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The Underside of Undergrad

A dear friend of mine, a resumer at Mills in the final semester of her senior year, has done the unthinkable. She’s just about Benjamin Button-ed her college experience. She has, for this final home stretch, moved INTO the dorms. The accepted logic goes that dorm life is something you do at the beginning, because you have to, because it is part of the college tradition.

It’s good for us to learn to live-with-others and meet-our-peers. Post-dorm-life, our roommates will be one or two or three at the most, not an ENTIRE hallway of people we love, hate, and see in pajamas. But it is in the dorms that we learn how to use Ikea furniture to great effect, how to cook ramen and how to not bogart all the beers.

Not to say that beer is a standard part of campus life. We are Mills women after all. In honor of my dorm-iciled friend, I hereby list some of what does comprise campus life these days. Here, in no particular order, are three current absurdities that keep this
campus crackling.

Number one, the great feral cat controversy. Anyone who has walked across the green at dusk knows about the prowlers. What I love most is that this population constitutes a scandal. Our own version of US Weekly would have a picture of a skittish cat with hair-on-edge along with the caption: “Mills campus starts transforming C students into CATS!”

I actually overhear impassioned conversations about the campus felines. To feed or not to feed? To catch and release? It’s sort of a metaphor, catch and release – it kind of sums up the college experience (dorm life, again), but with a lot more knowledge (and not just on how to decorate with Swedish tinker furniture) garnered in the caught part.

Number two, our new Crepateria. Don’t get me wrong; I kind of love our new frilly Suzie’s. It is perfect for The Charm Academy. The cupcakes and truffles make it like waltzing into a scene from the movie Chocolat, and I keep expecting Juliette Binoche to pop out from beyond the counter and offer me a life lesson along with my nutella.

Number three, The Vagina Monologues at Mills. Really? Mills puts on The Vagina Monologues? Cause that is what Mills needs more of. Monologues. And vaginas. I mean it’s not like I was expecting a performance of Glengarry Glen Ross, what with David Mamet’s brilliantly realized female characters. Although I kind of would like to see that show done with all women. Suck that, David Mammogram.

Of course, looking back to number one, we could just bite the bullet and actually put on Cats! Given the normal touchy-feely atmosphere of this campus, it’s not like we need to hear more about how our vaginas feel, or what food they would be (as of this writing, ramen noodles, if you wanted to know). But still, hasn’t anyone considered Wendy Wasserstein? And all these absurdities are part of why I love Mills – I am a great believer in finding the absurd sublime.

There are some hidden spaces on the geography of our campus that are purely sublime. These are the spots where we sneak off to study, or to eat our lunches (when they come in a less messy form than crepes), or the places we just go to, you know, think. My favorite space?

The Greek-like amphitheater behind the music building. With its circular set of rising communal seats, its thin blades of grass growing up between cracks in the concrete, its basin-like stage. It is a hidden gem. A quiet secret space that for me always suggests the possibility of echoed sound. When I sit in the stands, listening to the birds and the breeze, I feel like I can hear the haunting invisible chorus of Mills women.

Sure, sometimes they sing of their ladybits. Who doesn’t, from time to time? And sometimes, sitting there, I see a cat slink its way across the stage, avoiding being caught, or for that matter, released. Just for a moment enjoying a hidden spot on our sublime campus.

The Underside of Undergrad

There is something heartbreakingly hopeful about college. You can still do anything. We have yet to enter the world. Still our entire charge is to explore and think about the world-at-large. We are allowed the prospect of hope, of inspiration, of a deep belief that we can make a difference and be great; we still have yet to encounter our better selves. In college we cling to the concept that anything may be possible. The future is still ahead of us. It’s like an endless hopeful campaign for the rest of our lives.

I realize that my journey at Mills is well, to put it lightly, far from over. It’s not just the fact that the response many have upon seeing me is to ask: “You’re still here?” Because let’s face it, I often ask myself, “I’m still here?”

