The first question one would ask about the new dean might be “How do I pronounce his name?” Marichal, or “Mare-i-shall” Gentry, a Sewanee alum who graduated in 1986, introduced himself to the Sewanee community as the new Dean of Students on March 23 at noon in Convocation Hall.
“I’m very excited by this addition to our administration because of his experience specifically in social work and his experience working with first-year students. Marichal Gentry is going to make a fantastic Dean of Students, and it is a huge coup for Sewanee to bring him here,” said Dr. Lauryl Tucker, C’99, Associate Professor of English and member of the hiring committee.
After graduating from Sewanee, Gentry started his career in banking for three years before returning to Sewanee briefly to work in admissions. He then went on to graduate from UNC Chapel Hill and work as a pediatric social worker at Duke University. Following that position, he worked alongside Vice-Chancellor Dr. John McCardell at Middlebury College for eight years and Yale for another eight years.
“One of the most exciting things for me about working in higher education is observing the transformation that takes place in students from the time they arrive as freshmen Photo courtesy of Buck Butlerto when they graduate (and beyond). There’s an amazing personal, intellectual, and social maturity that takes place during this time,” Gentry said.
Gentry recognized Eric Benjamin, Director of Multicultural Affairs, among others, for his mentorship during his career at Sewanee and beyond. In fact, Gentry mentioned that he has consulted Benjamin (Mr. B) for each big decision in his life. Humbly giving credit to the members of the Sewanee community, who “convinced him to come home,” Gentry responded to his new position with the gratitude and compassion that made him a great candidate in the first place.
The warmth of his welcome may be better understood by recognizing the friendship he shares with not only his former classmates at Sewanee, but also with McCardell. “Marichal will be a warm, calm, and caring presence on campus,” McCardell said during his welcoming speech. The Vice-Chancellor presented his old friend a Sewanee tie for his new role at Sewanee.
As for Gentry’s relationship with McCardell, the new dean said, “I’ve known and respected the work of Dr. McCardell since 1999, the year I arrived at Middlebury College, where he served as president. When I became Acting Dean of Student Affairs at Middlebury, I was fortunate to work directly with Dr. McCardell, which was one of the most gratifying professional experiences I’d had to date. I continued to follow his career after he stepped down as president at Middlebury, and I was elated when he became Vice-Chancellor at Sewanee.”
“Thirty years ago, there were not that many minority students in town. It was a handful. And he was not only them, but he was one of the best ones ever. What I remember of him is his presence: he was not only an intelligent student, but his presence was always noticed. We did remember him,” said Dr. Ruth Sánchez-Imizcoz, C’86, Professor of Spanish and member of the hiring committee.
“This is the right opportunity: we need someone with a lot of experience in the field, but also knows Sewanee — who also cares about Sewanee. This is perfect.”Gentry said, “There are countless people (faculty and staff) at Sewanee whom I’ve known since freshman year in college, and I look forward to reconnecting with them and returning to such a warm, caring community. I also look forward to establishing new relationships and working with my new colleagues.”
“Legendary” seems like an appropriate word for the presence of Marichal Gentry, whose important role as a figure in student life began as a student at Sewanee, extended to his work in the Office of Admissions, and onward to Middlebury and Yale. As Dean of Students, he will have the opportunity to make suggestions for positive change in Sewanee, as well as a chance to live in closer proximity to his family in Tennessee.
The members of the committee involved with hiring Dean Gentry includes Dr. Jennifer Michael, Dr. Lauryl Tucker, Dr. Nicholas Roberts, Dr. Ruth Sanchez, Nickie Peardon, Dr. Nicole Noffsinger-Frazier, John Benson, Kim Heitzenrater, Provost John Swallow, Dean Terry Papillon, and former Dean of Students and current Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness and Risk Management Eric Hartman.One student writer of The Yale Herald responded to Dean Gentry’s leaving Yale with Rihanna’s hit song, “Stay ft. Mikky Ekko.” Needless to say, the Sewanee community will be lucky to welcome him home to the Domain, where he has contributed a legendary presence as a student and friend of Sewanee. Starting July 1, 2015, Marichal Gentry will officially begin his job as dean of students at the University of the South. Welcome home.