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In Memory of Jill Parker

In dedication to Jill Parker, a Moral Courage team member and HRC student fellow, we remember her through personal stories, examples of her work and reflections on her life cut too short.

All UD community members, alumni, and friends are invited to share memories or words of condolence for the family of Jill Parker by submitting them through the Campus Ministry website.

Jill Parker, a dear friend and treasured student, died suddenly this past Saturday. On the evening of the bicycle accident, which occurred in a rural area north of the city, Dayton witnessed the most brilliant sunset of the summer: a wild, warm neon pink spilled across the sky until it covered all the space there is to see. My art teacher in elementary school used to remind the class that, when we draw, we should make the colors, “say their names.” On the evening we lost Jill, the sky said neon pink.

Last fall, Jill was selected to be a team member with the 2020 cohort of the Moral Courage Project, which was the fulfillment of a long-held desire. When she first arrived on campus, Jill visited with Dr. Natalie Hudson for academic advising with one question: What do I have to do to be a part of the Moral Courage Project? Jill’s older sister, Maura, was a part of the 2018 team that produced, “America the Borderland,” and Jill was simply an ideal fit for us from the start. She was everything we look for in a student: head, heart, and hands.

We began to prepare for fieldwork in the spring term, until the pandemic sent us home and prevented us from traveling. The team regrouped and pushed on this summer to position ourselves to design and produce this fall. In that time, Jill conducted interviews, collected images, wrote music, and contributed animation. Jill grounded us and lifted us up across months of Zoom sessions. We’ve spent time these past few days reflecting on how much she changed our lives, as well as how much she left behind for us. Her teammates and her teachers miss her so much already. 

Jill was a photographer, an illustrator, a musician, and a storyteller. She loved going for bike rides, coasting on her skateboard, hiking and backpacking, gardening, and just playing. Jill had a sharp and patient mind. She could comfort an awkward moment with a smile and lend her confidence to someone in the room who needed it. Jill was so cool and everyone wanted to be friends with her. A profound sense of connection and connectedness infused everything she did. But above all else, she was a human being who treated other human beings with respect and decency. It’s cliché to say of the dead that they were thoughtful, caring, or closely attentive to the needs of others but, in fact, those are rather rare traits among the living.

Jill and I spoke earlier this summer about the future, about how anxious she was feeling as she confronted a looming 2021 graduation into a world still rife with pandemic and an unforgiving economy. I feel so deeply sad for her peers that can now count an additional source of uncertainty: a first-hand reminder of the fragility of life itself. 
I told her to do her thing. Make art. Practice craft. Experiment. Play. Create. Build a body of work. Because this summer, the summer before graduation, maybe the last chance she had to be free from the constraints and burdens of adulting. I hope that eased her head and untethered her heart and hands. 

As her teacher, a memorial is the closest I’ll get to the letter of recommendation I’ll never be asked to write. I’m grateful for her voice and her vision that the Moral Courage Project carries forward in our work—work that will continue despite and with her absence.

In peace.
-Joel R. Pruce
Team lead, Moral Courage Project and Associate Professor, Department of Political Science

As the University of Dayton community continues to mourn the loss of student, Jillian Parker, we at the Human Rights Center want to reflect on Jill’s life as a student, an artist, and human rights advocate.

For all of us who had the great opportunity to work with and learn from Jill, we are better for it. Whether she was in one of our human rights classes, leading students in Dayton Spring Breakout, creating music and art and stories for the Moral Courage Project or capturing beautiful moments of solidarity at our Human Rights Vigil, Jill consistently and gracefully embodied the highest of standards that we hope for our Human Rights Studies students. Every day in big and small ways Jill interacted with the world in a way that put inclusivity, compassion and joy first. She valued each human encounter with intense listening and a warm smile. Her commitment to the dignity and worth of every human being was always evident.

She taught us that human rights is for everyone, all the time; it’s in our disposition and should guide us daily. She taught us that advocacy can take many forms, and many of those forms she left with us. She showed us how to be brilliant, creative, and fierce as we use our voice for the common good. And she modeled the hope that is essential to all those doing human rights work.

Jill was a gift to us all, to UD and to our human rights community. May we continue to learn from her example and may her light and love guide us in our everyday human rights work.

-Natalie F. Hudson
Director, Human Rights Studies and Associate Professor, Department of Political Science

Jill Parker’s arrival to UD was highly anticipated by the entire art department, given its gushing annunciation by her sister Maura. This talented creative had so many converging and ever-multiplying interests that span the arts, humanities and social sciences.

She shared with me the desire to major in English, Spanish and photography, so we grew close as she navigated all of her options with unmet enthusiasm and curiosity. During her participation in my Art and Social Practice course, she became involved with food justice efforts through Gem City Market and CO-OP Dayton. She also began an ongoing collaboration with Welcome Dayton and Latinos Unidos, during which she documented multiple events and provided child care during key training.

This summer, we grew closer working on visual research for the Moral Courage Project and making photographs in my backyard – an activity that helped us to bear the weight of social distance safely and creatively. In July, she assisted me on an editorial assignment for a national magazine, and I will forever treasure this one great adventure we took into both rural and urban Ohio to raise awareness of voter suppression.

Jill cared so deeply about others, and her care was met with such sharp insight, intelligence and awareness. In short, Jill was more than my student. She was a collaborator, a confidante, a friend, a source of inspiration and, ultimately, Jill Parker was my teacher.

In words that echo those of other members of the Department of Art and Design, I hope to be more like Jill when I grow up.  

-Glenna Jennings
Associate Professor of Photography, Department of Art and Design and HRC Fellow

A place to visit in remembrance of Jill has also been set up in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception for anyone who is looking for a moment of recollection or prayer.


Flyers who need personal support can find a list of campus resources here, including Campus Ministry, Dean of Students, and Counseling. 

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