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Letter From the Office of the President

Mills College President Alecia A. DeCoudreaux.
Mills College President Alecia A. DeCoudreaux.

The last ten days have been incredibly difficult for our community, and it has been particularly traumatic for our Black students. For those who may not be aware, I want to be specific about what has transpired.

A racist and threatening message against Black women at Mills was posted anonymously on a Facebook Confessions page that was not managed or controlled by the College. The post was removed, the page has been shut down, and an investigation is well underway. While I will do everything in my power to pursue this investigation using internal and external resources, it is clear that the Facebook page is a symptom of a much larger issue.

We held a town hall on Tuesday to bring the community together in an attempt to talk about racism at Mills and steps we might take to move forward. I admit that we did not handle it well. Emotions ranged from feelings of outrage, hurt, betrayal, disgust, violation, and fear to raw anger. The Black Women’s Collective shared a list of nine demands they felt would be essential to addressing racism at the College—these are the demands you now see posted around campus. On Wednesday, students expressed their feelings by writing in chalk on our walkways, posting on social media, and by holding a two-hour silent protest on the steps of Adams Plaza.

To the protesting students, I want you to know that yes, I have heard you. To all black students, I want you to know that I have personally experienced racism in all forms in my life, so I understand your pain. To all students, faculty, and staff, I want you to know that we will work together to repair the damage done to our sense of community.

The following actions have already been implemented:

  • Counseling and Psychological Services has arranged for three days of crisis counseling by Black counselors in order to deal with both the aftermath of the Confessions page posting and our students’ experiences of racism on campus. Students were notified yesterday that we have three hours of drop- in counseling that began today, Friday, March 7, from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm in Cowell. On Monday, March 10, we will have a Black counselor from our own staff available from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm.  A counselor will be available all day on Tuesday, March 11, for more drop-in sessions. In addition, a Healing Circle for all Black women will meet weekly throughout the semester at noon on Tuesdays in the Solidarity Lounge. We will continue to arrange for Black counselors to come to campus throughout the semester.

  • I met on Thursday afternoon with students from the Black Women’s Collective (BWC). Joining me in the conversation were Professors Dave Donahue, Ajuan Mance, and Julia Oparah. We discussed the formation of a task force charged with investigating impediments to recruitment, retention, and matriculation of Black students. The BWC will recommend task force members. We also discussed how the task force would interact with the already existing Retention Task Force. I will appoint this new task force and charge it to meet as soon and as often as possible before the end of the semester and to provide their recommendations to me as soon as they can.

  • The College has begun to identify social justice-based race relations consultants to analyze systemic issues and provide training programs for the campus community, including faculty. We will have students participate in the interviews with the consultants before they are selected.

The following items are already available but can be discussed further:

  • As part of our financial aid process, the College sets aside a portion of funds for high-need students who appeal for additional assistance or notify the Office of Financial Aid that they are in danger of leaving Mills due to finances.  Because of our need to provide assistance for all students, we are unable to designate specific funds for any one segment of our diverse population. Upon further discussion, students indicated that they were really more in need of scholarship funds than a loan, so we will need to investigate further.

  • Regarding the demand for a marked increase in tenure-track faculty of color so that each academic department is home to at least one permanent faculty member of color, I am proud to say that Mills has a strong track record of recruiting and retaining a faculty that reflects the diversity of our student body. Currently, of the full-time faculty, 31 percent are faculty of color.  By contrast, our comparison/aspirant institutions schools have on average 20 percent faculty of color. The College searches for about two to three tenure-track positions each year and takes steps to recruit faculty of color. We will, however, evaluate our current practices to determine how they can be most effective.

  • Mills’ Diversity and Social Justice statement sets high standards for the College, particularly regarding respectful discourse as the key to learning in classrooms. When members of the campus community breach standards for respect, any member of the campus community can and should use the College’s grievance procedures to address concerns about discrimination and harassment. The policy is available at:

The following are issues that we will need to develop plans to address:

  • How students will be involved in the current review of the curriculum, which is being led by a curriculum transformation task force composed of faculty from across departments.

  • Reviewing and comparing public safety policies with best practices in other academic institutions, especially those nearby; training of public safety officers to consistently and equitably apply access policies to the campus.

  • Reviewing policies in the Office of Student Activities

I want each of you to know that I take personal responsibility for addressing racism at Mills, and I will hold myself and the institution accountable for making sustainable change. To do that, I will need every member of the Mills community to work with me. We all have to be willing to have difficult conversations, hear opposing points of view, and do so in a way that is both respectful and productive. We are all Mills College, and you have my commitment that I will do everything I can to make that real for you.

A shortened version of President DeCoudreaux’s letter to the Mills community will be published in The Campanil‘s print issue, coming out on Tuesday, March 11.

For more related posts, check out The Campanil‘s designated web page for our ongoing protest coverage.