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Loyola Admissions Official Resigns, Citing Racism And ‘Toxic’ Workplace: ‘Over Time, It Starts To Eat At You’

Marcus Mason-Vivit left his job in September, saying his former boss cultivated an atmosphere of fear, intimidation, racism and hostility in the school's admissions office. Loyola leaders say they are investigating.

Pro-Black Lives Matter chalk is seen throughout Loyola's Rogers Park campus in August.
Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
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ROGERS PARK — Loyola University is investigating claims of racism and a “toxic” work environment in its admissions office, after the school’s multicultural recruitment director resigned early last month.

Marcus Mason-Vivit resigned from his role as Loyola’s associate director of admission and multicultural recruitment Sept. 4 after enduring a “toxic atmosphere of hostility, intimidation, fear and manipulation … especially pertaining to people of color,” he wrote in his resignation letter.

Mason-Vivit said he reported his supervisor, Dean of Undergraduate Admission Erin Moriarty, to human resources officials and university administrators in July, alleging multiple instances of racism and hostility.

Among his complaints, he said Moriarty used racist language in referring to one the school’s highest-ranking Black administrators: “He’s Black Black. Like, you almost can’t see him Black.”

Our Streets LUC, a Black Lives Matter group on campus, posted a copy of the resignation letter on its Instagram account. Mason-Vivit confirmed to Block Club he wrote it.

Mason-Vivit said school administrators took no action on his complaints. After working two jobs within the university’s admissions office, he said he could no longer work in such an environment if school leaders did nothing to substantively address the problems.

“Over time, it starts to eat at you,” Mason-Vivit, who is Black, told Block Club. “I felt I couldn’t do my work.”

Loyola professors and students now are rallying around Mason-Vivit, demanding that school leaders investigate racism and challenging them to do more to retain staffers, professors and students of color.

Mason-Vivit is the fifth person to hold the title of multicultural director at Loyola in eight years, according to the Loyola chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

Nine professors wrote to university President Jo Ann Rooney and urged her to intervene, saying Mason-Vivit’s resignation seriously undermines the idea the university is committed to racial equality. Lorenzo Baber, an associate professor of education, said Loyola must hold people accountable if they are not actively supporting students and staff of color on campus.

“Concealing or explaining away acts of racialized oppression to the point that an individual perceives no other choice than to leave — is an act of domination and stands in opposition to anti-racism,” Baber said in a statement.

A Loyola spokesperson confirmed to Block Club that the school is looking into Mason-Vivit’s claims. The student paper, The Loyola Phoenix, first reported that development last week.

A university email obtained by Block Club shows the school has retained an outside law firm specializing in workplace issues to investigate, given the “seriousness of the allegations and the highly charged nature of this complaint.”

“We take all concerns shared by employees seriously,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “At the conclusion of this process, appropriate action will be taken to address any issues that are not consistent with our values and mission.”

Moriarty did not respond to multiple requests for comment. According to her LinkedIn profile, she has worked as admissions dean since 2015.

Black Lives Matter student protests at Loyola have now taken up Marcus Mason-Vivit’s cause. [JOE WARD/BLOCK CLUB CHICAGO]

A ‘healthy’ fear of the boss

Mason-Vivit first worked at Loyola in January 2016, when he signed on as the assistant director of multicultural recruitment.

He left in 2017 when he and his partner moved to California for other job opportunities. But Mason-Vivit returned in December 2018 when he was offered a promotion to associate director of multicultural recruitment, he said.

In that role, he was chiefly responsible for creating and executing a plan to recruit students of color. Mason-Vivit would work with Chicago high schools and work directly with families to encourage students to come to Loyola.

He also took an active role in supporting students of color once they got to campus, he said.

But in his more senior role, Mason-Vivit said he saw some concerning dynamics in the office.

Moriarty would yell at people in the office and told Mason-Vivit she thought her employees should have a “healthy” fear of their boss, he said.

In one example, Mason-Vivit said he went to Moriarty’s office “for support” on a work initiative, only to be yelled at loud enough for his coworkers to hear.

“You are always causing me problems,” he recalled Moriarty saying as she “shooed” him out of her office.

“She was frustrated to the point of intense anger,” he said.

There is also the time he said he heard Moriarty refer disparagingly to a Black dean’s skin tone during a conversation among colleagues in the admissions office.

