“Baker/Roush, it’s hard for me to imagine life without you,” Harrigan says. “There is truly no way possible to convey how much Baker/Roush has meant to me in this season of life.”
By Michael Lehman, Editor-in-Chief
It was the spring of 2008. On a desk in a dorm room at Grace College, an application from Huntington University sat ignored for months. The application was for the resident director position of Livingston Hall, a new three-story dormitory that would house its first round of students in the coming fall.
Mallory Harrigan, a biblical studies major and Spanish minor, had recently made a big decision. With no clear career path out of college, she found herself in the same dilemma as many other graduating seniors, whose “next logical step,” as she put it 12 years later, was graduate school.
But grad school just didn’t feel right to Harrigan.
“At the point that I was at, you know, that just wasn’t something that was of interest to me,” she says. “I kind of wanted a break from school – I’m sure you might understand!”
Harrigan had an epiphany during her senior year at Grace, where she had played an active role for the past three years. She had served in the student government, campus ministries and – wait for it – residence life.
“I just really enjoyed residence life,” she says. “It was something that I found to be a niche for me. I felt like it was a laboratory of sorts for the things that I was learning [in my studies].”
A Fort Wayne native, Harrigan began applying for resident director positions across the country while still in school. But for “whatever reason,” she avoided the application from HU, possibly because it was so close to home – to the place where her parents lived and where she had attended middle school and high school.
Harrigan never filled out the application for Livingston Hall. But by a twist of fate, she still found herself as a resident director at Huntington University just a few months later after a position in Baker-Roush Hall opened midsummer.
“It was kind of a whirlwind,” Harrigan recalls. “I was working as an intern at a church in the Columbus, Ohio, area, and they were really gracious to me – to leave and interview and all that for the position – and they allowed me to leave my internship early in order to take my position here at Huntington.”
Her predecessor, Alison Sharpe, had left the role after filling it for two years, according to press releases from the university.
When Harrigan laughs while recalling her early days, she’s laughing from a desk in an office she has used for 12 straight academic years. She’s the last remaining resident director from the 2000s and the longest-serving “RD” by a longshot – a rare individual who has kept the same residence life job through three different decades.
Roughly 30 feet away from her office door – a brief walk across the Baker-Roush lounge – sits the front door to her apartment, which she first moved into during the summer of 2008. At that time, the two-building, coed residence hall (HU’s largest by capacity) sat empty while students were away for summer break.
Twelve years and several hundred students later, that massive building sits empty once more due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, forcing Harrigan to finish her final two months as residence director without much of a residence to direct.
“The virus brought a pretty abrupt ending for everyone, and that – that came with a lot of grief and a lot of loss for a lot of people,” she says. “I was definitely not an exception to that.”
Students who have worked under Harrigan as resident assisants, or “RAs,” say she feels a deep love for her residents.
“I think I knew in my heart that this transition away from Huntington university residence life was going to be a really challenging one after such a long, sweet season here, so I was kind of bracing myself for that,” she says. “I was emotionally prepared for that to happen.”
“I wasn’t prepared for this to happen in March!” she adds.
The week after spring break – right when states began to issue stay-at-home orders in mid-March – Harrigan got the chance to say final good-byes to a few residents as they trickled in each day to move out of their rooms.
She instructed students to complete the sign-out sheets taped to their doors and to place these sheets, along with their room and mailbox keys, in an envelope, which had an already-sticky seal covered by a strip of tape so students wouldn’t have to lick it and potentially spread the virus. They then slid these envelopes under the crack of Harrigan’s office door, even as Harrigan watched from the other side the door’s large window with a sad smile.
A three-year resident of Baker-Roush myself, I managed to catch Harrigan at the beginning of a lunch break, which required her to make a trip back to her apartment. She hovered in the doorframe of her office and greeted me with a warm welcome, clearly balancing her efforts to be personable but respectful of social distancing procedures.
Later, I found her office door open when I went to turn in my envelope. I smiled and thanked Harrigan for making Baker-Roush feel like home, crouching down and awkwardly placing my envelope on the ground in the doorframe between us.
“You know, I thought that [moving out] was going to be something that we would a walk through, you know, in May,” she says, “so to have that sped up a few months was a little disorienting. It was very sad.”
At the time students were moving out of Baker-Roush Hall, only a few knew of Harrigan’s coming departure, which she says made the experience more bittersweet.
“The day that many of you started moving out was incredibly emotional for me as I knew that it was the first stage in a very hard goodbye,” she said in an email announcing her departure to her residents. “While the faces of Baker/Roush have changed over the years, the privilege of being your RD has not. I have been extremely blessed to have the opportunity to live with and know such incredible humans who are journeying through life and in the process, who have helped push me to know a deeply compassionate God more, seek His face, find joy, recognize my weaknesses and faults, sit with hard questions, and choose love.”
“She was … never afraid to sit with us in our brokenness or inadequacies,” Roush RA Ali Everett said in an email interview. “Mallory made Baker/Roush the home I didn’t know that I needed.”
