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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

‘Shocked and grieving’: Custodian Olivia Parrish passes away during shift at Stevenson Center

Parrish worked for Vanderbilt for over 40 years and was beloved by coworkers and students.
Laura Vaughan
The Stevenson courtyard with the Small Molecule NMR Facility Core in the background, as captured on Sept. 26th, 2023. (Hustler Multimedia/Laura Vaughan)

Olivia Parrish, a staff member of the Vanderbilt University Maintenance and Operations team for 40 years, passed away while working in Stevenson Center math area on the night of Oct. 23.

In an Oct. 31 statement to The Hustler, a university representative confirmed Parrish’s passing. The representative confirmed that Parrish was found by students in Stevenson Center in a Nov. 3 statement. 

“Several students found Ms. Parrish, recognized she needed assistance and called an ambulance,” the representative said. “Student Care Network staff followed up to offer assistance to the students the same day.”

Community grief

Parrish was 72 years old and first began working at Vanderbilt in 1979. A co-worker of Parrish, who was granted anonymity for protection from employer retribution, said Parrish was insistent on continuing her work at the university even after retirement. They added that she was an avid baker and crafter.

“All I have to say is that she was a good person, a real kind lady. She worked with us for 45 years,” an anonymous coworker said. “Her family is sad, shocked and grieving.”

The Dores Workers Solidarity Network, an unofficial student group that advocates for workers’ rights at Vanderbilt, is organizing a memorial service for students and staff. 

“We are deeply and immeasurably saddened to learn about Olivia Parrish’s passing,” junior Emma Marlowe, DWSN Head of Outreach, said in a message to The Hustler. “Without committed and caring leaders such as herself, the Vanderbilt community at large would cease to function.”

Concern about death notification

Students and the university community as a whole were not notified of Parrish’s death. Vice Chancellor Eric Kopstain — who oversees VUMO — informed “all division staff” on Oct. 25 of her passing and directed them to the university’s mental health resources. Describing Parrish as a “beloved and valued member of the Facilities team,” the university representative added that Vanderbilt also reached out to Parrish’s family. Nine days after her death, the university published a MyVU story on Nov. 2 about Parrish’s passing. 

The university representative stated that co-workers are “typically” notified when a staff member passes away, while broader notifications to the campus community are not as common. 

“We are always mindful of the sensitivities of the family for any broader distribution of the notification,” the representative added. 

Junior Ade Forrest, DWSN head of communication, said Parrish’s colleagues told him that they were left in the dark about her passing, leading them to learn about her death by word-of-mouth. 

“We believe staff tragedies should be addressed in a similar fashion to faculty tragedies,” Forrest said in a message to The Hustler. 

According to the university’s guidelines for publishing obituaries in MyVU, obituaries are published for all current and former faculty, chancellors, deans and vice chancellors upon their passing. The guidelines include that obituaries are also published for other “notable members of the Vanderbilt community” on a “case-by-case basis.” 

Senior Chidimma Oluavu expressed sadness at Parrish’s passing and was disappointed to have learned about it from “tertiary sources.” Oluavu added that she believes the university treats service workers on campus as “disposable” and fails to “properly acknowledge” their work.

“This campus would not function without them [service workers], and I think they deserve to be recognized and acknowledged for all that they do,” Oluavu said. “It’s a terrible thing that happened, and Ms. Parrish deserved so much more after over 45 years of service.”

Brina Ratangee contributed reporting to this piece.

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About the Contributors
Aaditi Lele, Editorial Director
Aaditi Lele ('24) is majoring in political science and climate science with a minor in South Asian Language and Culture in the College of Arts and Science. She previously served as News Editor. Outside of The Hustler, you can find her crocheting, practicing calligraphy or counting down the days until she can see her dog. She can be reached at [email protected].    
Laura Vaughan, Senior Staff Photographer
Laura Vaughan (‘25) is a student in the College of Arts and Science studying mathematics and economics. When not out on an assignment for The Hustler, she can be found studying in the Schulman Center, having lunch at Frutta Bowls or trying to clean her file structure. She is available at [email protected].
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Comments (5)

The Vanderbilt Hustler welcomes and encourages readers to engage with content and express opinions through the comment sections on our website and social media platforms. The Hustler reserves the right to remove comments that contain vulgarity, hate speech, personal attacks or that appear to be spam, commercial promotion or impersonation. The comment sections are moderated by our Editor-in-Chief, Rachael Perrotta, and our Social Media Director, Chloe Postlewaite. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected].
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Jennifer Alexander
3 months ago

The MyVU guidelines reveal a hierarchy of importance of human lives, and staff do not make it on the list (unless they are deemed “notable”–and by whom?). As a former staff member and a Vanderbilt PhD graduate, I commend the Dores Workers Solidarity Network for raising the issue and encourage them to pursue the matter. If VU indeed values its staff and deems their lives to be as valuable as those of current and former students, faculty, and high-level administrators, MyVU must revise the guidelines to reflect that.

VU '23
3 months ago

They should be publishing staff obituaries. Those workers are just as essential to VU as anyone else, and should be honored as such.

3 months ago

Lack of adequate retirement benefits so had to continue working at 72?

Cindy whitaker
3 months ago

Yep make them work till they die not adequate retirement a disgrace!

George Albu
3 months ago

It is so incredibly sad that she had to go while working 🙁