The thing is I am still here. And that is something. I’ve been an undergraduate student (at varied schools) since 1996. I’ve been off and on for over ten years now. What is that, the paper anniversary? The crystal anniversary? It’s gotta be something. My nine-year-old brother even likes to make jokes about it-when asked what school I go to, he replies, “the eternal school of never graduating.” Which is true. I have to admit I am a little terrified of what might happen if I actually graduate- a swarm of locusts, worldwide floods, perhaps plagues?

I think part of me is terrified of leaving the cloistered halls of possibility. And despite all this fresh injected hope, the real world, what ever that might be, is pretty terrifying right now. I may have been around the block a few times, but the last time there was an economy this dire, I didn’t know how to do a French braid. In the real world we are forced to compromise. At Mills? We don’t have to compromise anything. The most outspoken aspects of our personality can be defended constantly.

Graduating has become my Lolita- my “great rose-grey never-to-be had.” Humbert Humbert longed for the space where “infinite perfections fill the gap between the little given and the great promised.” Me, I also long to stay in that perfect space.

Out there, beyond the Mills gates, the jobs we want to do are shrinking, the hopes we have are tenuous. In college, at least we still get tomorrow. Graduating contains a finality that can be paralyzing. So I have sabotaged graduation, time and time again, because I am drawn to the in between space of student. Or at least that is what I tell myself.

Like many of you, I have a love-hate relationship with Mills. I love what it can let me do, but I hate the fact there is so much I haven’t done. And I am terrified of having to choose. As a perpetual undergrad, I could still be a writer, a painter, a journalist, a great mind. After I graduate the world may ask from me something rather more than potential. It might ask me to do more than think.

For whatever the scary and possibly stunted future might hold for us one-day-graduates, at least for now, we still get to be full of promise and capable of anything. The world out there might be scary as hell and economically in limbo, but within the community of Mills, we can still be anything we want. And one wonders why I’ve never graduated. Here is to ten more years of figuring it out. And many more years of being anything and everything we want to be.

The Underside of Undergrad

I have a confession to make: I love Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday; not the day itself, but the time of year that surrounds it. I love the chill in the air, the smells of pine needles, mulled spice, and eggnog. I love the warmth of a fire in the hearth. I love snowball fights, sledding, wrapping oneself up in scarves and hats and mittens. Mittens! It’s just fun to say.

Christmas is pure unadulterated nostalgia. Everything about it is redolent of a perfect past that never really was, but is constantly evoked through sense memory. My Christmas spirit has little to do with commercialism or Christianity; my love of the season comes not from my Presbyterian-raised father, but from my Indian mother. She imported the Christmases of her Bombay [Mumbai] childhood into our snow-swept Michigan winters.

Each year we would purchase an ornament to memorialize what had passed. A hummingbird to celebrate 1987; figures of Shiva, my mother’s favorite god, and Lakshmi, my favorite goddess, to celebrate 1981 and 1986. Every year, as we unwrapped the ornaments, we were really unwrapping the past. It wasn’t just trimming the tree, it was telling the story of our lives. The rest of the tree was garnished with birds – for this is how her Indian trees were dressed, with flocks of shiny, tinsel-tossed birds.

I’ve spent my most recent Christmases, not in snow globe Michigan, but in L.A., with my aging grandmother and my nine-year-old brother.

Nothing is more surreal than Christmas in L.A., at my grandmother’s retirement community, no less. 86 degrees and palm trees framed perfectly against a cloudless pale blue sky. A cloudless sky at Christmas time is almost bloodless with the lack of breeze. It’s like Christmas on a movie set with a fat Santa concealing a flask of whisky in his beard.

One year, I was crashing on a pullout couch in an empty unit my grandmother had rented. It was right next to the infirmary. The walls were paper-thin and I could hear a patient calling out “Oh god, Oh god!” all night long. It was Christmas Eve. Instead of Santa, I heard the cries of a man dying. God was brought back into a holiday I think of as being about memory. All this and a perfect 86 degrees when I woke on Christmas morning.

But then I think about my mother, our Bombay Christmases, her Indian trees, in a place where it is far hotter than 86 degrees.

Bombay, my mother’s city, my city. I was there again last summer, wandering the heavy hot streets, amongst the smell of asphalt and curry, jasmine and rickshaw exhaust, mangoes and sandalwood. The sound of Hindi hummed through the air. I think of Bombay now: Victoria Station, The Taj, the Oberoi. So recently in flames.

