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Staff Editorial: Misleading social justice rhetoric accompanies tuition reset, as undocumented students are overlooked

During Convocation on September 15, President Hillman announced that Mills tuition will be cut by 36 percent, and that this tuition reset will be implemented in fall 2018. The tuition reset will moderately assist some students, and the change in sticker price has the potential to bring more lower-income and first generation students to Mills. However, the college administration is not considering how to fully support vulnerable students once they are enrolled. The college’s tuition reset gives us an eery sense of institutional amnesia. Just three months ago, Mills was embroiled in a very public financial crisis, which was used to justify the unethical cuts of tenured professors and numerous staff members. Now we’re supposed to be celebrating a tuition decrease?

The tuition reset is a strategy included in the Financial Stabilization Plan (which was implemented in June) and will ultimately help Mills save money, because the school is expected to pay less overall in grants and scholarships, as the cost of tuition will be lowered. The tuition reset is being marketed as an initiative which is intended to “break barriers,” presumably barriers of economic, gender, and racial inequality. In reality, the tuition reset mainly helps the school to save money, and only improves the access of middle income students to the school.

Although Mills is taking some measures to be more supportive of vulnerable students, like hiring a more diverse counseling staff, the college has also used the financial crisis to justify firing the head of the ethnic studies department, and recently withdrew undocumented students from their classes and access to student services. It is shameful that people of color are the first to be targeted by the institution during times of financial uncertainty.

It is deeply disappointing to us that Mills uses the rhetoric of “breaking barriers” as a premeditated marketing tool, and yet does not do the work to show up and support vulnerable students on a daily or institutional basis. Clearly, the “breaking barriers” rhetoric is intended to repair the college’s wounded reputation following the FSP cuts.

Many students feel that in this time of financial crisis, Mills is frantically striving to attract more students and improve the school’s reputation rather than focus on responding to the needs of the current student body.

We also believe the administration is not exercising foresight, and is not considering how they can best support the future needs of recruited students.

For example, if more low income and first generation students do choose to attend Mills because of the lowered sticker price, what is waiting for them at the institution? Will they enjoy a utopian orientation experience, like we did, only to find that their attentive and inspiring faculty advisers will be fired a few semesters later?

As students, we are committed to the sustainable and genuine growth of our college community. The administration continues to issue self-congratulatory social justice rhetoric while overlooking true opportunities to uplift vulnerable students and community members. In this time of instability, we stand with the undocumented students who are seeking concrete support from the college.

We recognize that Mills is facing a very challenging moment, and that the administration and Board of Trustees are attempting to make decisions that will ensure the college’s survival. We also acknowledge that the administration is stretched thin trying to please students, faculty and alums, all while urgently attempting to attract prospective students in order to keep the college afloat.

We believe that the school’s priority should be to support the needs of current students. As Mills students during this time of intense transition and frenzied decision making, not to mention our toxic political climate, we believe that it is our responsibility hold our school accountable and remain vigilant in analyzing the neoliberal policies and language that the administration is parading as brave social justice action.