Dr. Malcom Morgan-Petty: A Cornerstone of Campus Life in Santa Fe
June 16, 2023 | By Salomon Cordova (SF22)
In addition to serving as the college’s associate director of student engagement, Dr. Morgan-Petty is known among Santa Fe Johnnies for providing support, smiles, and a safe space to unwind.
If you’re awake at dawn at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, you might run into a Johnnie insomniac, an outdoor enthusiast, or a worried penitent wandering with eyes unfocused, mind preoccupied with some obscure concept as the sun breaks over the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Also up at this hour is Dr. Malcom Morgan-Petty. He’s made sure his son has gotten to his bus stop on time, and now he’s turning on the lights in his office and preparing to receive his first visitors of the day.
Morgan-Petty was recently promoted to associate director of student engagement after serving as the Santa Fe campus’s student events coordinator since 2018. In December 2022, he completed his doctorate of education in leadership and management at Walden University, with a thesis focus on financial aid as an indicator of retention for Black male students. St. John’s doesn’t have a large Black student population, but Morgan-Petty’s academic research—and his personal background growing up in the Texas foster care system—make him sensitive to the struggles that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds can face when attending a private college.
Shortly after joining St. John’s College, Morgan-Petty created his own designated student lounge, a choice that may at first have seemed unusual to the Johnnie community. But he wanted to understand students’ needs, and for that, he needed a place to talk to them. Many ended up spending lots of time in the lounge—and gobbling up its free snacks, since they couldn’t always afford the campus coffee shop.
Morgan-Petty quickly identified two critical needs: students needed a space outside the coffee shop, library, and dormitories to unwind and receive emotional support, plus the college needed to find new ways to engage students outside the classroom. As more and more students made their way to his lounge, college leadership began noting its benefits.
Located next to Morgan-Petty’s office on the Weigle Hall administrative building’s ground floor, the student lounge attracts students searching for snacks as well as those looking for a quiet space to study, sleep, or relax from the rigors of academic life. Students who need to talk find that Morgan-Petty always makes himself available.
As a few early-bird students pass through the lounge for coffee, Morgan-Petty settles into his office and gives student ambassador Finn Huggs (SF25) his assignments for the day. In all, Petty manages six student ambassadors who take care of different support tasks for student events, from hunting down sprinklers for a Slip ’N Slide to cleaning and restocking the lounge.
Morgan-Petty then jumps into an interdepartmental college meeting focused on harmonizing efforts across offices and programs to improve the overall student experience. College departments work together to address student retention and engagement, personalize their interactions with the students, and, as Morgan-Petty describes, “to step up our game and not just serve the St. John’s community but to also step out into Santa Fe and help them appreciate the uniqueness of where we are located.”
Morgan-Petty moved to Santa Fe in 2011 to study theater and makeup at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. He worked on campus in admissions and student life, first as a student and then as staff post-graduation. He became involved in the local theater community and started performing in drag shows under the name Coco Caliente.
Morgan-Petty often utilizes his off-campus connections to enhance student life offerings at St. John’s. This past school year, he invited one of his mentors from his alma mater, Baba Fred, to lead an African drumming workshop with St. John’s students. During the workshop, Baba Fred told the students that drumming is a way of caring for their community, and that elders teach by example.
“I think we’re now doing that very thing here at St. John’s,” says Morgan-Petty. “We show students how to organize their clubs to create appropriate and inclusive events, and then step back and let them make it their own.”
There are now 50 Santa Fe student clubs that meet regularly—nearly double the amount from when Morgan-Petty first arrived on campus in 2018. After five years, he sees students assuming leadership over these groups which lets him focus his energy on creating more campus initiatives.
Even at a long day’s end—as Morgan-Petty wraps up appointments, chats with the day’s final students, and departs Weigle Hall, now off to reunite with his son—he’s tireless when it comes to connecting with Johnnies. With them he creates trust-based relationships, supporting them through the inevitable struggles that come with college life. But more than that, he brings an important lightness of spirit to the student experience at a very serious college. On any given day, at any moment, Morgan-Petty will offer playful banter, belt out a quick show tune, or provide a moment of connection that can make a crucial difference to a student in need.