India is part of my memory and my present. I hang ornaments that remind me of this. But now I must add one more. One that marks a tragedy. A tragedy I can only hope does not spiral out of control. I hope the Bombay streets at Christmas time are full of spirit, not of hatred. I hope the reports of my family and friends, of a city filled with suspicion, are temporary. I hope, unlike my Christmas Eve in the retirement community, that no one cries out the name of God. Because in India, as in many places, the names of different gods yelled too loudly can lead to horrific violence and irrational division.

This year I once again celebrate Christmas as memory, no matter the climate. Me and my ‘lil brother are planning on making an awesome gingerbread house. Even in L.A., I can still believe in snow. And I can still trim the tree with a flock of birds as my mother did, realizing now that they are there to carry the worst memories away, leaving the best ones as ornamental remembrances, to rediscover year after year.

The Underside of Undergrad

Undergrad life is replete with sultry drama, boozy nights, and sometimes, extracurricular activities of a less nefarious bent. There are clubs, pizza gatherings, fan fiction (Seriously, what is up with fan fiction? Torrid porno fantasies utilizing the characters of young adult fiction, really?). As on all campuses there are the private groups and clans we all retreat into. One of these is the theatre geeks. I love the theatre geeks, am a recovering/maturing one myself. In high school it may have seemed that the popular kids were cool, the football players/ cheerleaders with their parties and beer. That is until you showed up at a drama party, with kids leaning against furniture, naked and chewing on mushrooms. Then you knew what real cool was. I was reminded of this when I had the privilege of participating in the Mills players’ production of Extremities. Otherwise known as the rape play.

Yes, it is a play about an attempted rape. It is also about the ‘victim’ who turns the tables on her attacker. Being in a play that revolves around sexual assault, performing and re-performing that night after night? To say the least: intense. For many people, in the audience and on stage, the play touched on deep issues. Some were grateful and moved, others couldn’t bear to watch. Because of the tenseness of the situation we were exploring through theatre, we all had to make a lot of inappropriate jokes.

Full disclosure, I have been in way too many situations where rape jokes have been on the table. Some of you in the Mills community, in the face of too much political correctness and armed with a sense of the absurd, might know of an informal club I co-founded-rape club. It was a humorous acronym for “Raising Awareness, Preventing Ennui.” A friend who disapproved of our cynical snarkiness used to call herself our resident non-consenter. Rape club was a joke. The whole getting-together-and-joking-about-rape fantasies? A way to blow off steam on an over-sensitive campus. In a space where sometimes you have to walk on eggshells so as not to offend, we would get together with the purpose of being smartly offensive.

Rape. It’s an issue that brings up a lot of pain. In many ways, it is still a taboo subject. We live in the false security of an all female campus. It can protect us from the reality that on college campuses at least one out of four women are raped. 50 percent of these women do not know that what has happened to them is rape. As women, we are the targets for these terrible crimes. As strong Mills women, we search for ways to conquer victimhood and to find catharsis.

Which is one of the reasons we make jokes-it is a way to transform pain into laughter, to regain control. As was acting out the horrific sexual assault of Extremities night after night. We had to confront emotional depths that were terrifying and discomforting, and doing so, some of us gained something like power.

As well as opening up the conversation in the Mills community, I have found that sometimes through acting and comedy we can take back the night, the afternoon, and sometimes even the mid-morning. As well as taking back the conversation. So here’s to raising awareness and preventing ennui, one inappropriate moment at a time.

The Underside of Undergrad

Early on Nov. 4th I sat down to write a clarification of my last column. As election day dawned I had barely slept, and fresh-brewed coffee mixed with pure hope and scant threads of fear flowed in my veins. I thought back to the moment that I fell for Obama: when I first heard his speech about race.

As Obama readily admits, his election will not instantly eradicate racism. There is no such thing as a post-racial world – nor should there be! But as I listened to his complex and honest analysis of race in America, I was moved to tears. His candidacy has made explicit a conversation that is sometimes cloaked in the shadows of euphemism. He signals to the rest of the world, and maybe to certain pockets inside of us, that the promise of equality our country was based on could, one day, become more than empty words.