“I was dumbfounded,” he said of the “Black Black” remark. “I was in shock and could not believe a superior said it. We work at a Jesuit institution that prides itself on inclusivity, and here she is saying something that is overtly racist.”

People of color in the admissions office were treated worse than others, Mason-Vivit said. Initiatives to help diversity on campus were sometimes dismissed, such as when Moriarty shrugged off his idea to hold a dinner reception for students of color. He recalled Moriarty said it was unfair to white Loyola families.

Mason-Vivit reported these issues to his human resources officer and to school administrators in July, he said. He also spoke to an administration official about his concerns in August.

Mason-Vivit decided to resign shortly after that, saying he felt his allegations were not being seriously addressed.

“I didn’t feel it was genuine,” he said of his talks with administration. “No ideas were given as to how I could continue in my work without being harmed.”

One of Mason-Vivit’s predecessors in the job also said he experienced a similarly toxic workplace under Moriarty.

Derek Brinkley, associate director of multicultural admissions from 2014 to 2017 said Moriarty led “through fear and intimidation.”

Brinkley now works at Columbia College as assistant vice president of undergraduate admissions. When he saw Mason-Vivit’s letter on social media, he also wrote to Rooney to detail his own experiences.

He described sitting across from Moriarty in their office suite and being “consistently in fear, wondering if Erin was watching my every move.” Moriarty often belittled him and admonished him for his “tone.” He was left out of major initiatives in the office, including hirings, he said.

When he left to take the Columbia job, Brinkley recalled Moriarity telling him to make sure “people are scared of you,” he said in the letter, which he shared with Block Club.

“I often wondered whether I was being treated differently because of my race or if I was being treated differently because I was newer to the Loyola community – and this feeling of wondering if one is talented and deserves to be on staff is common in folks of color. We question whether it’s ‘us’ and whether we are ‘worthy,'” he wrote.

Seeing Mason-Vivit’s letter, and comments from social media from other former colleagues, helped reassure him he wasn’t imagining things.

“While I shared my experiences during my exit interview with HR, nothing has been done in the 3+ years since I have left the institution,” he wrote. “It is sad that Marcus had to write a letter, and that the letter had to go viral, for folks to pay attention.”

‘This is a crisis of credibility at the highest levels of our leadership’

Students and faculty are demanding action.

Our Streets LUC is demanding Moriarty be fired. The group has staged protests outside the school’s undergraduate admissions office, according to the Loyola Phoenix student newspaper.

“A department that is instrumental in the process of coming to Loyola should not be run by a person with bigoted values,” the group wrote on its list of demands.

In the midst of social uprisings protesting racial injustice, Loyola launched an anti-racism initiative seeking to create a more welcoming and supportive environment for students and employees of color. So far, school administrators have met with Black students about racism on campus and are working with the newly created office of faculty affairs on improving diverse hiring, according to school leaders.

But the “credibility” of that work is “at risk” because of the school’s handling of Mason-Vivit’s claims, Loyola professors told Rooney.

“This is a crisis of credibility at the highest levels of our leadership,” history professor Benjamin Johnson, the president of the school’s professors association, said in a statement.

It is concerning, Johnson said in an interview, that the school didn’t act until after Mason-Vivit left his job. It is also alarming one of the school’s most prominent advocates for diversity would leave as leaders are attempting anti-racist interventions.

“Who let him walk?” Johnson said. “You have to have systems to protect people in these situations.”

Loyola’s problems with diversity aren’t confined to undergraduate admissions, Johnson said.

Out of more than 200 faculty members with the highest rank of professor, only one is Black, according to Johnson, the latest federal education data and Loyola’s latest diversity report. Out of nearly 950 full-time faculty, fewer than four dozen are Black.

And though Loyola’s annual diversity reports show it meeting or exceeding sister institutions throughout the country, it could still do better to reflect the makeup of its hometown Chicago, Johnson said.

Loyola’s student body is 40 percent minority, according to its 2019 diversity report, and about 7.5 percent of students are Black, according to school figures.

“It’s not a question of numbers,” Johnson said. “It’s also a question of treatment.”

Mason-Vivit urged school leaders to investigate why there has been such a “revolving door” of Black and Latino employees in a department critically responsible for creating a diverse campus. He said it is “shameful” university leadership has been so apathetic about concerns repeated and reported for years.

“They’re not doing enough,” he said. “Students are protesting that now. They say they’ll do these initiatives, and then wait for interest to die down.”

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