New Assistant Dean Lea Robinson felt drawn to Mills College even before they first drove down the main campus road, struck by the beauty of the canopy of green trees.
Robinson stepped up to replace departing Assistant Dean Sabrina Kwist in February, and plans to focus on restorative justice and retention at Mills.
“I always felt connected to campus. It’s absolutely magical,” Robinson said.
Hailing from Kentucky, Robinson was the first in their family to attend college, and went on to obtain a master’s degree in education from Suffolk University. Before coming to Mills, Robinson worked as an assistant director for the Office of Multicultural Affairs and as a manager of LGBTQA Programming and Advising at Columbia University.
“When I was in New York City, I heard about how this small school in Oakland is a cornerstone of social justice work,” Robinson said.
Robinson has a long history of dedicated work for student empowerment in higher education, with a focus on creating safe spaces for queer students in athletics. For Robinson, student empowerment is a question of growth and respect.
“How do we co-exist and respect each other? How do we create spaces around growth that may be painful?” Robinson asked.
Leaving the East Coast behind for California, Robinson served as the coordinator for Student Cooperative Involvement and Student Leadership for the Leadership, Engagement, Advising and Development Center at UC Berkeley for three years.
Robinson said they have always been drawn to small schools, the intimate scale allowing for frequent, meaningful interactions within the community. They previously attempted to apply for another position in student life at Mills, but the opportunity ultimately fell through. Robinson was undeterred.
“I knew that I would be back here again, and that the right opportunity would present itself,” Robinson said.
The opportunity did eventually emerge when Kwist announced she was stepping down as assistant dean.
“There are so many amazing things happening at Mills; there’s great intentionality,” Robinson said, adding that they believe that Mills is based on growth and social justice.
In their new position, Robinson plans to focus on retention and building community at Mills. They plan to focus on fostering a sense of belonging for all students, especially students of color, in classrooms, residence halls and public spaces around campus.
Robinson intends to pay close attention to the needs of students in order to build upon the work that has already been done to make Mills an inclusive community.
“I hear students say that they want more restorative justice work,” Robinson noted.
Dylan Howser, one of Robinson’s close friends and former colleague at UCB, said that Robinson will certainly affect positive change at Mills.
“I always feel Lea gives their entire self when we have conversations and is always willing to support and empower their friends, students and colleagues,” Howser said. “Anyone that gets the privilege of working with Lea could talk about their ability to hold and give space to those that need it, and support those that need it.”
Amy Brown, Robinson’s current colleague at The Center for Student Leadership, Equity, and Excellence agreed that Robinson’s easy-going nature and dedication to students will positively impact Mills.
“Lea embodies quiet strength, is an active listener, and genuinely cares about a person’s well being,” Brown said. “They bring experience and practice that will be helpful to move Mills forward, particularly in areas of communication and restorative justice.”