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Freshwomen work for social consciousness in dorms

Mills College Weekly

Freshwomen Lauren Brown and Irene Richie are taking a pro-active
approach to making residence halls a place that black women and all
women of color can truly call home by creating an organization they
call Black Women Against Stereotypes.

“We are trying to raise awareness as well as sensitivity in
regards to the plight of all women of color. We also want to
instill a greater confidence and love for our own heritage. Most
importantly, our goal is to expose all stereotypes and negate them
with proof of action, in our history and in our present,” said

Brown and Richie’s decision to take initiative and create Black
Women Against Stereotypes was informed by their own personal
experiences in Warren Olney, their first year residence hall.

“My time in the dorms has been a very eye opening learning
experience. Though this time may be making me stronger it is very
difficult to deal with all the racist attitudes that exist. There
have been many times where I felt that it was not possible to go
back to my dorm without being upset that I still live there,” said

Other students have shared similar experiences of discomfort and
marginalization in residence halls, so much so that sophomore
Allegra Williams felt that the only way for her to continue at
Mills required her to live off campus.

“I decided to move off campus after the flyers were put under
the door of a few white students last semester. It was suggested
that the women of color write an apology to those students,” said
Williams. “At a meeting that [head of diversity services] Lisa
[McRipley] called [regarding the fliers] I heard stories about
women of color being harassed in the residence halls and having no
support, and that is when I really understood that Mills was not
interested in creating a welcoming space for women of color.”

“It’s really hard to articulate but [Warren Olney Hall] was
really impersonal. It didn’t feel like my home. It was just the
place where I slept,” said Williams.

Although residential and commuting life works to uphold a
standard that supports a diverse residential community, some
students do not feel that residence halls are conducive to their
needs as students of color. “I hate having to deal with R.A.s
[resident assistants] because rarely are they women of color and
whenever they feel they need to talk to you about something
communal living related, I always hear comments like, ‘I don’t know
how to talk to you or approach you about this problem,’ but that’s
not something I never hear said to white women,” said junior Miko

The office of student life which houses the department of
residential and commuting life wants to be viewed as a resource in
situations such as the ones previously described.

Director of residential and commuting life Moire Bruin said,
“Just the position alone can be a turnoff I recognize that. We know
that no matter what we do or say some students won’t feel
comfortable with us.”

Nonetheless, she encourages students to be candid about their
concerns. “We encourage students to report what happens. I know how
much learning happens in the residence halls. Students learn not
just in the classroom but where they live as well. There is so much
weight on the conversations that take place [there],” said

While residential life goes through rigorous training in the
area of working with diverse communities, devoting an entire day in
R.A. trainings to diversity as well as supplying staff with
readings on diversity over the summers Bruin recognizes that there
will always be room for improvement.

“Student affairs are an evolving process, how things worked 30
years ago won’t work today. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel
every year but we do have to at least take it apart and look at
it,” said Bruin.

As residential life continues to work on making resident halls a
comfortable home for all, Brown and Richie will continue to make
all the effort they can to make it comfortable for themselves and
those with similar experiences.

“Women of color should be able to be comfortable in their living
space, because we deserve to be. We pay an extreme amount of money
to attend this college, and this money wasn’t paid so we could be
uncomfortable,” said Brown.