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New Mills initiative seeks to build lasting community among students

The Belonging Initiative gather together to make plans. (Natalie Diaz)

There’s a new movement at Mills created by Dr. Joi Lewis and it all started with the slogan: “I Hella Love Mills.” On Nov. 16, Mills students and faculty attended the Belonging Initiative info session to learn new ways to connect to the movement, which aims to increase the retention rate at Mills by creating alliances among students within the Mills community.

Nicole Talaugon, Junior (Left) and Alejandra Iraheta, Senior (Right) enjoy a meal with the rest of the Belonging Initiative members at their Nov. 18 retreat. (Natalie Diaz)

“It started with the DSL Narrative Project two years ago,” Lewis explained. The project consisted of spoken word and writing workshops, as well as a student survey. The project, initiated by the Division of Student Life, used the survey data to find out the student retention rate and how to improve it. According to the most recent Western Association of Schools and Colleges report, the Mills College student retention rate over a three-year period averages 72 percent.

“The Narrative Project took quantitative and qualitative data (to) see what (made) students feel like they truly belonged or didn’t,” said Dr. Joi.

At the Nov. 16 meeting, Dr. Joi asked staff and students to introduce themselves and say what made them feel like they belonged at Mills. Students and staff mentioned several Mills programs and activities, such as the Mills crew team, the Black Women’s Collective and the Women of Color Resource Center, that had contributed to their sense of belonging.

Dr. Joi explained one of the key goals of the Belonging Initiative was to connect the diverse student population and create unlikely alliances among students, such as undergraduates and graduates or residential students and commuters.

“It’s really about being a movement,” said Dr. Joi.

Carla Gonzalez, a senior and a Belonging Initiative member, explained, “We all come from various communities. All of us want to have each others’ backs.”