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Sabrina Kwist leaves Mills, hopes to return

Sabrina Kwist, former assistant dean of students, left Mills at the beginning of the Spring 2017 semester after ten years at the school to become Los Medanos College’s dean of equity and inclusion.

Kwist started working at Mills in 2007, and has held various positions over the years such as coordinator for Student Diversity Programs and assistant director of Engagement and Inclusion at the Diversity and Social Justice Resource Center. She helped create both The Center for Leadership, Equity, and Excellence and the Division of Student Life Ambassadors (DSLA).

“My favorite part of working at Mills is that this is a place of possibility,” Kwist said. “I have never met a Mills student who didn’t want to impact the world.”

Kwist was also active in Mills’ social justice atmosphere.

“At Mills, we are a microcosm that is attempting to live our social justice values. Sometimes that means we innovate, sometimes that means we pilot, sometimes that means we get it right, sometimes that means we get it wrong,” Kwist said. “We have to practice unlearning the ways we oppress each other.”

Kwist attended University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), where she started on her path supporting social justice in academia. In her second year of college at UCSB, her father passed away.

“That shaped my career trajectory,” Kwist said. She started working at UCSB’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) after graduating, and believes that her work at EOP placed her on the path of pursuing social justice in academic settings.

As a first generation college student, Kwist found support in first-gen faculty member Dr. Yolanda Garcia. Kwist said Garcia bought her a graduation dress and mentored her when she applied to her master’s program.

“I think there’s something powerful about the legacy of firsts and the community of firsts,” Kwist said.

At UCSB, Kwist learned the hidden language of academia and how to ask for what she needed.

“I was trying to figure out all of the unwritten norms and rules,” Kwist said.

At Mills, Kwist was involved with the Summer Academic Workshop (SAW) program that aimed to acclimate first-generation students to college classes, starting as a coordinator of SAW, and eventually becoming the director.

“I have loved being a bridge for first generation folks,” Kwist said. To students in general, she said, “Your journey is worth investing in.”

Sascha Brown, one of Kwist’s former colleagues at The Center, has seen Kwist’s dedication to her job.

“I think if you talk to 10 people at Mills who know Sabrina, they will all give you 10 different answers on how she has impacted Mills,” Brown said in an email. “Sabrina has positively impacted Mills in many ways from being tirelessly dedicated to the success of First-Gen college students to making sure the Senior Commencement rehearsal went on without a glitch to meeting a student at the bus stop and persuading them to apply to Mills College. Sabrina’s impact at Mills has been grand and she will truly be missed.”

Whitley Gilbert, a student who met Kwist when she applied for a position as a resident assistant for the SAW program, remembers feeling nervous about the interview, which Kwist was present for.

“I felt like Sabrina gave me a chance,” Gilbert said. “I feel like Sabrina is my personality model […] [she] always remembers people’s names, and [has] really good individual relationships with everyone.”

Her supportive, welcoming nature extends not only to prospective students, but to students she would meet in her daily life. Frequently, she would give out her business cards to people she met off campus and on the bus, telling them to give her advanced notice if they wanted to meet her for lunch and talk.

Kwist takes the lessons she has learned from Mills to her new job.

“From the faculty, I’ve learned the importance of working collaborations,” Kwist said. “That experience showed me the power of true authentic dialogue and facilitation.”

Kwist will be missed, as her colleague Chicora Martin, dean of students, said in an email.

“Sabrina set high expectations for our students, knowing each and every time, with the support of her staff and the college, that they could meet those expectations,” Martin said. “Having someone believe in you even when you are not sure you believe in yourself is a rare gift, and Sabrina provided that to our students during her time at Mills. [She] still serves as a mentor and support system for so many in the Mills community.”

Kwist said she hopes her career takes her back to Mills in the future. Even now, she is in the process of getting her doctorate in educational leadership from Mills, graduating this spring.

“Mills gave me the opportunity to be an administrator who is authentically connected to students,” Kwist said. “Mills has called upon me to be my best self, and supported me when I couldn’t.”

She hopes that she can continue implementing and fighting for what she is passionate about at her new job.

“I now get to advocate organizationally for the programs that I used to run,” Kwist said. “I said ‘yes’ to this opportunity because I wanted to translate the individual stories and experiences I’d heard from students at Mills to large-scale change in Los Medanos.”