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Mills takes steps in addressing diversity issues

With all the recent events on diversity on campus, the question that lies ahead for the Mills Community now is: What’s next?

“To acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to effect thoughtful changes in global, multicultural society,” reads the end of the Mills College mission statement, released with school demographics fact sheets for 2006-2007. Mills is known for its diversity on a national level and has been named as one of the more diverse and liberal arts colleges by major press institutions.

Yet there are many students, and even faculty, that challenge the picture of a diverse, happy campus, which Mills seems to project to the rest of the world through vehicles like the Mills Web site.

In the first of two recent campus diversity dialogues Gina Rosabal, Director of Student Diversity Programs, said “I’ve heard a number of complaints brought to me over the semester ranging from homophobia to not being included in class discussions.” In that dialogue discussion, Joanna Iwata, Dean of Student Life, said that similar assaults were made to Native American Sisterhood Alliance flyers last spring that have recently been made to Muslim Student Group flyers.

Iwata is referring to flyers that were put up around campus by NASA and the Muslims Student group, which were later torn down or written on without permission by some unidentified students. The flyers were originally placed to advertise group activities; many at Mills now see what happened to the flyers as signifiers of larger problems of racism and homophobia.

“I am very sorry,” said President Holmgren during her opening commentary at the Community roundtable. “That is part of my job, and that is why I am here.” By “that,” the president is talking about the absence students have seen and vocalized of her part during these acts of hatred towards student groups.

“We had the unique opportunity to witness seeing someone ripping down our signs [last spring],” said Esther Lucero, a student of NASA, at the second campus-wide diversity discussion, known as the community roundtable. “They said that they found them offensive, and expressed that they could take them down,” Lucero added. Lucero also informed the roundtable that NASA never heard from President Holmgren specifically and urged her to correct that as Mills goes forward in addressing issues in diversity.

For Tee Sullivan, a white senior who thinks of herself as anti-racist and anti-heterosexist, “diversity equates tolerance, and I do not want to be tolerated as a human.”

Sullivan also said “dealing with other white people on racism is lonely. Very few are interested in their part, or have the ‘why do you keep bringing this up’ attitude.”

Diversity is not limited to difference in race; it includes class, nation, age, ability, and all LGBTQI peoples. According to many members of the Mills Community, diversity is useless if it is not coupled with discussion of power.

“Multiculturalism is when you walk into a space and see art,” said Rosabal when speaking to a Weekly reporter. “Diversity should be visible throughout the institution. Mills needs curriculum where not just one week [or month] is about one particular group, but instead [has all groups] interwoven throughout the syllabus,” she added.

Here is what you can expect in terms of addressing surfacing issues from the college’s end, at this point.

“We will host a campus-wide Community Principles Roundtable event in January wherein all faculty, staff and students will be able to participate, as classes will be set aside in order to do so,” said Iwata when asked for the college’s plans for next steps around this issue. Iwata also said that she foresees “a campus-wide summit to be held on this beyond what we do in January where
‘teach ins’ can be conducted utilizing our in-house experts, like Shatki Butler.”

Such diversity forums should only be seen as starting points, according to Rosabal, Sullivan, and many at Mills. As Sullivan put it, “I must understand the limits of others’ understanding and their belief that my exterior inscription is destiny or truth. Again, it is about feeling invisible.”

For students at Mills, and specifically systematically oppressed students, it seems to be about gaining equal space, access and even institutional power.