In my last column I tried to talk about race. For some, I did this badly. With my tongue planted a little to the left of my cheek, I suggested that those who are often the most privileged outside the campus are sometimes cut off from the conversation on the inside. This is not monolithic, certainly. And Mills didn’t need this election to get us talking about race. We do quite well on our own, thank you very much.

Conversations about race go a lot deeper than skin. They are mixed in a sloppy stew with class, culture, disenfranchisement, history, and most delicately, identity. It is this last one which can get us in trouble, which got me in trouble. Because they are so personal, we’re not just thinking our way through these complex problems of existence, we’re feeling them too.

Many had legitimate concerns with my column. Some were angry. One woman dubbed me a white middle class slut, among other scatological and unprintable names. While these insults are totally off the mark, let me make one point… Remember that McCain campaign rally where crazy-town-hall-lady said that she thought – insult of insults – that Obama was Arab? And McCain’s attempt to stem the racist tide was to say that Obama wasn’t an Arab, that he was a good family man. As Colin Powell pointed out, all he did there was tacitly accept Arab as a legitimate insult. Being white or middle class shouldn’t be insults either. No basic fact of our identities does an insult make!

That is not to say that we shouldn’t recognize the privileges that come with certain markers. Nor should one deny the history: as Obama states in his speech, the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow are directly implicated in the current unequal conditions on the ground today. Nor should we avoid facing the mutations of repression that still occur.

The problems that identity politics shines a light upon are essential and important. But many theorists have suggested that once you expose institutions and systems as complicit in the continuation of disenfranchisement, you can’t just leave it at that. Once the wool comes off our eyes, what does a white woman, a straight woman, or a man do? What do the implicated do? They also need a new narrative for their identity. We all do. My argument is that we should allow everyone a legitimate narrative. And guilt and accountability are not, in and of themselves, enough to create that.

I think that is a conversation many on this campus are engaged in. And that’s a beautiful thing. This complex conversation is exactly what was going on in the class I stole an incidence from to make a point in my last column. By isolating that instance from its deep context, I did that class an injustice. I owe an apology in print. I am sorry.

And, I think that, in a much larger way, Obama is pushing our conversation from the classroom and into the wider world.

The Underside of Undergrad

I want to talk about a besieged minority community on the Mills campus. No, not the sexually confused underwater basket weavers (whose specific needs I promise to address in another column – sorry SCUBW’s), but a minority community that suffers greatly at the hands of the powers that be. Yup, you guessed it. I am talking about young straight white middle-class women. Oh wait, that’s not what you guessed?

Okay we can queue the hate mail, but I am gonna say this.

In a class the other week, I witnessed the terrifying, remarkable, strangely uncanny experience of clashing narratives that happens when one person’s life experience meets another’s, but not in a cute kinda way. Rather than the magic of empathy that we so often dream of, there is a harsh reality that sometimes the distance is too great for a simple bridge. Sometimes we bump up against each other, vying for the validity of our story, rather than realizing we all have our own, equally real tale to tell.

This was evident in my class, where one of the minority, a young white woman (lets call her “Joanna two-buck chuck”), made a comment that offended some of her classmates. She said something along the lines of… well, that most 14-year-old girls don’t know about abortion. Understandably, this offended women with different experiences, particularly women who were older or of varied ethnic, racial, or class backgrounds, who knew at 14 exactly what an abortion was.

It was a clash of narratives. But here’s the thing: the collide didn’t open up the conversation to multiple life experiences; rather, it caused Joanna to be called out in an uncomfortable way. In many of our classrooms the loudest, most assured voices are those of women who may have had ‘harder’ lives, and can fall back upon the language of identity politics so popular on our campus. This causes many other women to be pushed to the pavement.

The louder angels of the class told Joanna that it was okay that she didn’t get it, because that was all she knew. They were trying to say that Joanna’s experience didn’t match theirs, but they ended up sounding patronizing. So Jo ended up apologizing to the whole class, calling herself naive, and saying “I am not as strong as you.” I wanted to cry. Nobody should be made to feel weak, no matter their race, class, or gender.

