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Spring break focuses on social concerns

Last week while most Mills students were away on spring break, 12 students were learning about racial justice in Oakland through the Mills CARES Alternative Spring Break program.

The program included studies on wealth, poverty, food justice and redevelopment proposals for East Oakland while developing student leadership skills.

“Alternative Spring Break reflects important work on diversity that Mills courses, Mills students, and other Mills offices are engaged in,” said Leslie Townsend, director of service learning for Mills CARES. “Mills, or any college undergraduate students, rarely has three, four or five days in a row to spend together focusing on a topic vital to their development as critical thinkers and leaders/activists.”

The students began the program Sunday, March 9 by going to the Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland for a symposium on race, wealth and poverty in Oakland.

Representatives of many different religious beliefs and non-religiously affiliated groups participated in the symposium which was held “to discuss racial stratification in Oakland” said senior and participant Mico Miro.

On Monday morning students went on the Black Panther Legacy Tour. “It was amazing to see how unnoticed some things go,” said senior and organizer Alexis Kargl. “You would never know what part the Black Panthers played in history because there’s no part in the city that said that these houses are historical monuments.”

After the tour, students met with Mills professor Margot Okazawa-Rey for an interpersonal racial justice workshop.

“We were given a chance to look at how we ourselves are involved in racism and how we relate to race,” said Miro. “We had a long discussion around each of our ideas of racial justice. We didn’t formulate one concrete answer [as to what defined racial justice] but agreed it is both a process of working towards change and a desired outcome of equality among races.”

On Tuesday and Wednesday, students focused on food justice and the delivery of healthy food to people who would otherwise not have access to organic produce.

“We had, for the food justice panel, 13 visitors to the P-E-P Lounge in Mills Hall, the largest number of visitors for an ASB program to date,” said Townsend. These panelists represented east bay groups who deliver fresh, affordable and nutritious food to low income residents through farmer’s markets, traveling buses and after-school programs.

The participants cooked dinner and ate with an alumnae panel Wednesday night.

“The dinner with members of the Alumnae Association Diversity Committee-Sharon Tatai, Estrellita Redus, Brionna Cole-demonstrated that intimate conversations on important issues are of concern to Mills alumnae,” said Townsend.

“These wonderful women generously spent an evening addressing their career and life paths, with some focus on the effects of race and gender.”

Sobol agreed with Townsend, “It was so refreshing. It was really good to hear about their experiences and hearing from people who are making a difference in Oakland.”