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ASMC open forum: Response to racist symbol on-campus

On March 4, the Associated Students of Mills College (ASMC) held an open forum in the Lorry I. Lokey School of Business and Public Policy (GSB) room 117 at 6:30 p.m. The student-led and student-centered meeting was organized to respond to the hanging of ropes outside of the art building complex on Feb. 12, and the subsequent manner in which the Mills administration dealt with the issue.

Chicora Martin, Mills College’s Dean of Students, sent a campus wide-email on Feb. 13 at 6:37 p.m. titled “Responding to a Report of Racist Symbols on Campus,” which addressed that a student reported several pieces of rope hanging next to the Art Building Loading Dock, and at least one of these ropes was tied in a noose.

ASMC held the open forum meeting, intentionally at which no faculty or administration were present. The forum addressed the racist symbol, the email and overall process by which this incident was handled.

As a result of the open forum, on March 15, ASMC sent a schoolwide email titled “ASMC Open Letter: Response to February 12th Incident and Administration,” which published the collective input of students.

After the initial incident occurred, an internal investigation was launched by the dean of students office that revealed the ropes were in connection to a large student art installation taking place in the near future. The email goes on to address that regardless of original intent, the incident resulted in a significant negative impact on the Mills community, especially regarding Black students, faculty and staff.

The email offered impacted students resources such as space in the solidarity lounge and extended drop-in Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) to students regardless if those sessions surpassed the eight limit session maximum for all Mills students.

Martin acknowledged an intent to address future practices and policies in the Art program with Art Faculty, in collaboration with Associate Provost Dr. Maggie Hunter, and concluded by directing concerned students to contact Martin or Hunter via email to follow up.

During the open forum meeting, issues resurfaced regarding how Mills College as an institution has been unsuccessful at addressing racism on-campus. For example, the now defunct 2014 Mills Confessions Facebook page that published student confessions anonymously without formal oversight or moderation was shut down as a result of published racially motivated hate speech that targeted Black students at Mills.

“This is a problem because Mills presents itself as a social justice oriented institution but social justice requires accountability, and that seems to be something that Mills struggles with,” Mills student and Black Student Collective (BSC) Treasurer Alyssa Rudulph said, speaking independently.

According to a 2014 article of the Campanil, “Students speak out against culture of racism at Mills,” “[t]he anonymous post targeted Black women on-campus, stating that they are ‘too outspoken’ and ‘should be hung.’” This public threat was why the page got taken down, and in response the Black Women’s Collective, now the BSC, released a list of demands to hold Mills College accountable that year.

The majority of the 2014 demands have been listed as complete. The status of items on the list have been met through collaboration of the provost and dean of students, along with a task force which included faculty, staff and students who were asked to serve by then President Alecia DeCoudreaux.

However, two items remain in progress: the plan for the recruitment and retention of Black students through specific outreach and financial aid support, and a revision to the Mills Social Justice Mission statement to include mechanisms to hold the institution accountable for addressing student, faculty and staff behavior that is incongruent with said mission statement.

The shared BSC 2014 list of actionable steps for Mills’ administration to take remains located on the Mills Portal page, beneath the “quick links” tab labeled “a report of efforts to recruit, retain, and support Black students.” 

ASMC’s March 15 email outlined a list of five core demands, which were to mandate cultural responsiveness/competency training for incoming students during orientation, make a concerted effort to fully meet the demands in BSC’s 2014 list, display the proposed art piece along with appropriate campus notification and information on the proposal and approval of project, public acknowledgement from the art department of updated protocols for future art projects and installations on-campus, and address why social media posts from @Millscollege on Instagram and Twitter have deleted posts in response to this incident.

“I think it’s time for Mills to have this cultural responsibility that it has not been able to provide. Mills says that they are a diverse campus and they want to recruit more diverse students but they are not doing anything to support these students when events like this happen, but I am saying that as someone who is not Black and so I also want to acknowledge that,” Mills student and ASMC Representative Yasmeen Garcia said.

The ASMC open forum served to both clarify misinformation as well as collect student responses to the incident in order to democratically draft actionable steps for the Mills administration to take to rectify the situation.

“I did appreciate the ASMC open letter response because it was going to be inherently different than what Mills initially put outwhich didn’t leave a lot of room for dialogue, emotion and of course all the questions. I think the forum was very informational for me because it filled in some of the holes of the story, and it also allowed for for a more actionable address,” Rudulph said.

Open forum is available to all students every other Monday, however; this particular meeting drew a larger student turnout than usual.

“We want to create an organization that works alongside students, where students can come to stand in their power and to be heard all the time. That ensures that when things like this happen we have a task force of people coming together to take action, but also that students feel comfortable with ASMC as a whole to be able to address the smaller issues before they become egregious, fear-inducing situations,” ASMC publicity chair Tamicia Wakefield said.