This was not an isolated moment. I have seen it over and over, the whole “you-didn’t-live-through-it-so-you can’t-know” bit. There is only one way for us to know something outside of living it. And that is meeting someone who has. But that’s gotta go both ways. Diversity means including everyone. Including our Joannas.

If we are to realize a common language, then we would be wise to practice understanding and curiosity rather than righteousness. No one should have to apologize for the life they have led. So if you are young and white, middle class and straight, you have just as much right to assert your life as any one else. Everyone has a right to their own narrative. And if we are gonna talk to each other, we gotta come ready to listen.

The Underside of UnderGrad

Anyone else feel like the sky was falling on them last week? And no I don’t mean the economic crisiseses (how does one spell that word in the plural? Crisi?) I refer to the whirling helicopters and the mad-dog public safety folk – the campus lockdown soon to be seen as a major motion picture, Mills: Under Siege.

My friend Thea and I were innocently sitting in a room on the second floor of Mills Hall when the door burst open and an out-of-breath, flashlight-wielding, Public Safety Person burst in and told us we had to evacuate to the far side

of campus.

Why? Because of a double-homicide-hostage-triple-threat, including a suspect armed with a semi-automatic that could ostensibly send a spray of bullets towards campus. Our bucolic idyll had turned into baby Beirut.

On our way out of the war zone of Mills Hall we made a detour to a disbanding poetry reading on the first floor. Not to hear the dulcimer notes of literature as death drew near, but because as everyone knows – poetry readings? Best place for free booze and food. So yeah, we uncorked a bottle, filled a plate with cheese and crackers, and made our way to the other side of campus. If you’re gonna go down, go down in style.

Not that there was any real danger – I found the suggestion that bullets might make their way through the gates and into the old townhouse walls of Mills Hall absurd. It seemed to stretch logic, not to mention the laws of physics. Turns out that my flippancy wasn’t inappropriate. The situation was less dire than the campus brouhaha suggested. I am not saying that Mills is impenetrable by bullets or danger, or even by the real world, but we are protected on our lovely little campus.

We live in a bubble. And while I find the relative safety of our bubble refreshing and I sometimes take it for granted, I never forget where it is. Oakland is a minute away from us, but it might as well

be Mars.

For our neighbors the situation on the Mills campus last week wouldn’t be cause for panic, it would just be another Tuesday night. Outside our gates is a stretch of East Oakland often referred to as the killing fields.

But sometimes, like last week, Mills students are reminded of the world outside our gated community. Not that Oakland is some scary place where it rains bullets and land mines pave the streets. I encourage y’all to spend time in what I consider the most interesting, complicated, and yes, cool city in the Bay Area. It may be the little stepsister of hipster Frisco and pious patchouli Berkeley, but who doesn’t love the black sheep of the family?

As for our bubble-campus, there is a reason we call the academy the ivory tower. We are a bunch of Rapunzels, growing our minds like the princess grew her hair, looking down from the turret. We argue the finer points of sexism and racism in canonical texts – which in itself makes me laugh – yes books written in sexist and racist times are gonna share that predilection! And y’all know how much we talk about diversity. But you wanna see how race functions on the ground? You wanna see the beauty and messiness and complications of diversity? Then we gotta climb down from the ivory tower. You know how when you were little and you blew bubbles, and there was always that one kid who chased down the bubbles to make them pop? I was so that kid. Because the best thing about a bubble? Watching it burst.

The Underside of Undergrad

I recently had the pleasure of spending a lovely afternoon at the DMV. Which, in my opinion, was only excluded from Dante’s circles of hell by not having been invented yet. But beyond the long lines and haggard looks from fellow visitors at the weigh-station to hell, what was most remarkable about my visit was the mistake the DMV lady found on my license. Looking up at me with sort of wide, sleepy, embarrassed eyes, she said,

“Wait, you’re a girl right?”

I nodded, confused.

“And you’ve always been a…uhh…female?” I nodded again.

My driver’s license did not quite see things that way. Apparently I have been driving for four years in the state of California as a registered dude. Yup, that’s right. Up until today, I’ve been a guy.

