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Students and alumnae gather to discuss the historical strike of 1990

Mills women protest the decision to go co-ed in 1990. (Campanil Archives)
Mills women protest the decision to go co-ed in 1990. (Campanil Archives)

“Woman energy! Woman energy! Woman energy!” students chanted, holding hands around the oval and looking up at the moon.  Rather than a scene from a feminist science fiction movie, this was students’ way of healing during the strike of 1990 protesting the decision to turn Mills completely co-ed.

A group of Mills alumnae who participated in the strike of the 1990s gathered for an event on campus celebrating the strike, on Saturday, September 26th.

A documentary about the strike is currently being made by three alumna: editor Alexa Pagonas ’91 and contributors Calia Brencsons Van Dyke ’90 and Kristen Caven ’89. These women invited alumnae and current students to reminisce, joke, and share stories about their time at Mills as well as be interviewed for the documentary.

“Everyone worked really hard, offering everything they had [during the strike],” Pagonas said. “It is still incredible to me how each person was able to utilize their different skill sets and come together.”

In the documentary, Pagonas will detail  the ways that Mills students contributed to the strike along with the different reasons  students had for opposing the decision to go coed.

“This documentary is going to be a serious, but funny take on women’s education,” Van Dyke said. “We want people to know the importance of Mills College and the importance of women’s education.”

The strike has made a lasting impression not only at Mills, but in the lives of all the people who were involved.

Carol Leland Ziscke, class of ’80, remembers nights filled with walking around campus and bringing news from one group of students to the next, while carrying her daughter.

“My daughter was around 5 during the strike, very impressionable. Now, she’s class president at her college, and I know that it was because she saw all these strong women taking charge,” Ziscke said, explaining the value of women’s education.

Georgi Herman, class of ’60, remembers the tears pouring down her face, when she found out that Mills would remain a women’s college.

“This was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. When we won, I felt a sense of victory I’ve never lost. I still carry that feeling with me everywhere,”  Herman said.

As more and more women’s colleges around the country become coed, the unique opportunities afforded to students at women’s colleges are being lost as well. This strike, and the student body, attract students who want a unique learning environment.

“Learning about the strike reaffirms why I’m at Mills – to receive a top-notch education in a women-centered and revolutionary environment,” sophomore Alexa Barger said.

The strike is long over, but the issues surrounding it are not. The creators of the documentary aim to keep what happened 26 years ago current. They want to inspire current generations by demonstrating the leadership skills and empowered mindsets that Mills fostered in its students when they fought to keep Mills a women’s college.

The documentary does not have a release date, but will likely be released around this time next year.