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President holds open meeting to discuss BWC demands progress

President DeCoudreaux is working with staff and students to work on implementing the BWC demands from last spring.
President DeCoudreaux is working with staff and students to work on implementing the BWC demands from last spring. (Jen Mac Ramos)

Nearly a year after a message posted to the now-disbanded Mills Confessions Page sparked protests on the Mills campus, the demands created by the Black Women’s Collective (BWC) are still being addressed.

In an open meeting held Jan. 28, College President Alecia DeCoudreaux gave an update on the progress of the administrations efforts to meet the BWC’s list of demands.  Copies of the president’s December memorandum regarding the administration’s progress on the demands were on the tables.  After speaking, DeCoudreaux opened the floor to students and faculty alike.

“We’re concerned about [racism] happening in our country, what’s happening in our broader community here in Oakland, and what’s happening here,” DeCoudreaux said.  “We’re doing everything we can within our community to fight against racism.”

Judy Weisinger, a leading member of the Black Student Enrollment Task Force (BSETF) and Mills associate professor, spoke on the task force’s job and what their current work is.  Part of their job is to look at the recruitment, admissions, enrollment and matriculation of Black students at Mills.

“[This] involves gathering large amounts of quantitative as well as qualitative data to better understand the experience of Black students here at Mills,” Weisinger said.

In addition to their research in the recruitment and admissions of Black students on campus, the BSETF is looking into data on retention rates of Black students at Mills to compare with nationwide retention rates.  Weisinger also addressed that BWC Demand Five, the breaking down of students of color percentages for individual ethnic groups on the College’s website, has been looked over.  According to Weisinger, the representation of students of color on the website has been split into different categories.

Demand Nine, a request for racial sensitivity training for faculty and staff, is currently in the process of being enacted.  Sharon Washington, a diversity consultant brought in to assist meeting this demand, will begin work to start this training.  With the help of biology department chair, Lisa Urry, Washington began conducting workshops on Feb. 2, to train the faculty on inclusive teaching.  Plans are being made to hold workshops in other departments.

“We will be looking at what does it mean to look at inclusive teaching,” said Washington.  “I have helped faculty on how to expand being more inclusive, whether you’re teaching math or biology or the social sciences.”

Students also had the opportunity to speak.  They told personal stories of microaggresions they have experienced on campus and discussed their desires for the demands to be met.

Sophomore Niac Muhammad said he has seen instances of professors who have told Black students they should give up in their area of study.  He also expressed frustration at the lack of action from the administration to reprimand these faculty members.

“One of my friends was told she wasn’t intelligent enough to pursue what she wanted to pursue,” Muhammad said at the meeting.  “I have seen no repercussions so far.  There have been a number of professors who have told students to just give up.  To me, it’s unacceptable for a teacher at any level of education to tell a student they should give up.”

Junior Rachel Patterson said she was thankful for a space for dialogue about the microaggresions on campus.

“I was waiting for a space like this to be held at the end of the spring semester of the year the incident took place,” Patterson said.  “I appreciate transparency in language and in spaces like this.”

Patterson also said she feels many of the problems on the Mills campus come from a disconnect between students and the administration.  She cited an example of a microaggresion training session for the Board of Trustees that got followed by a presentation where the presenter said there were not enough White students on campus.

“Yes, we need to focus our efforts together, but we also need to be connected in those efforts,” Patterson said.

Senior Cheryl Reed spoke specifically about Demand Four on the BWC list, the establishment of a fund for Black students who are need of financial assistance in order to continue their education at Mills.  Reed stated concern that without a fund specifically set aside for Black students’ financial aid, remaining at Mills might not be feasible for some.

“My concern with this is [the administration] is saying, ‘Well, we’re doing what we can, but you guys have to do what you have to do,'” Reed said.  “We’re asking for your help, we’re asking the institution for help.”

DeCoudreaux responded by saying the College sets aside what funds it can, but they cannot set aside funds for a specific ethnic group. Such a fund would need to be supported by an outside donor, she stated.

The research being compiled by the BSETF will be presented to the President in April.  According to DeCoudreaux, all the other BWC demands will continue to be addressed as quickly as possible.