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Redefining the U.S. Constitution

Jackie Kennedy

In honor of Constitution Day on Sept. 17, the Women’s Leadership Institute challenged the Mills community to create their own interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.

The Mills College 21st Century Constitution Initiative invited students, alumnae and professors to create a more inclusive U.S. Constitution. Methods of expression include an essay, a poem, an interpretive dance, a song or a play.

According to literature provided by the Women’s Leadership Institute, “.many groups have struggled and continue to struggle to be recognized under the U.S. Constitution.”
Groups not originally included in the Constitution, such as women and minorities, have had to fight for legislation for their civil liberties.

“I’ve always thought that we should re-write the Constitution,” said Breyon Austin, a Political, Legal, Economic Analysis (PLEA) major who refused to give her grade.

“I think we need to modernize it a little bit. I am working on it right now. I’ve got my interpretive dance steps all lined up,” she added.

Daphne Muse, director of the Women’s Leadership Institute at Mills College, hoped the initiative would get students involved and interested in activism and public policy.

“I want students to put their voices forward into activism and professions in ways that become policy,” Director Muse said. “I can’t think of a more compelling piece of public policy than the Constitution.”

Juniors Courtney Donnell and Melissa McDonough coordinated the initiative on behalf of the Women’s Leadership Institute. The Office of the Provost, the Institute for Civic Leadership and the Women’s Studies Department co-sponsored the project.

All institutions that receive federal funding must have an event or program related to the Constitution on Constitution Day, according to the law passed by the U.S. Department of Education in 2005.

Muse said that this challenge is the first Constitution Day related event in which Mills participated.

McDonough said that the responses she has received surprised her: “We’ve gotten an enthusiastic response from a lot of different segments from the Mills community.”

Muse said part of the idea for the Constitution Initiative came from her work as a writer for television producer and political activist Norman Lear. Lear sent a copy of the Declaration of Independence on tour across the U.S. and Muse wrote the curriculum for the tour.

The initiative also has a historical grounding in the work of two Mills College alumnae, Beate Sirota Gordon, Class of ’41 and Eleanor Hadley, Class of ’38. As the only women to help craft the post-World War II Japanese constitution, the Mills College Web site credits them with ensuring legal equality between sexes in the Constitution.

“We heard two Mills women wrote the Japanese constitution; we were like ‘We need a better one here!'” said McDonough.
Donnell and McDonough said they were looking forward to seeing work from students of all disciplines.

“This is a way to bring everyone together and provide a template for thinking about democracy,” said McDonough.
Although Muse confirmed that contest winners receive a prize, she refused to reveal what that prize might be until the winners are announced.

“The incentive is the exercise,” she said.

Submissions will be accepted until March 3, 2008. Contestants can submit entries at the Women’s Leadership Office, Suite 128, Mills Hall.