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Friends remember alumna Yasmeen Vaughan

Yasmeen Vaughan (left) with Aaliyah Hodge (right) and Hodge’s mom (center) at Mills College Commencement 2003. (Courtesy of Aaliyah Hodge)

Yasmeen Vaughan, a Mills College alumna known for her ever-present smile and the yellow and purple African lilies in her hair, was identified by Oakland police on Jan. 19 as the woman who died of exposure last month. She was found clinging to the rocks in the cold waters of the Oakland Estuary. She was 31 years old.

Mahmud Rahman, Mills Director of Enterprise Information Services, remembered Yasmeen as “a beautiful, talented young woman” who wore her hair wrapped in colorful scarves and carried herself with style.

“She was a presence on campus,” he said. “She didn’t move quietly.”

High school friend Kai Nortey also described Yasmeen as having a captivating presence, but recalled her vulnerability.

“She was very outspoken and expressive on issues she cared about,” Nortey said, “but her voice was also very soft.”

Another Mills friend, Ekere Tallie, who considered Yasmeen to be like her little sister, said Yameen’s voice was what she remembered best about her.

“She could soothe a person with the sound of her,” she said.

Nortey remembered the African lilies that Yasmeen loved to wear in her hair as something that everyone around Mills knew her for.

“She would pick them from campus,” Nortey said of the spring flowers. “It was this beautiful little thing she did.”

Yasmeen was known for her love of incense and scented oils, as well.

“Everyone always said how good she smelled,” Nortey said, remembering the scent of the jasmine and honeysuckle oils that followed Yasmeen wherever she went.

Yasmeen studied Ethnic Studies at Mills from 1998-2003 and spent a semester abroad in the Dominican Republic. She was also a dancer.

“Dance was her relief,” Nortey said.

She remembered spending hours in the dorms and the Mills studio with Yasmeen choreographing West African, modern jazz and Congolese dances.

Both Nortey and Aaliyah Hodge, Yasmeen’s friend of 19 years, remembered choreographing a dance to an Etta James song for Black History Month one year on campus.

“We all just laughed and had a good time creating in the dance studio together,” Hodge said. “When Yasmeen was on she was on.”

Many recalled the deeper conversations they had with Yasmeen about the troubling parts of her life.

“She had issues with the dark color of her skin,” Rahman said, “and she was struggling with her beliefs (as a practicing Muslim).”

Tallie also recalled these struggles.

“I don’t think she ever looked in the mirror and saw the beauty that the rest of us saw,” she said. “I don’t think she ever looked within and saw the perfection that the rest of us saw.”

“She had ailments that she was trying to find solutions to,” Rahman said. Though he believes that these ailments made her life difficult, Rahman was quick to add that during the time he was friends with her, he did not see this as a sign of mental illness, as other friends and family have speculated.

“Unfortunately over the years she lost touch with a lot of people,” Hodge said. “Some (of this) was due to her illness and her need
to isolate.”

Other friends and family reported the same behavior. Because she often withdrew communication from her family for weeks at a time, suspicion of her disappearance did not rise until late December when Glen Vaughan, her father, entered her apartment and found it in disarray. He reported her missing on January 4, though she hadn’t been heard from since Dec. 13.

After graduating from Mills, Yasmeen went to Graduate school at Cal State Hayward for social work, though she did not complete the program.

Due to the loss of contact with Yasmeen, many of her friends do not know what she spent the last years of her life doing.

Hodge had the most contact with Yasmeen since leaving Mills.

“She had ups and downs over the years,” she said, “but she never waivered in her support of me or our friendship.”

Tallie, who now lives in NY, lost contact with Yasmeen after leaving Mills.

“My last experiences with Yasmeen were the ones where, had I been tuned in, I would have realized that there could have been an imbalance,” Tallie said.

Rahman, who also lost contact with Yasmeen after her graduation, hadn’t seen her since before he left Mills for a few years in 2006.

“I would be walking around on campus and see her driving in her car. She would always jump out and give me a big hug. And that was the last time I saw her,” he said. “I will always remember her with a smile.”

Yasmeen is survived by her parents Glen and Deborah Vaughan of Oakland, and her brother Umi Vaughan, all of who were unavailable for comment.

The Campanil invites members of the community to use the comment space below the online version of this article as a guest book in memory of Yasmeen.