A bunch of DMV workers came up to my counter and started pointing and laughing. I actually had to sign an affidavit affirming that I was, and had always been, of the female persuasion, that the DMV had made a mistake, and that I had not, in my recollection, had a sex change. If I had, I would’ve expected a chorus of “Ohh, they did great work!” Thank you very much.

Back when I had gotten my tranny license, I was in a place where I rejected my femininity. I shaved my head, wore overalls. By no means did I go through the emotional intensity knowing I did not belong in my body. But it was a struggle. I didn’t want to be limited by being a girl, didn’t want to be defined by it. So I tried to eradicate it.

Struggling with becoming a woman took me the better part of my twenties, ’cause let’s face it, gender is confusing! It’s malleable, confining, tied up with sex and love and who we are. For a while, I didn’t want to be my gender – but that was before I realized that gender can be, of all things, fun.

At Mills, womanhood is a deep part of our identity. Whether we shed the label or embrace it, it is never far from us. We talk about gender as the perspective from which we look out at the world, and the way it looks back at us. My mistake was to try to transcend gender by disowning my femininity. I still don’t want to define myself as girl first. But I learned that if I take on gender as performance, I might not be able to make the rules, but I sure as heck get to play with them.

Thanks to my years of trying to go beyond girl, I can spit, chug beer, explain what a first down is, and spell almost half of my name in the snow with my pee (don’t ask). Thanks to my rediscovery of my lady side, I can dance in high heels, sway my hips, and do an adequate french braid. I still can’t put on make-up; you win some and you loose some. Thanks to both, I have learned to navigate the minefield of gender a little better: understanding gender as a series of adjectives, as well as the way we are raised and the way the world looks at us.

Being male at the DMV was another little lesson in how arbitrary all this identity stuff can be. Heck, I had to swear in writing that I’d never had a sex change! Gender may be a story the world tells and puts upon us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get to sometimes make mad-libs out of the thing.

At the DMV I had to take a new driver’s license picture. So I let down my recently-grown-out hair, put on some lipstick (badly), and smiled my biggest, most femme smile. Of course, I ended up looking like a drag queen. But isn’t that kind of the point?

The Underside of Undergrad

Bonne Marie Bautista

Prepare yourself for a shock: I don’t call myself a feminist.

I defended this position a couple of years ago when Gloria Steinem visited Mills and chided any women who didn’t pronounce themselves as such. I felt that for Steinem to cry shame at any woman who refused the feminist moniker was political blackmail. While I will stand against discrimination based on gender, I can’t align myself singularly with it. I prefer the term “humanist,” which doesn’t exclude an intense analysis of the way in which gender difference exists in both positive and negative ways.

But this past few weeks in the news? The gender card was like the freaking queen in three-card monte. It was impossible to figure out who was playing it and how was it being played. In the end, I think, I was the one being played. I made a mistake. At first I blamed some feminists; I was mad at the Hillary Holdouts, the so-called feminists opining at the top of their quavering voices that they just couldn’t get behind Barack Obama. This blindness to issues-based politics (you know, what really matters) and over-emphasis on gender seemed to me to exemplify ‘how feminism goes wrong.’ Women on the news were saying, “Well now, I’ve never voted Republican before, but this might be the first time,” when the actual policies of Obama and Clinton are mirror images. I was all like, for real?

So yeah, when I heard the Hillary Holdouts prizing gender above actual issues, and ignoring the historic nomination of an African American, I wanted to puke in my mouth. But soon I redirected my evil anger-ray. That’s right, I decided that the press needed to be assassinated. The press, in my opinion, was most responsible for the insidious sexism that crept against Clinton. And now the same press was throwing these false-prophet feminists, who seemed to underline why I eschew the term, into the spotlight. They were elevating this narrative at the expense of all others. And when the press makes something out of nothing, it don’t stay nothing for long.

So now I come to the other object of my reviled affection: the McCain campaign. Which, as it now appears, has jumped on the cheap gender bandwagon by picking a girl to go first in kickball. It’s a hastily vetted, last minute choice, of an under qualified politician from a distant state who may have some skeletons in the womb.I mean closet.

