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In annual address, president highlights diversity at Mills

On Oct. 1, Mills College President Janet Holmgren presented her 18th State of the College Address. In it she painted a positive picture of the College’s state of affairs and highlighted its ethnic diversity.

Holmgren said the College will focus its efforts on student retention and fundraising to combat the negative financial effects of the recession.

She also noted that enrollment is up to 1,050 undergraduate students and 584 graduate students – an all-time high.

In her discussion of the student body, Holmgren detailed how Mills is supporting a large diversity of students, presenting figures of racial, ethnic, class and age ratios. She made another first-time distinction: “Mills is now considered a majority-minority campus.”

According to Holmgren, 39 percent of undergraduate students and 37 percent graduate students self-identify as African-American, Asian-American, Latina or Native-American; and 16 percent of undergraduates self-identify as bi/multiracial.

“We all represent diversity,” said Holmgren inferencing the College’s gender identity.

Numbers for the graduate students’ female-male ratio “has been constant since the 1920s,” said Holmgren, “at 81 percent and 19 percent. The age span for graduates is 20-73 years, with an average age of 31; and 86 percent of the graduate student body receives financial aid.”

“Mills campus as a majority-minority is ethnicity based. There are other forms of diversity as well such as class and age,” said Ajuan Mance, Professor of English and Aurelia Henry Reinhardt Chair.

Indeed, some statistics which represent age and class of students are in the bigger picture at Mills: 27 percent of undergraduates are 23 or older; and 95 percent of undergraduates are receiving financial aid with an average award of $33,250.

Some students took exception to the ambiguous term “majority-minority.”

“I don’t know Holmgren’s intentions when she uses the term ‘majority-minority’, but maybe she could have said it in other terms, such as, ‘Mills is steadily growing as a diverse community,’ which is a better statement,” said sophomore Kirstyne Lange.

Mance, in her 11 years at Mills, has seen significant change in population and diversity. Formerly a college admissions officer at another women’s college, Mance said, “Mills is one of the most diverse colleges in race and class; you won’t find that at Smith College or Bryn Mawr.”

But Mance also said some students may still feel uncomfortable.

“The reality for students of color is that they go to high schools where the majority is students of color and Mills might be a shock for them,” said Mance, “what happens, instead of being in the majority as in high school, only 10 to 15 percent represent their race and Mills might seem white in comparison to high school.”

Some students who heard the majority-minority reference, such as sophomore Tymeesa Rutledge responded in shock. Rutledge said, “I was appalled – when I heard Holmgren say that, I said, ‘what?’”

After describing some instances of dialogue among students showing levels of insensitivity to race, Lange offered the suggestion: “A starting point would be to bring up dialogue that doesn’t exist on campus.”

Before concluding her address, Holmgren acknowledged new leadership among the Board of Trustees, gave updates on new faculty at Mills, and mentioned the ranking of Mills among other colleges in the US World and News Report and Princeton Review. She then announced that Dave Brubeck, a former graduate student with an honorary degree from Mills is to receive the Kennedy award in November from president Obama and that the Littlefield Concert Hall is to receive the California Preservation Design Award.