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Profile: Melissa Stevenson-Dile

Lori Head

At first glance, Mills alumna Melissa Stevenson-Dile appears to
have a lackluster life. She has been married to the same man for 16
years, has had the same employer for 13 years, and spends much of
her free time volunteering for her church. Her mild yet eloquent
demeanor is what you might expect from the first-born child to a
father with a lifelong career in the Air Force. The portrait of a
stable steadfast woman with concrete values, she is not necessarily
the woman that you might picture at the center of contentious and
controversial issues. But that is precisely where she found herself
at Mills in 1990 and she could be headed there again. Despite
appearances, Dile is a woman who has been thrust into unique
situations resulting in unconventional decisions.

In May of 1990, just three days before the Mills community
revolted against the administration’s decision to make Mills a
co-educational institution, Dile was elected student body president
and she found herself in an unfamiliar but deeply impassioned
place. As president of the Associated Students of Mills College,
she stepped forth as a leader in an act of civil disobedience that
drew national media attention and resulted in the reversal of the
administrations decision to go coed.

“I did not come up with the strike,” said Dile. “There isn’t a
strong tradition of civil disobedience in a middle-class military
family, but I participated and supported it because I felt
impassioned that it was the right thing to do.”

Since Dile graduated from Mills in 1991, this passion has kept
her strongly connected, to help insure that the shared vision of
many alums continues to guide the path that the college will
travel. Through her service to the Alumnae/i Association and now
more familiar and comfortable with controversy, it seems that Dile
has found herself involved in yet another contentious and important
issue, that being the possibility of the Alumnae/i Association
moving away from tradition-and relinquishing it’s independence from
the college.

Dile applies the same passion and energy to her work with the
Alumnae/i Association as she did during her time as a key leader in
the strike. She served on the Board of Governors of the association
from 1993-1998 and as vice president for one year during that

She was recently asked by the association to co-chair the task
force along with another former AAMC vice president, on evaluating
the efficiency of the associations fundraising efforts, as well as
the “perceived disconnect” between the college and the association.
Dile has co-authored the report that the Board of Governors will
use to consider the future direction of the association. According
to Dile, the request was initiated by Mills College alums that also
serve on the Board of Trustees.

“We believe we can do better,” said Dile, referring to the funds
raised by the association, which directly support student
scholarships, alumnae programs and faculty salaries. She said, “The
association exists to support the college.”

Dile’s soft-spoken yet articulate self-assuredness is further
complimented by her appearance. A statuesque five foot nine inches
tall, the 35-year-old’s creamy smooth complexion hardly reveals her
age, and is contrasted nicely by her short dark hair and deep blue

Dile who majored in History and minored in Government pointed
out that there are different kinds of leadership. She said that the
outgoing ASMC president Robin Fischer, had been anticipating the
administration’s decision and was preparing for a strike along with
other constituency groups on campus.

“We had great resources. The alums helped with food, logistics
and money. Students, alums and even ‘men against men at Mills’ came
together to preserve the meaning of Mills.” Many of the men that
participated were graduate students at the time, or connected in
some way to female students according to Dile.

But the most important thing about the strike according to Dile,
“It reopened the debate,” she said, the one about how to remain a
single sex undergraduate institution and be financially solvent,
while preserving the tradition of the oldest women’s college in the

She said that in the end, everyone pulled together and
sacrificed to protect this important value. “Faculty and staff took
salary cuts and alum’s pledged one million dollars when they had
been pledging only about five hundred thousand in years past.”

“I remember not sleeping for those two weeks and not seeing my
husband. I also had my fifteen minutes of fame at twenty-one,” said
Dile, referring to her appearances on national television programs
such as Good Morning America and Nightline. Dile was “often the one
to speak,” because of her position as ASMC president.

Making matters somewhat complicated for Dile’s husband Mike was
that they lived on campus in the Underwood apartments during the
emotionally-charged strike. “He knew how important it was, and he
was very supportive, but it was unnerving and awkward for him when
people were lining the gates,” preventing him from driving in.
According to Dile those were isolated incidents that only occurred
once or twice.

Dile who was born in Sacramento, but grew up moving all over the
country as a result of her father’s military duty, said that
although her parents never came right out and said that they were
proud of her public protests, they were supportive and never
criticized her actions.

“It was Mother’s Day and they came to visit [during the strike]
and I took them around to meet all of the people at the blockades,”
she said.

Being a student who reaped the benefits of a full scholarship to
Mills and because of her involvement in the infamous strike, her
work with the alumnae association has been an important project to
Dile, who wrote the final report on behalf of the task force after
spending six months researching for it.

She said that the findings of the committee were that the
Alumnae Association must either significantly restructure itself,
to retain the tradition of financial independence from the
college-or have the association contract with the college as part
of it’s annual operating budget, but with strict conditions of
association self-sufficiency. The report is published and available
on the Alumnae/i Association page of the Mills Web site. A final
recommendation is not expected from the Board of Governors until
December of this year.

Dile has resided in San Jose, with her husband since she
graduated from Mills, and the couple welcomed their only child,
daughter Madeline, seven years ago. Now working for the City of
Morgan Hill as assistant to the City Manager, she is involved in
all aspects of the business, as well as being responsible for
marketing and communications. She said that one of the many
valuable things she learned while at Mills was that she “didn’t
want to be an elected official.” Stating that she’s an
“organization person,” Dile said, “I could never have a family big
enough to fill that need. I help figure out the needs of a

Dile began working for the city as an intern just after
graduating from Mills. That developed into a full time job as an
analyst, and she eventually became the Human Resources’ Director.
She got her master’s degree in Public Administration in 1996 from
San Jose State University.

Dile said, “I had a great experience at Mills.” She reflected on
her experiences and how she and husband Mike continued their love
of the church and music by attending the chapel at Mills, where
“Mike played the organ.”

Dile attributes many of her learning experiences in leadership
to her time during the strike and in the aftermath. The thing she
learned the most about and that she still applies today? “A group
of committed people aligned could make things happen,” she