At least once a month, Dr. Patty Perillo meets on Zoom with a group of student leaders she likes to call “The Fab Five,” which consists of the presidents of the Student Government Association, the Residence Hall Association, the Graduate Student Government, the University System of Maryland Student Council and herself.
However, Perillo is not a student leader like the rest of them. She is the vice president of student affairs.
In this role, Perillo said she wants to use her privilege to make a more humane and just world by engaging with students daily and addressing their concerns, serving as a strong female role model for student leaders at the University of Maryland.
“As an educator, who really does want our amazing students to become their best selves, who wants students to develop in healthy and whole ways and have deep learning and engagement, I am very passionate about ensuring every student feels like they belong,” Perillo said.
In 2019, Perillo presented a platform focused on amplifying student voices. She was elected to her position by students at this university. Perillo is a Terp herself, having received her doctorate in public and community health with an interdisciplinary focus on student affairs at the University of Maryland in 2002.
Before returning to her alma mater, Perillo was the vice president for student affairs at Virginia Tech for seven years. In total, she has worked at seven different institutions.
RHA President Emily Berry worked with Perillo before she officially started her role as vice president of student affairs. Perillo visited the campus a few times after being elected to get to know student leaders.
“I'm lucky enough to have been one of the first students she got to know on campus, which means that I've also gotten a lot of advice from her that I take to heart,” Berry said. “Patty was the first member of the UMD administration that invited me to consistent meetings so that she could learn more about what residential students need.”
In fact, Perillo was the one who created “The Fab Five'' in an attempt to have a forum of student leaders to address concerns proactively. Last year, the original group only consisted of four leaders, all of whom were female. This year, Perillo invited former GSG President Annie Rappeport back to the group, who now serves as the University System of Maryland Student Council president.
“She definitely listens and follows up,” Rappeport said. “This combined with her consistently high levels of proactive outreach is making a real impact at UMD. I have seen shifts to being more student-centered and student-collaborative in student affairs.”
Perillo said she truly loves spending time with students and exemplifies her compassionate leadership style by making differences in small ways.
“During a meeting a few weeks ago, students were so clearly down and dejected, and Patty spent an hour talking with us about our struggles, and then immediately emailed other administrators about how we needed to do more to support students,” Berry said.
In another instance, a member of the Student Advisory Council — another group that Perillo developed — mentioned that he was unable to get a “Kiss me, I’m a senior” pin from the Stamp Student Union. Upon learning this, Perillo sent him a package with one of the pins, according to Berry.
Perillo is from Wilmington, Delaware, where she grew up as one of eight children and 80 first cousins. She leads relationally, which she attributes to her large family.
“Women are often taught not to value or appreciate their ways of leading,” Perillo said. “Generally and broadly, women tend to lead more spatially than linearly and they tend to value relationships.”
Perillo learned this many years ago from Margaret Wheatley's 1992 book Leadership and the New Science and said it was the first time she felt heard, seen and affirmed as a leader.
When it comes to student affairs, Perillo has a proactive and responsive approach.
For example, Perillo had concerns about long-lasting and growing racial tensions and injustices, so she called a virtual meeting this May with Black student leaders following the death of George Floyd to “create a space for community and sharing.” Perillo continued meeting with these leaders every three to four weeks, where she brought other administration into the conversation, including this university’s President Darryll Pines.
“I wanted to be in community with our Black students — just to check in on them to see how they were and how we could support them,” Perillo said. “What happened is that we all worked together to create a list of ‘demands’ — the things that need to happen to allow our Black students to feel like full members of our campus community.”
Perillo and the others involved have since pledged to develop a plan to work toward meeting these demands within the next decade.
“She means what she says and works very hard to cultivate a culture of care and transparency,” Rappeport said. “Based on all the interactions I have had with her, I believe her when she states she leads from a place of love and that working with students is her calling.”
Perillo’s role as vice president of student affairs allows her to fight for student concerns and inspire a new generation of student leaders.
“I do hope to serve as a role model for all of my students — men, women and those non-binary,” Perillo said. “It is my deep hope that I do support college women in understanding their inherent value, power and how their leadership — as women — has enormous benefits for any organization and our society.”