Harrigan says that working with her RA teams has been one of the biggest privileges of the RD role. This year’s RAs are sad to see her go. This includes Roush RA Reilly Vore, who had the rare opportunity to serve under Harrigan for the past three years, or one quarter of Harrigan’s entire time here at HU.
“Working with Mallory and being one of her RAs has been one of the biggest blessings of my life,” Vore says. “There have been so many instances in my three years working with her when I have needed something but didn’t know what. But before I could even be confused, she would offer me a cup of coffee or would ask what I need.”
Vore says Harrigan embodies the term “servant leadership.”
“Mallory has taught me that being a leader is not always someone who marches in front – but sometimes someone who walks beside,” she said.
This metaphor takes on a literal meaning for Roush RA Kayla zurBurg.
“Mal and I share a love for nature,” zurBurg says, “so when it was warm outside, we would go for walks together for our one-on-one meetings. Once, we walked the campus loop and onto the path behind the baseball fields and then through Huntington. It was a long and beautiful walk.”
This year’s RA team made a lot of memories during their time together.
“When it comes to a favorite memory I have, it would have to be one of our early Baker/Roush events when everyone was involved in a water balloon fight,” recalls Tasha Peoples, Harrigan’s assistant RD. “Although it was short-lived, everyone had a blast participating.”
Harrigan continues to keep in touch with her RAs via Zoom while everyone is away, which has allowed them to continue to bond over their “Team Time” group meetings.
“My favorite memories with Mallory and the three different RA teams I have had over the years are always the funny times,” Vore says. “Our Team Time meetings each week would encapsulate real life. We would laugh together, sometimes for too long. We would cry together, pray together, and each week we would just live everyday life together. The big events are always wonderful memories, but the times I’ll remember most will be those two-hour meetings each week when we all just lived life together.”
Harrigan’s occupation as RD has given her a unique way to “live life” rather publicly with the students she serves. During her time at HU, Harrigan married and built a small family in the presence of many students who were just one stage in life behind her.
In 2015, she married her husband, Jon, who teaches art at Huntington North High School. The two have raised their two sons, three-year-old Emmaus and one-year-old Ezra, on a college campus at a time when no other RDs had young children at HU.
“Even through babysitting her kids, though they are little, I’ve learned so many life lessons through Emmaus and Ezra because they have a mom like Mallory,” says Grace Leone, another Roush Hall RA. “She and Jon instill so much of God’s love into their little hearts. It’s so beautiful to see how they’ve grown up.”
Harrigan says managing a new family at a college setting is challenging, but she believes the privileges outweighed the struggles.
“People will stop and talk to us in the [dining commons] that we don’t know at all – they’ll stop because they want to talk to the kids,” she says. “Because of Emmaus and Ezra, we get to have that opportunity to connect with students, and that’s been really cool.”
She says that Emmaus and Ezra have been fascinated by her residents.
“Even though they’re little, they are definitely, like, little humans,” she says, “and they have their own relationships, and they have their own ideas and things like that, so that’s cute. Sometimes Emmaus will tell me about, ‘Oh, so-and-so did this or that, or he’ll ask me, “Who’s that? Who’s sitting with her? Who’s that guy next to so-and so?’ So it’s been fun.”
This summer, the Harrigan family will move to their Fort Wayne home, which they have been renting out through the Airbnb platform. Jon plans to continue teaching art at Huntington North High School.
Harrigan, meanwhile, is planning to stay at home with “the boys,” which will include a third son this July. She plans to visit her Baker-Roush community at some point next year. Current Hardy Hall RD Lauren Frischman will take the reins from Harrigan due to Hardy Hall’s temporary closure next year.
“I am deeply going to miss working with Mallory and the gifts she brings to our RD team, our student life staff, and our campus,” Frischman says. “She has taught me about what it means to be faithful, patient, and harmonious, on top of all of the wisdom she has shared with me.”
She says Harrigan’s faith shines through in all that she does.
“She brings harmony to any situation she is apart of and automatically makes people feel comfortable,” Frischman says. “Mallory’s trust and faithfulness in the Lord is inspiring to all, and you can definitely tell that all that she does stems from her deep faith. Her commitment to Huntington University and the ways she has served her students deserves so much more than a simple ‘thank you.'”
Harrigan reveals she hasn’t ruled out returning to university residence life at some point in the future.
“It would be hard for me at this point right now to say that I’m saying goodbye forever to res life,” she says, “but we’ll see what doors the Lord might open or shut.”
“I am so grateful for the opportunity to have shared part of my life with every person who has been a part of the Baker/Roush community,” Harrigan says. “This has been so much more than a job, and I have been so significantly impacted by you — by your stories and your lives, by your questions, by your surrender, by your struggles and by your victories.
“Year after year after year, I’ve seen you show up, serve one another, share your brave hearts in community, and I will carry that with me, beyond HU….
“I am so grateful that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever and that His love and care for every person in Baker/Roush, both past and present, is deep and constant, and He will travel on with you where our paths split.
“You all mean so much to me — thank you, Baker/Roush, for traveling this journey with me so authentically, faithfully and lovingly.”