The Feminist Legacy of Mills College Must Not Be Forgotten


We should always remember Mills School’s legacy as a traditionally inclusive ladies’s school and a protected haven for immigrants, LGBTQ college students and anybody else keen to vary the world.

Mills School, a ladies’s school within the Bay Space, is dealing with closure after 170 years. Mills was radical in 1852 for educating ladies, and most lately made historical past in 2014 when it turned the primary ladies’s school to explicitly embody trans ladies in its admissions coverage. (Wikimedia Commons)

We didn’t need to lose Mills School. However it was nonetheless price combating for. 

My story isn’t distinctive. After fighting psychological sickness in highschool, Mills was considered one of solely two schools I used to be accepted into. The status of East Coast ladies’s school’s was no match for my attendance document paired with my less-than-extraordinary ACT scores and small document of AP courses. Mills appeared past all of that, and its admissions crew noticed my energy as a author and dedication to social justice, and determined I used to be greater than sufficient. The college took me in with heat arms, simply because it did so many others with tales like mine who I might come to know: moms who attended my night courses; these returning to high school after 20 years who juggled work and household obligations; first-generation college students who made it to varsity in opposition to all odds.

At current, Mills is made up of 65 p.c college students of colour, 45 p.c first-generation school college students and 58 p.c LGBTQ college students. It’s almost unimaginable to seek out one other faculty with these numbers within the state, not to mention the nation. Mills instructed us we have been its best energy. 

Maybe this is the reason our faculty’s March 17, 2021, closure announcement reduce so deep. President Elizabeth Hillman despatched out an electronic mail stating that “Mills should start to shift away from being a degree-granting school,” citing monetary woes, declining enrollment and the COVID-19 pandemic. Alumnae got here out of the woodwork that evening to battle for his or her faculty, simply as that they had in 1990 when the varsity determined to go co-ed—solely to overturn their choice after a two-week strike insisting that training centering ladies was nonetheless related. Jennifer Bermon wrote in her 2015 piece for Ms. concerning the strike, “The college that had taught us to have a voice, to steer as ladies and to work exhausting for what we needed was seeing these rules in motion.”

Following custom, we dropped every little thing final March. Alumnae and college students rallied in individual and on-line within the hundreds and demanded to know extra: With out transparency from our administration, how might we ensure this was the one possibility? Why no last-ditch effort to fundraise by way of a capital marketing campaign? The place was the battle to save lots of this place from our management that simply yesterday had promised me and my classmates that we have been price it?

As a substitute, we have been instructed no: “There’s simply not the capability in our donor base to truly elevate sufficient cash to do that,” Hillman mentioned in an April city corridor—a press release we imagine is rooted in racism and sexism given the demographics of our alumnae (and an unfaithful one: simply the earlier yr, Mills efficiently raised $9.4 million—$2.5 million over their aim). It felt an increasing number of like relatively than do something to maintain it afloat, our leaders would do something to see Mills disappear. 

Proper now, the way forward for Mills’s legacy looms in uncertainty. Final June, two months after the preliminary closure announcement, Hillman introduced Mills can be merging with Northeastern College, a Boston-based analysis college which didn’t admit ladies till 1943—almost 100 years after Mills got here into existence. What was promised as a partnership has come to look extra like an acquisition daily: Most surprising is the worth Northeastern pays for Mills, within the type of a $30 million mortgage to cowl our debt—for a college probably price billions.

Our neighborhood has by no means taken no for a solution. After fundraising for and dealing with forensic accountants and monetary consultants, and after a lawsuit filed in opposition to school leaders, we have now come to seek out that Mills School by no means wanted to shut or merge: Mills’s endowment of $230 million is corresponding to different establishments of our dimension. The college was lately re-accredited for seven years, way over the standard three to 4. Our artwork assortment alone is without doubt one of the wealthiest school collections, probably price lots of of hundreds of thousands.

Mills didn’t should be bought for nothing. Our leaders selected to let it go—to let go of 170 years of historical past; let go of its numerous scholar physique, who are actually being requested to switch; let go of its famend college, whose contracts will probably finish a yr from subsequent June.

There’s a widespread phrase I’ve heard time and time once more on this battle, at March twenty sixth’s rally, time and again on-line and from present college students and alumnae alike: Mills saved my life. Lengthy earlier than Mills formally recorded its LGBTQ numbers, it was a haven for lesbians to exist in management roles and collectively on campus. 

Mills has always been a safe haven: for Chinese language immigrants through the Chinese language Exclusion Act, for Jewish students throughout World Struggle II, for victims of Japanese internment camps, and most lately, for trans college students—Mills turned the primary traditionally ladies’s school to undertake an admissions coverage inclusive of trans ladies in 2014, paving the way in which for different establishments like ours. Mills has all the time harbored college students keen to vary the world. We’ve lengthy pushed our twin beds collectively and held one another when our households and the world refused to.

“There’s no technique to clarify how a lot Mills means to me… how shut I got here to being crushed by the world with out it,” wrote alumna Darcy Totten in a Fb publish the day after the closure announcement. “As a teen, I didn’t count on to reside to see 30. The one homosexual folks I heard of earlier than school have been those on TV who had been tortured and killed.”

A number of months into our battle to save lots of Mills, I requested Darcy if we have been dropping. Our losses had begun to outnumber our wins, and the acquisition appeared to be plowing ahead with out stopping. Our neighborhood was drained. What if it doesn’t work this time, prefer it did in 1990? I requested her, virtually panicking with worry. She interrupted me by repeating: We do it anyway, we do it anyway.  We battle as a result of it’s the best factor to do.

Mills School might change into one other piece of historical past. However I’ll by no means be sorry that we tried, and I’ll by no means cease telling this story. We’ll all the time be the Mills siblings our faculty constructed us to be. 

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