIA+ inclusivity. 

I write to you now, feeling somewhat safer to share my story as I have given official notice of my departure from the University. I cannot speak for others involved, but I do want to finally speak for myself. 

And as I understand it, my role at this university has always been to support students holistically, which includes advocating for the equitable support of everyone’s multifaceted, intersectional identity. I want to be honest about my experiences because I believe that students deserve transparency. I hope that my story provides avenues for future community members to never experience the harm I have experienced.

My story is not one of hurt emotions; it is a story of trauma, which has an impact on my well-being, housing situation, ability to do my job, and access to education. Please read with caution and care for yourself the best you can in the process.

In April of 2021, a document titled "Grievances Against Fr. Dan" was sent to me and the former Hall Director by residents of Lund Family Hall, which contained screenshots from Fr. Dan Parrish’s twitter. We passed the document on to our supervisors and worked with the students who were harmed. I did not know at the time, but Fr. Dan’s actions set off a series of events that would result in my eventual resignation. I want to be clear that I have resigned because of the discrimination that I have experienced at this university. To quote my letter of resignation, “because of the failure of this institution and for the sake of my physical and mental well-being I cannot stay here any longer.”

In August of 2021, in collaboration with our RAs and the interim Hall Director, Ian Robins, I hung a pride flag designed by a former Hall Director in the Lund Family Hall lobby. I received a direct message from Fr. Dan that day where he asked, “Was there any discussion about the appropriateness of posting these in the halls? Especially for move-in weekend? Though the flag is likely to be seen as welcoming for some, it is also likely alienating for others.” 

He went on to say “All political stuff aside, our home must be welcoming for everyone. I think we should have a conversation about what the pride flag symbolizes beyond welcome for some.” I was working in our hall office when I received that message and had to leave so that my RAs wouldn’t see me crying. The director of my department was informed, and the flag remains in the lobby still. The next day we welcomed our students to the hall. I was shaking and holding back tears as I stood next to Fr. Dan while we spoke at the parents’ meeting.

In the fall of 2021, Ian and I worked with Lund’s Hall Council to carry out an idea presented by students who learned of Fr. Dan’s tweets; they envisioned a statement of inclusion for Lund Family Hall. After months of planning with myself and Hall Council, the community was invited to participate in a brainstorming event, which was scheduled for Nov. 7. On Oct. 25, Fr. Dan sent the email titled "Statement of Inclusion" to myself and Ian – which many community members have now seen, and which caused indescribable and irreparable harm to me. 

On Nov. 1, I started as the Hall Director of Fields Hall – an “all-female” hall that does not align with my gender identity. I made this clear to the Director of Residence Life prior to my placement. I was told the rationale for my placement in Fields Hall rather than Lund Family Hall (a co-ed hall), in part, was to move me out of the hall where Fr. Dan was the pastoral resident. My last task in Lund Family Hall was to oversee the statement of inclusion brainstorming event. I cannot speak to why the statement of inclusion has not been completed or shared publicly – starting Nov. 1, I was no longer a staff member in Lund and a new Hall Director was brought on. While I have not been officially working in Lund since then, there have been residents of that hall who, to this day, seek me out for LGBTQIA+ support.

Later in November, I reached out to Fr. Jim Gallagher, the Director of Campus Ministry, requesting that we have a conversation — something that the director of my department had recommended to me as a potential solution back in August. I disclosed all my experiences with Fr. Dan to Fr. Jim. When I asked about the potential for Fr. Dan to be removed from the Hall, Fr. Jim said that wasn’t how things worked. I noted that in Title IX cases, there is precedent for people who perpetrate sexual assault to be removed from the hall to protect survivors. I asked why we couldn’t remove Fr. Dan from the hall to protect community members the same way we try to protect people in Title IX situations. Fr. Jim did not respond as I had hoped, and did not provide any resolution to the problem.

I often felt throughout this year-long process that those above me did not have the adequate DEI education appropriate for the situation. Much of the labor to educate Fr. Dan and administrators fell on the LGBTQIA+ members of the community, including myself. In November, Ian and I were asked to participate in a “mediation” with Fr. Dan. For context, administration had been wanting students to speak with Fr. Dan for a while, even though the students had communicated that they didn't feel safe doing so. I did not expect that a “mediation” would be productive or safe and knew that it wasn't my responsibility to educate him, but I agreed to participate to protect the students from further traumatization. In the mediation, Fr. Dan said, among other things, that because of his collar, he feels discriminated against on this campus.

To discuss our experience as higher education professionals at UP, there was an informal meeting with many of my Residence Life colleagues in December. During this meeting, we discussed our compensation as professional staff, various campus policies, and more. Another hall director, who has been at the University the longest, commented on a rumor that had been circulating for several years. This Hall Director reflected on the policy excluding hall staff from having partners live with them and said that the policy change was driven by the University “not wanting to make a decision on same-sex marriage.” Later in that meeting when further discussing our position descriptions, expectations, and compensation, that same hall director addressed me directly saying that if I didn’t like my job, I “should quit, go work at a gas station, and figure it out.”

The “Statement of Inclusion” email that was leaked by a professor to students in January was shared publicly without my clear consent. I cried in my office all day. I was worried for the students who would read that email without any warning, context, or adequate support or resources from the University. I was afraid of getting fired, a decision which would result in a loss of pay, health insurance, and housing. I was afraid of retaliation in the place where I work and where I live full-time. 

I want to note one more situation. And, I want to be extremely clear here when I say that I thoroughly believe that the “joke” I’m about to explain was not made with malicious intent. Nonetheless, I am sharing this story because intent does not equal impact, and the impact on me was harm that persists still. In the spring of 2021, a colleague and I were talking with a pastoral resident after he presided over mass in one of the chapels on campus. I had gotten a new ear piercing and mentioned it. Without saying a word, the pastoral resident then reached into his pocket, pulled out his personal pocket knife, opened it, and moved it toward me, holding it about one inch from my face. He paused and said, “I could have saved you some money,” in reference to my ear piercing. It took me a couple seconds to figure out what the “joke” was. I felt that the safest response I could give at that moment was to laugh and remove myself as quickly as possible. It is my guess that this person has no idea how harmful that action was. This is just one example of how little some people on this campus understand about what safety and “welcome” truly mean.

While I have thoughts here on what should be done to protect community members, my overarching goal is this: I want current and prospective members of the UP community and other stakeholders to know that the University — a university that does not include gender identity in their statement of inclusion — is not a “safe” place for me. As I see it, this is an institutional pattern that extends up and beyond one person. The information that I’ve shared here was not kept secret by me — it has been shared with colleagues from various departments across campus, my supervisors and theirs. I hoped to (at the minimum) get an acknowledgement of my pain from administration, but I’m left wondering if I am simply not considered important enough to get that.

I urge you to ask yourself the following questions: 

Who knew and did nothing?

How many stories have we not heard?

If this is the story of one white person, what are the stories of our community members who are not white?

Do you know the stories of Yuri Hernández Osorio, Dr. Sarina Saturn, Sandy Chung, and many others like them who’ve left this institution?

What do you want your role in this story to be?

Lastly, to the community members of UP who’ve been forced to remain silent yet resilient, exploited, and left uncompensated for their dedication to DEI, and for their emotional labor: I’m sorry I was unable do more to support you — you are brilliant, vibrant, and deeply powerful people who deserve rest and to live fully without being subject to oppression.

Mary Markham is the Fields Hall Director at UP. They can be reached at marymarkham03@gmail.com

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