Black Lives Matter: A Message from President Elizabeth L. Hillman

Oakland, CA—June 10, 2020

Dear all,

One day after George Floyd was laid to rest in Houston, Texas, where the Reverend Al Sharpton described what happened to Floyd as a crime, not a tragedy, I write to respond to the demand that Mills College do better in clarifying where we stand, and what we will do, in response to that crime.

Mills stands in solidarity with our Black students, staff, and faculty and their allies against anti-Black racism, police violence, and racial injustice. In response to the rising Movement for Black Lives Matter (BLM), it is incumbent upon Mills to lead at this critical moment and fulfill our commitment to pursue gender and racial justice. It is essential that our actions have lasting impact and are integral to the fabric of Mills College.

Providing support and resources for our community, including BLM in critical discussions, decision making, and academic offerings are among our imperatives. Over the last two weeks, our focus has been on supporting Black faculty and staff and encouraging reflection by the entire Mills community, including:

  • Organizing "Grief, Rage, and Justice" virtual meetings by the Provost and Dean of the Faculty's office and the Ethnic Studies Program.
  • Holding a Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA) meeting to “Organize in Solidarity,” an event that the Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs and the BFSA leadership coordinated.
  • Supporting Black students, and all Mills students, with virtual opportunities, around the violence and protests to help them reflect, process current events, share experiences and understand the impact on our communities, and engage about strategies for cultivating meaningful, sustainable solidarity.
  • Developing a list of local and Mills-connected racial justice resources to highlight community organizations nearby, which will be available on the Mills website.
  • Adding BLM to every strategic planning meeting of the College officers, and integrating BLM discussion into the Board of Trustees’ ongoing deliberations.

The following additional steps are underway. We will share more after plans are further developed:

  • Developing and launching additional academic courses and co-curricular programs relevant to BLM.
  • Working with the Black Student Collective, Black MBA Students Group, Black Faculty and Staff Association, and the Alumnae of Color Committee of the Alumnae Association of Mills College to listen, follow their lead, and support their efforts.
  • Creating new campus initiatives to build on existing efforts to center inclusion and diversity and advance gender, racial, and environmental justice.
  • Holding a day of action and reflection to coincide with the March on Washington planned for August 28, 2020.
  • Adding Juneteenth (June 19th) as a Mills holiday.
  • Supporting a public art project to connect Mills visually to the East Oakland community and the BLM movement.
  • Reviewing and revising public safety protocols on campus to embrace community engagement and de-escalation.
  • Soliciting more support for scholarship funds that benefit students of color.

These efforts will not be sufficient in themselves, as previous efforts have not been sufficient. They are a crucial start, however, and build on what’s already in place. Dedicated advocates of equity and justice have helped support the work of the Center for Leadership, Equity, and Excellence and the Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice Committee and build initiatives to support Black students and other members of our Black community. This foundation of strength will make it possible for Mills to realize its goal of advancing gender and racial justice.

More personally, I want to acknowledge my failures, past and present, to address the racism of the world around me, a world in which I have been privileged because of my white skin. I harbor bias and prejudice, and I am humbled, now more than ever, by how that bias limits my ability to understand both the past and the present. My mistakes are too many to list here, but I do want to name two.

I made a mistake by waiting too long to post this statement, during a time in which many wanted an unequivocal voice of support for BLM. I underestimated the energy and opportunity of this particular moment, and I apologize. I am thankful that many brilliant Mills faculty and other leaders have been posting and shaping public discourse in recent weeks. I resolve to do better, and I appreciate those who have taught me.

I made another mistake in the first of my two messages to the community about the George Floyd murder by misspelling his name. My mistake mattered, and I apologize. Although my typo was corrected, it was an egregious error because it neglected to honor the power of naming as demonstrated by the mass protests that have made George Floyd’s name a rallying cry around the world. Naming also challenges historical narratives that obscure injustice and deflect attention from violence and oppression. Saying the names of people who have been lost to racist violence affirms their humanity and dignity. I witnessed the power of this firsthand when Mills students organized and held an event in the Mills College Chapel at which we read the names of transgender people harmed or killed by prejudice. Last fall when students and I visited the Equal Justice Initiative's National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, I felt the power of naming in person while reading the names of lynching victims inscribed on steel monuments. Learning and repeating names is a way we honor our past and find a better future.

Achieving racial justice will require sustained effort over the long term, and Mills' educational mission has never been more urgent. Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, wrote this week in The New York Times that "[o]ur only hope for our collective liberation is a politics of deep solidarity rooted in love.” Mills College is a place those roots can grow, and where we can find that freedom. Thank you for helping us rise to meet this moment of loss and opportunity. 

Sincerely,

Hillman signature

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Elizabeth L. Hillman
President, Mills College