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Giving voice to the masses

Kayley Turkheimer

Five weeks after Mills students protested Joanna Iwata’s abrupt departure, students continue their efforts to communicate, demonstrating for a second time and meeting with the administration over grievances.

Formed back in 2005 and then reestablished this year, the Committee for Change is composed of the students who want to “respond to the lack of attention from the administration to ongoing concerns,” according to the committee’s open letter.

On the morning of April 16, dozens of students from the Committee for Change stood outside of Mills campus and used passing traffic to advertise their cause.

The protestors divided into two groups. The first stood in the grass just outside the front gate and held up signs for passing traffic to see. The other group repeatedly crossed MacArthur Boulevard. They would wait for the walk sign to light up, travel down the crosswalk while pointing the signs towards the cars then repeat the process when the traffic light turned red again.

According to flyers slipped under the doors of dorm residents, the demonstration voiced discontent with the administration over a deadline they set during a forum on March 14.

At this forum, Ramon Torrecilha, vice president for institutional advancement, promised to tell students whether or not the college officers would meet with them by April 6. He spoke to the ASMC co-presidents by this date and held an open forum on April 20.

Members of the Committee for Change felt that his response came too late, according to the flyer.

“We need to look at timing around the response. This happened three weeks ago. It is so crucial for students to have a way to talk with administrators,” said former Dean of Students Joanna Iwata.

Iwata spoke about the importance of student roles in decision making.

“Things can only be so effective without the ‘we.’ I know the [students’] ability to be agents of change and advocate for what they need,” she said.

The hour-and-a-half-long meeting on April 20 occured in the Student Union.

Around 70 people attended. President Janet Holmgren was present, along with Torrecilha.

“We understand this conversation is not sufficient to cover all we need to discuss,” said Torrecilha, adding that he intened this meeting to begin an ongoing conversation.

He added that the meeting was intended to begin a conversation and urged students to work for change through understanding, not anger.

President Holmgren said that she wanted to “strengthen and improve the Mills community” and discuss three main themes: public safety, retention, and accountability. These issues were derived from recent student demands and e-mail.

Campus mothers said that Mills does not provide enough resources like child care and family housing.

According to Andy Workman, associate Provost for academic affairs, the Provost’s Office is hiring a student assistant with DSL and will create a Mother’s Lounge in the Mary Atkins Suite.

He added that the M Center will look at financial aid for Mills mothers.

The rest of the meeting centered on communication.
Torrecilha suggested creating a Student Advisory Committee, which he said would be based on the Staff Advisory Committee. Like its predecessor, the committee would meet regularly with the administration.

Not all attendees fully supported this proposition.
“The problem with committees on campus is the left arm doesn’t know what the right arm is doing,” said senior Leah Herrera. She later suggested that the advisory committee include alumnae in order to avoid repeating mistakes.

Members of the Committee for Change suggested that Mills allow students the power to veto administrative decisions, especially with hiring practices.

Torrecilha said that student vetoing power would not benefit the institution.

Junior Lauren Brown disagreed with the Vice President.
She said that the elected officials “should have a considerable amount of power in that they represent the students.”

In the final 15 minutes, passions flared.

“These people. are working for us. We should matter,” sophomore Claudia Bugarin said rapidly.

Further meetings include the ASMC’s April 30 meeting where they discuss re-structuring their board. Another open forum between administrators and students is expected before the end of the semester.

Reporters Lisa Kelly and Ashley Guillory contributed.