The Collegian
Thursday, August 06, 2020

Alumni call for UR to denounce alumna's offensive tweets

<p>Current USAID appointee Merritt Corrigan, second from left, seen with other members of the Virginia Eta chapter of Pi Beta Phi in 2013 during her time at UR.<em>&nbsp;</em></p>

Current USAID appointee Merritt Corrigan, second from left, seen with other members of the Virginia Eta chapter of Pi Beta Phi in 2013 during her time at UR. 

Editor's Note: The managing editor of The Collegian is a member of Pi Beta Phi.

This article has been updated to remove photo courtesies of two photos of Merritt Corrigan given to The Collegian by Emily Shuman because these photos have also been posted on a social media platform in 2013. Social media posts linked to this article have also been updated to specify which person in the photograph is Corrigan.  


A group of alumni are calling for the University of Richmond to publicly denounce Merritt Corrigan, UR '16, after her tweets that targeted the LGBTQ+ community, women and refugees resurfaced.

Corrigan graduated with a Bachelor of Science in business administration, said Cynthia Price, associate vice president of media and public relations. A ProPublica article uncovered Corrigan's offensive tweets after she was appointed by the Donald Trump administration to serve as deputy White House liaison at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Although the tweets in question have been deleted and Corrigan’s Twitter account is now private, an Internet Archive page captured screenshots of over 400 of her tweets, originally posted in 2019-20. 

A tweet Corrigan posted on Oct. 7, 2019, with her account @MerrittCorrigan. Screenshot courtesy of Emily Shuman

Emily Shuman, UR '14, said she saw the ProPublica article about Corrigan when checking the news on June 5. 

“I did not expect to see a familiar face in the article,” Shuman said. 

Shuman and Corrigan were both members of UR’s Pi Beta Phi chapter, Shuman said. 

Shuman said that since graduating she had been reflecting on her involvement in Greek Life and felt she had no right to be shocked by Corrigan’s behavior. Greek Life culture when Shuman was at UR was centered around whiteness, heterosexuality, cisgender-ism and class privilege, she said.

"Of course, someone with views like [Corrigan] can come out of that culture, thinking the way she does about other people,” Shuman said.

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On June 8, Shuman emailed UR president Ronald A. Crutcher to call for UR to ban Corrigan from alumni events. Shuman's email also called for UR to return or refuse to accept any past and future donations from Corrigan, according to a copy of Shuman's email obtained by The Collegian. 

Shuman received a response from Crutcher on June 16 in which he thanked her for sharing her perspective, provided links to LGBTQ+ initiatives on campus and encouraged her to reach out to the Office of Common Ground, according to a copy of Crutcher's email obtained by The Collegian.

Shuman said she was disappointed by Crutcher's "non-response" response. On June 29 Shuman sent another email to Crutcher, and copied Director of Common Ground Glyn Hughes, with a link to a CNN article, which reported about the archive of Corrigan's deleted tweets, according to a copy of the email obtained by The Collegian. Shuman said she had not received a response to her second email as of July 14.

“There [needs] to be public statements denouncing [Corrigan] in particular and her extremism, especially since she now has a government position,” Shuman said. “I do think she is obviously an extreme example of what can come out of the campus culture at the University of Richmond, at least from what I experienced there.”

Other alumni who reached out to Crutcher asking for Corrigan to be denounced received the same email from Crutcher that Shuman received, Shuman said. 

A tweet Corrigan posted on Nov. 10, 2019, with her account @MerrittCorrigan. Screenshot courtesy of Emily Shuman 

One of those alumni was Michelle Davidson, UR '14. 

“It was a pretty disheartening response, to be honest," Davidson said. "It was, first of all, just clearly a mass email template. And second, it didn't really address what we were stating. So, it felt like he didn't actually read it or acknowledge what we were requesting or at least even come to some compromise.”

Davidson said she had known  Corrigan because she had been Corrigan’s big in Pi Phi. 

“She was kind of traditionalist in the sense that she believed that women have places in the home," Davidson said. "We did not have very similar views on a lot of things.”

Price wrote in a July 9 email to The Collegian that UR's mission was to prepare students for lives in a diverse world.

