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White allies rise

After several alleged attacks on the Solidarity Lounge, women of
color arranged a meeting for an open dialogue to dispel rumors and
begin an alliance with white students.

On Tuesday, Oct. 28, a meeting of 60 attendees including
students, staff, and alumni was held in the Student Union to
address concerns that students had about the Solidarity Lounge.

The catalyst for the discussion was due to some Mills students
showing resentment of the space, rumors that the Solidarity Lounge
would be phased out over time, and that a group of white students
were organizing a petition that opposed the Solidarity Lounge.

Acting dean of students Shirley Weishaar dispelled both rumors
of the Solidarity Lounge being temporary as well the rumored
petition to bring an end to the Solidarity Lounge. “We want
students of color to thrive at Mills, not survive the experience,”
said Weishaar. “It’s not going away on my shift.”

In an attempt to show the validity of the space and discuss
misunderstandings or opposition, students and panel members
discussed the role of Solidarity Lounge in Mills, as well as
personal accounts from women of color and white women on how
Solidarity Lounge has had an affect on their time at Mills. Margo
Okazawa-Rey facilitated the conversation, and encouraged everyone
who had attended to contribute to the discussion.

“It is a place for students of color to feel safe,” Weishaar
stated. She continued to say that Solidarity Lounge is integral to
maintaining the diversity that Mills boasts of. Mills College is
ranked in the top 20 private schools for having a diverse student
body. The Solidarity Lounge will play an integral role in the
recruitment and retention of students of color, Weishaar

A freshwoman expressed that when she came to Mills, she hated
her classes and felt “left out.” She began to skip classes, and
would cry because she was ignored by the other students. She found
support from Lisa McRipley, who directed her to the Solidarity
Lounge. She began going to class again; the Solidarity Lounge
became her “safety net,” where she could go to be around other
women of color, and feel like she fit in, “I know if I want to talk
to someone, there will be someone there,” she said.

Many attendees expressed the same sentiment that the Solidarity
Lounge is an important part of the Mills campus, and that other
campus organizations did not have to fight to keep their space. One
attendee, a resumer student, pointed out that the resumers had not
only a lounge [Mary Atkins] to relax with people their own age, but
an entire residential wing in Orchard Meadow as well. “It gets
lonely when you’re the only one ever,” she paralleled.

Another student, a white ally, took possible responsibility for
one of the rumors- that white students were being asked to leave
the solidarity lounge because they were white. She explained that a
woman of color had mistreated her in the Solidarity Lounge, but it
had been an isolated incident and has not seen the woman since, “I
didn’t want people to misinterpret what happened.”

A male graduate student spoke up, and spoke about feeling
antagonized because he may have inadvertently violated women’s
space on the Mills campus by simply being here; but felt that he
tried to be respectful of women’s space nonetheless.

One white ally pointed out that she had been raised in a
completely white community and hadn’t felt out of place at Mills
yet. Another white ally stated that “white privilege is the
privilege to be able to ignore diversity and the problems of women
of color.”

A White Allies group was formed prior to the meeting, but more
joined in support of the Solidarity Lounge. The Solidarity Lounge
is a safe, anti-racist space for women of color and their white
allies that improves the quality of life at Mills.