At Loyola University Chicago, where fewer than 6% of undergraduates are Black, Marcus Mason-Vivit’s presence comforted minority students who rarely found someone who looked like them on campus.
A Black man himself, Mason-Vivit led the private Jesuit university’s efforts to increase racial diversity among first-year students in his role at the Undergraduate Admission Office. He was known to send high school seniors handwritten letters encouraging them to attend Loyola and for going out of his way to forge relationships with the Black students he met.
But last month, Mason-Vivit stepped down from his position in multicultural recruitment. In a scathing resignation letter that quickly circulated on social media, he called the admissions office a “toxic atmosphere of hostility, intimidation, fear and manipulation … especially pertaining to people of color” and described an incident where his boss, the dean of undergraduate admission, allegedly made a racially disparaging remark. His departure has prompted Loyola to initiate an investigation.
Now, students and faculty are rallying behind Mason-Vivit, raising questions about Loyola’s newly stated goal of “becoming a fully inclusive anti-racist institution.”
“We do not think that this initiative will achieve much credibility until the issues, such as those raised by Marcus Mason, and the school’s handling of such complaints have been thoroughly addressed,” leaders of a Loyola faculty organization wrote in a letter to university President Jo Ann Rooney.
In an interview with the Tribune, Mason-Vivit, 34, said he tried reporting his concerns to the human resources office in July but felt brushed aside, leading eventually to his Aug. 24 resignation.
“I will no longer work in an environment diametrically opposed to my principles and the obligation to respect my existence,” he wrote in his resignation letter.
The dean of undergraduate admission, Erin Moriarty, declined to comment, saying by email that she does “not want to jeopardize the integrity of this investigation in any way by speaking out of turn.”
Loyola spokeswoman Anna Rozenich confirmed the investigation, related to “allegations of discrimination” in the office, is ongoing but would not say who is conducting it. After Loyola’s Office for Equity and Compliance began an internal investigation, the school decided to hire outside experts to lead the probe “due to the charged nature” of the allegations, Rozenich said.
“Out of respect for the rights of all parties, we must maintain that all parties deserve to be heard, and allow the investigation to be thoroughly conducted and conclude while refraining from judgment or condemnation,” Rozenich said in an emailed statement.
She said “appropriate action” will be taken at the end of the investigation and emphasized Loyola’s policy prohibiting discrimination.
Mason-Vivit, however, said he could no longer remain silent. His last day as Loyola’s associate director for multicultural recruitment was Sept. 4, and he previously worked in the admission office from 2016 to 2017, he said.
“I knew that if I didn’t raise this and bring it to light, it would continue to happen and harm would continue to be inflicted on others,” Mason-Vivit said. “I didn’t want to be part of that.”
Black students speak out: ‘We lost an advocate’
As news of Mason-Vivit’s resignation spread, Black students who interacted with him at Loyola expressed their dismay.
During a recent rally hosted by Our Streets LUC, a group devoted to improving Black life at Loyola, several students spoke about how Mason-Vivit’s departure would negatively affect them. They also spotlighted how his decision to leave Loyola reflects a lack of racial diversity — not just among students but for employees as well.
About 6.5% of Loyola’s faculty is Black, with fewer in tenured positions, and about 14% of all staff is Black, according to the school’s 2019 diversity report, which states that Loyola “had a lower percentage of African American undergraduates than peers,” and that its number of Black undergrads increased less than 1% between 2009 and 2018.
Sophomore Kennedy Mallory’s voice wavered as she described her close bond with Mason-Vivit at the Sept. 11 rally, which was posted on Instagram.
Mallory, who is studying film and digital media, said she first corresponded with Mason-Vivit as a high school senior. She recalled receiving a “crisp and neat” handwritten letter from him, and she decided to enroll after they discussed Black student life at Loyola.
Whenever she needed to vent or talk, the doors of his office were wide open, she said.
“Marcus was more than a Black staff member. He was like an uncle to me.” said Mallory, 19, of Plainfield. “My support system is gone. And now there’s only a few staff members that I feel comfortable reaching out to because they know how it feels to be the odd man out.”
Taylor Thomas, a senior majoring in global studies and sociology, said she met Mason-Vivit her first year at Loyola and called him a “hidden light for me.” She said he often hosted events for incoming Black students and their parents to build community and show what Loyola had to offer.
“If he sees a Black student, he says hi … and makes that connection immediately,” said Thomas, 21, from Green Bay, Wisconsin. “A number of Black students who know Marcus personally or know about his work have been so taken aback by the news of him resigning but also why he resigned.”
Junior Maggie Gathumbi, 19, said she’s had trouble processing Mason-Vivit’s resignation. At the same student rally, Gathumbi said she worked with him as a tour guide in the admission office and felt he was looking out for her.
“He is supposed to be a voice for people who feel like they aren’t safe or they’re not comfortable,” said Gathumbi, of suburban Minneapolis. “The fact that we lost an advocate speaks a lot for Jo Ann Rooney … and the administration as a whole.”
In another sign of solidarity, Our Streets LUC added new leadership in the admission office to its list of demands for achieving racial justice on campus. Those also include calls to cut ties with the Chicago Police Department and to establish a Black faculty union.
“What’s taking so long if Loyola is so for all these anti-racism initiatives that they keep talking about but not actually putting into action?” said Our Streets LUC leader Dorien Perry-Tillmon a sophomore from the Boston area. “It just shows that it’s all for show.”
According to Loyola’s student paper, dozens of students demonstrated outside of the building that houses the admission office with chants such as “Black Lives Matter” on Sept. 18. Students have chalked the pavement and hung flyers with messages critical of Moriarty.
Can Loyola become anti-racist?
Benjamin Johnson, a history professor and leader of Loyola’s largest faculty organization, said he’s also concerned that Mason-Vivit’s allegations didn’t appear to be investigated as soon as he came forward. In the past, Johnson said, Loyola has dragged its feet looking into claims of discrimination against its employees.
“We don’t presume that we know the truth of what it was like to work in that (admission) office, but I think you have to be concerned when someone who, by all accounts, is a credible person walks away from their job with no employment and makes those allegations 1/4 u201a” said Johnson, president of Loyola’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
The AAUP letter also notes high turnover in the admission office. Since the position for associate director of multicultural recruitment was created five years ago, three people, including Mason-Vivit, have left the role, he said.
Following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Black people whose deaths galvanized thousands to protest against injustice this summer, Loyola formally launched an “Anti-Racism Initiative” on June 16.
Among some of its goals, the initiative aims to improve the relationship between students and campus police, invest in professional development for Black employees and to update the curriculum.
“Loyola’s Anti-Racism Initiatives bring students, staff, and faculty together to address issues raised by our community,” the school’s website says. “These initiatives are organized to address structural racism, and work toward authentic change in our community, in the academy, and in our society.”
Mason-Vivit referenced this effort in his letter of resignation, implying the words rang hollow to him.
“It is egregious,” Mason-Vivit wrote, “that a university standing on and touting its commitment to diversity, inclusion and social justice would decline to investigate claims of racism within the office most crucial to ensuring these values are reflected in the entire campus community.”
Thomas, the Loyola senior, also said she has little faith in the new initiative, calling it a “Band-Aid.” She cited several examples of her perception that Loyola marginalized Black students, including an incident in 2018 when two students, Black and Latina, were detained by campus police outside a school basketball game.
“If we as Black students are not seeing ourselves in these classrooms, in offices, and do not have Black staff and faculty representation, then there is a message being sent that we do not belong in these spaces and we are not valued even if we are in those spaces,” Thomas said. “That is white supremacy at work, and something that Loyola has not admitted.”
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