Final candidate for UMD student affairs vice president seeks to lift students’ voices

A panel composed of current undergraduate and graduate students, as well as college faculty and staff, interviewed Dr. Patty Perillo for the position of student affairs vice president at this university on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. (Evan Kramer/The Diamondback)

Patty Perillo excelled in high school. She was elected president of the student government, and served as captain of more than one varsity team.

But that didn’t change the fact that Perillo — the first in her family of eight children to attend college — felt overlooked when she entered the University of Delaware as a freshman.

“I was capable and competent and smart, and I got lost in this big place,” she said.

This experience rocked Perillo, and on Tuesday, she promised members of the University of Maryland campus community she would work to uplift student voices if hired as student affairs vice president.

Perillo is the final of three candidates to visit campus and make their case to be the university’s next student affairs vice president. Linda Clement, who held the position for 18 years, retired in August.

[Read more:Potential UMD student affairs vice president talks honesty, intersectionality at forum]

At the final of three forums, Perillo spoke with about 25 students and faculty members. Throughout her presentation, Perillo emphasized the importance of giving students the chance to promote change they want to see on campus.

At one point Perillo — currently the student affairs vice president at Virginia Tech — did just that, asking participants to write down some of the issues they see as facing the campus, and what they’re looking for in a new student affairs vice president.

Some students stressed the key role students’ voices should hold in policy decisions. Others flagged the need for open lines of communication between the administration and the student body, especially when crisis occurs.

This issue drew Michael Purdie, marketing and technology officer for the Residence Hall Association, to all three of the forums. At each one, he asked the candidate how they would help alleviate feelings of neglect from students. He added the university needs to do better at informing students about ongoing problems, and issue updates as information emerges.

The university came under fire last semester for its response to an adenovirus outbreak, which sickened more than 40 students at the university. One student, Olivia Paregol, died in November from complications from the virus. The Washington Post reported the university didn’t notify Paregol’s family of the outbreak until after she was hospitalized.

“There’s been a lot of issues on campus and students feel ignored a lot,” said Purdie, a sophomore journalism major. “We’re the voice of on-campus students, and there’s been so many problems that need to be combated and have just been completely ignored.”

During her presentation, Perillo drew upon her experiences working at six institutions — including her alma mater, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County— to stress her competency in education work.

[Read more: UMD announces open forums for student affairs vice president candidates]

At Virginia Tech, Perillo said she meets with students in dining halls and has a GroupMe with about 28 campus leaders that she meets with when an issue arises. It’s one way she said she facilitates student connections.

“I am deeply involved and engaged in student life on campus because I want us to be in a relationship with each other,” she said.

Students like Alejandra Melnyk appreciated the sincerity in Perillo’s appeal to students.

“I really like how the baseline of her whole presentation was student interaction,” said Melnyk, a sophomore government and politics major. “She literally said she would go to the dining hall and sit down with the students and start a conversation with them — and I really respect that.”

Perillo’s presentation came less than an hour after a standoff between students and a small group of demonstrators from a Philadelphia-based religious group came to a close. For over three hours, the four demonstrators waved signs and shouted homophobic and sexist jeers as hundreds surrounded them, singing chants and flinging taunts right back.

Melnyk said she witnessed the protest — and stressed the importance of finding a vice president who would help students feel safe and included on this campus, rather than attacked.

Perillo said she’d be that vice president. She promised to be there in times of crisis and bring the community together, if hired.

“If this was my campus, I’d be out there and be in the middle with my students,” Perillo said. “It’s the right time for my leadership.”

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Perillo once worked at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Perillo worked at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. This story has been updated.

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