It’s one thing that some women wanted Hillary so much that they were momentarily blinded. Look, even I got all teary-eyed at her convention speech. I’m not made of stone after all. And the sisterhood of the traveling pantsuits? Anyone who can resuscitate the lamest movie title of all time deserves respect.

It’s another thing that the desperate 24-hour press cycle tried to drum up a controversial narrative to hook us (this might actually be the most heinous). But to actually think feminist women are stupid enough to vote based only on gender at the expense of basic reproductive rights? Sarah Palin is a fem-bot, down to the go-go boots. She represents women’s issues as much as a wire hanger represents abortion. Which is to say, not at all. I get mad at feminism, as I get angry at all isms, sometimes. But I have more respect than that. Women aren’t gonna jump ship just because one of their own could be Veep. Sisters are just not that shallow. Homey don’t play that gender card.

The way McCain tried to cynically capitalize on the Hillary Holdouts press narrative? It’s enough to make me want to call myself feminist. Well, almost.

The Underside of Undergrad

Bonne Marie Bautista

I remember the day I arrived here. I drove through Mills’ pearly gates, white bookends that seemed to separate the lovely quiet green of the sleepy campus from the rest of reality. The wind rustled through the trees that lined the lane leading towards the main part of campus and I parked in a little lot covered by eucalyptus trees.

As I stepped out onto the manicured lane and into a rose garden, I heard a flute trilling somewhere (no kidding, a freaking flute!) The term idyllic has never been more apropos. And that is our campus, an idyll removed from the rest of the world. Mills women don’t walk to class – we frolic.

But our world is a complicated place. We are at a college meant to empower women, yet one campus cafeteria is called the Tea Shop. Burn your bras and eat cucumber sandwiches? It’s not like Mills is a charm academy. To prove that point I have a little prediction to make. In the first month at least thirty percent of you will probably do one of the following: a) shave your head, b) get a piercing, or c) hook up with someone in your dorm.

As for the campus itself, the Campanil, our gift from the famous female architect Julia Morgan and the namesake of this paper, is actually Morgan’s ugliest contribution to architecture. Concrete box? You betcha. To be Pollyannish, it has really pretty chimes. Their function? Generally to inform you that you are late for class.

But Pollyanna isn’t a role model for the way all Mills women see the world. We can be so politically correct that we stand ready to take offense. Already I have offended some. Because yes ladies, I write it women, not womyn, and y not? Because asking “why” has changed the world, but writing women with it? Not so much.
Mills is a politically-correct Californian campus where hugs are offered in office hours and where talking in class can be like walking through a minefield. If you aren’t offended, surely you will offend someone.

Early on, my appointed advisor asked what topics interested me. Amongst the laundry list of paradigms that I threw out like academic confetti, I said “post-colonialism.” My advisor glared at me across the desk and growled, “There’s nothing post about it.”

Now I am all for understanding the world is still a hecka imperialist place. I am all for understanding the way in which empire is still with us: not just as a legacy, but as a living, breathing thing. But come on!
Take notice of the number of times that an argument in a seminar begins with the preface “I feel” rather than “I think.” I would count them, but I’m a girl, so I’m not so good at math.

Not to mention the number of times someone begins their point with, “as a queer woman,” “as a woman of color,” “as a. (fill in the blank).” Because sometimes at Mills, identity politics trumps actual discussion.
Everyday you will see fliers across campus for this cause or that. You can join groups that run the gamut between ending white supremacy and a support group for sexually confused underwater basket-weavers. Okay, there is no actual club for the latter, but identity politics can get pretty specific.
Last year, I espied a flier that asked “are you against rape?” It left me wondering what the other position might be, because I’m not sure I have met the pro-rape coalition yet.

Now don’t get me wrong-I love Mills. I love us Mills women, the ones with and without a y, the smokers with pink hair outside of Mills Hall, the ladies who crawl to class in full pajama regalia (including bunny slippers). But what I love most about Mills is teasing it. Mercilessly.
Mill’s greatest strength is its sensitivity. But this strength can be a weakness, leaving us in danger of being too coddled.

Sometimes the best defense is learning how to take offense.