“Among our institutional values are inclusivity and equity," Price wrote. "The university as a whole and through LGBTQ Campus Life and Common Ground is committed to fostering a welcoming and inclusive community where all students can thrive."

Greek Life coordinator Lisa McCoy sent this statement to The Collegian in response to its request for comment.  

A tweet Corrigan posted on Nov.17, 2019, with her account @MerrittCorrigan. Screenshot courtesy of Emily Shuman 

A Change.org petition was started a month ago demanding USAID fire Corrigan and other USAID employees who have expressed similar views. The petition has gathered over 2,000 signatures as of July 13. 

Tate Sheppard, an English as a second language teacher who has no affiliation with UR nor USAID, said he had started the petition because he had felt the articles about Corrigan would not gather enough attention in the mainstream news. 

“It was very frustrating because I think in the news cycle currently there's a lot of coronavirus, and then recently we've seen a lot of things about uprisings about racial injustice and racial inequity in the United States,” Sheppard said. “And so, to see these kinds of appointments of these particularly scary political figures, I knew immediately. I was like, 'This is going to get washed down the drain.'”

Both Shuman and Sheppard said they reached out to the national Pi Phi organization about Corrigan's offensive tweets. 

Shuman wrote an email demanding for Corrigan to be dismissed from the sorority, for any donations she made to be returned and for the national organization to make a public statement condemning Corrigan’s views, she said. 

Shuman received a response email from the national organization, which she believed was because she wrote that she had wanted to resign from Pi Phi in her initial email, she said.

“I'm not sure if I hadn't said that if they would have even responded to me," Shuman said. "Multiple other alumni have not gotten any sort of response from them."

Amy Southerland, Pi Phi’s grand vice president alumnae, responded to The Collegian's request for comment on July 9.

“Pi Beta Phi can, and will, hold members accountable, including alumnae, in the event they violate Fraternity policy through existing private internal processes," Southerland wrote. "The Fraternity does have provisions for the dismissal of a member for engaging in inappropriate, harmful or hateful behavior. All member conduct efforts are confidential, so we cannot share specific details relating to an individual case.”

Sheppard said he also emailed UR’s chapter of Pi Phi on June 7 and received no response. Sheppard’s email asked for the chapter to make a public statement and join the petition he started, according to a copy of Sheppard's email obtained by The Collegian. 

“I see on [the UR Pi Phi chapter's] social media they have all these wishings of, like, solidarity: ‘We're with you. We're listening,’” Sheppard said. “And so, I think it's strange to see these institutions that Merritt Corrigan was involved with remaining silent.”

Merritt Corrigan, second from left, pictured at the Virginia Eta chapter of Pi Beta Phi's Pink Party, a tradition where big sisters give their new little sisters pillowcases, while she was a student at UR in February of 2013.

In a July 9 email to The Collegian, UR’s Pi Phi chapter president and senior Grace Miller wrote that the chapter had recognized it had to become more diverse and inclusive in order to be the chapter it sought to be.

“Our chapter understands we have not given enough attention to inclusion and recognizing our own personal biases," Miller wrote. "However, we have already begun making these issues priorities. With the Fraternity focused on holding alumnae members accountable to living out our core Pi Beta Phi values, our chapter will keep focused on our goals, as we know this is where we will have the greatest and most positive impact on society.”

In a July 9 email to The Collegian, president of UR's Panhellenic Council and member of Pi Phi Maggie Castelli, a senior, wrote that the Panhellenic Council does not tolerate racism, sexism, transphobia nor homophobia.

“Statements made by Merritt Corrigan, a University of Richmond alumna, do not in any way represent [the views] of the Panhellenic Council or our community," Castelli wrote. "We find these statements to be abhorrent and fully denounce them. We are committed to holding our peers accountable and to continue our efforts to educate and empower our community to be allies and activists.”

Merritt Corrigan did not respond to The Collegian's request for comment.

As of this article's publication, neither UR, Pi Phi's national organization nor UR's Pi Phi chapter has made a public statement condemning Corrigan’s views nor fulfilled any of the demands made by Shuman and other alumni. 

Contact news editor Jackie Llanos at jackie.llanoshernandez@richmond.edu.

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