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Traffic incident claims life of recent Mills alumna

Mills College alumna Courtney Donnell passed away Wednesday, Sept. 23 after she was struck by at least six cars on Interstate 580 and killed.

The incident occurred in Oakland, east of 14th Avenue near Park Boulevard at 6:15 a.m. Donnell was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

A memorial service will be held Tuesday, Oct. 6 in the College Chapel at 12 p.m.

Donnell graduated with honors from Mills in 2008 with a degree in Ethnic Studies and a minor in Government. In 2007 she was a Fellow at the Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship Program (PPIA) at Princeton University. That fall she also became a Women’s Leadership Institute roundtable fellow and helped coordinate the program’s 21st Century Constitution Initiative.

She worked as a policy intern at the The Greenlining Institute from 2006 to 2008. In the past she has volunteered for Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s office, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and Critical Resistance.

Donnell would have turned 24 years old on Nov. 9.

Authorities said late Thursday they believe a car found east of where she was hit belonged to her, and that she could have been walking to get help for her car when the incident happened, according to the Oakland Tribune.

For several hours traffic on 580 was backed up for miles Wed. morning. Donnell’s name was first released to the public Thursday afternoon.

A vigil was held in the Mills Chapel at 12 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 25. Dean of Students Joi Lewis said in an email Friday morning that memorial spaces in the Chapel and the Solidarity Lounge will soon be open for community members to visit.

News of Donnell’s death has been met with shock and sadness by those who knew her. Catherine-Mercedes Judge, Donnell’s former Mills classmate and close friend, said “I couldn’t believe it. I just kept thinking about how I just saw her. I had spent a whole day with her last week, talking about everything… about the the future… about how she was taking this time to figure out what to focus her energies on. She was so smart, capable and interested in everything.”

“She was so passionate about social justice. And often, the instinct is to be angry about it and fight it, but Courtney was unique in that her approach was to fight injustices through healing. Her goal was unconditional love, and she had it for everyone — even for those who worked against her and her causes,” said Judge, who has started a Facebook group “In Loving Memory of Courtney Donnell.”

Erika Macs, director of Spiritual and Religious Life, said Mills is planning a memorial service to take place in more than a week because the College understands those close to Donnell need adequate time to grieve.

“People need time to absorb the news,” she said. “These times are for attending and focusing on healing.”

In Lewis’ email, which was sent to all students, faculty and staff, she expressed her sadness over Donnell’s death. “She will be greatly missed by all who knew her,” the email read.

Those who wish to send their condolences to Donnell’s family can bring cards to the Cowell Building or email

Bonne Marie Bautista, Morgan Ross and Maxamaris Hoppe contributed to this report.