Oakland, CA—December 17, 2020
2020 has proven to be a historic year for Mills, the tumult of which has brought forward opportunities to adapt and grow as a community. From staying connected through online learning to developing virtual programming to underscoring the College's commitment to gender and racial justice, this year has been full of notable firsts for Mills. Here are just a few of the biggest milestones from the year.
The outbreak of COVID-19 created new challenges for the Mills community, prompting the campus to shift its learning modality on short order. Mills faculty and staff began preparing for the migration to online learning even before the San Francisco Bay Area issued its shelter-in-place mandate in mid-March. Within days of the announcement of the stay-at-home order—the first in the country—Mills students were attending classes virtually. The College shifted upwards of 300 courses to online instruction in the middle of the spring term and debuted our first-ever semester of online learning for the fall. To keep students connected, the College launched an iPad initiative to ensure that students had the technology they would need to access their courses remotely. The pandemic also launched the Student Hardship Fund, which provided emergency grants to students to offset unexpected travel and technology expenses associated with the shelter-in-place order.
2020 marked another year of accolades for Mills. U.S. News & World Report ranked the College as a #1 Best Value school and also gave it top marks as a #1 school for undergraduate teaching. Mills was counted among the best four-year higher education institutions according to the Princeton Review for its outstanding academics. The Princeton Review also highlighted the College for its notable LGBTQ+-friendly campus culture and diverse student body. The Fiske Guide to Colleges noted a progressive campus culture in its profile of Mills, and further touted the College as a "magnet for students passionate about social justice."
The Mills College Center for Faculty Excellence (CFE) launched this past fall just in time to support professors during the transition to remote virtual learning, The CFE provides resources for teaching in online classrooms and other strategies to enhance student learning in digital spaces. The CFE also provides professional development programming for tenured, tenure-track, and adjunct faculty to support them as educators and leaders. CFE initiatives include mentorship for junior faculty; affinity groups for associate professors, professors of color, and pre-tenure faculty; and grants for both faculty development and for research projects specifically related to interdisciplinary analysis of critical social justice issues. The CFE also pairs grant-seeking instructors with grant recipients for guidance on writing successful grant applications. Antiracist, culturally responsive, and trauma-informed teaching strategies as well as pedagogical consultants are available to advise faculty on course design, ensuring that the Mills curriculum continues to respond to student needs.
The Fulbright Program is the US government’s flagship international educational exchange program, enabling students and scholars to apply their learning across the world. Developed to aid in cross-cultural understanding, the Fulbright Program annually publishes a list of the US colleges and universities that produce the most Fulbright grantees, which in 2020 included Mills. During the 2019-20 academic year, four Mills students received Fulbright awards to study in Brazil and Colombia. Since the program’s beginnings in 1949, the College has sent over 60 students to participate in this exchange in countries that span nearly every continent and in fields ranging from ethnomusicology to public health.
In July, Mills joined 180 colleges and universities to support litigation pushing back against a hastily rolled out rule from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that would have forced international students return to their country of origin unless they were enrolled in at least one in-person course. At a time when many universities were planning to switch to fully online or largely hybrid learning plans for the fall term, the decision put many international students into uncertain situations. Ultimately the rule, described by the American Council on Education as “arbitrary and capricious,” was withdrawn following a wave of widespread opposition. In addition to joining the litigation challenging the ICE policy, Mills also reached out to its own international students to offer case-by-case advising and course planning guidance. Meanwhile, the Alumnae Association of Mills College raised over $18,000 to support international students during the pandemic, as these students are ineligible for federal aid and often unable to work in the United States due to visa restrictions.
After students installed a sign at the campus entryway honoring the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, President Elizabeth L. Hillman convened a group of staff and professors to explore how the College could express its solidarity with Mills students and the national Black Lives Matter movement. That committee commissioned original artwork from recent alums of the Mills graduate program in studio art that could stand as a testament to the Mills community’s commitment to social and racial justice. Their artwork, Converging Flora, marks the debut of a new public art initiative. Enveloping the pillars that flank the campus entrance, Converging Flora offers a nuanced land-based metaphor to provoke thought about race, place, and accountability.
“It is time to commit to being an antiracist institution,” wrote the Mills College Board of Trustees in their October 2020 statement, following a summer of national protest and institutional introspection. Over the decades, urging and organizing from students and alumnae—particularly those of color—have resulted in the College redoubling and rededicating its energies to advancing the cause of racial justice. In the fall, the Board expanded its commitment to building a more equitable future by attending to concerns regarding anti-Black racism or any policies or microclimates that disrupt the work and education of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) students, staff, and faculty. To meet this mandate, the Board announced a series of pledges that include Trustees’ personal commitment to continuing to listen and learn about antiracism and to evaluating campus policies and initiatives with the aim of developing measurable means of ensuring antiracist progress.
The fall semester marked the launch of the Trans Studies Speaker Series—a public forum for exploring the history, politics, art, and cultures of transgender people. This programming, hosted by Professor Susan Stryker, who was recently appointed to the Barbara Lee Distinguished Chair in Women’s Leadership, features discussions with leading thinkers, artists, and activists whose work addresses transgender issues and raises visibility around the experiences of trans people. Hosted online, this series, which is free and open to the public, has featured guests who are renowned directors, architects, and authors.
To kick off the academic year this fall, Mills hosted its first-ever co-created, crowdsourced, virtual Convocation. Students answered the call from the Provost’s Office for creative video submissions on the themes of coronavirus, climate change, and Black futurism. The ceremony opened with a native Hawaiian blessing from student Hiwa Greig, and featured original poetry from students Reilly Hirst, Jessica Hairston, and Sara Lahey alongside addresses from President Dylyn Turner-Keener of the Associated Students of Mills College and Sophie Stauffer, a graduate student in the College’s MA program in English literature. This year’s collaborative Convocation provided a forum for students to inspire the Mills community with their testimony, talent, and vision for a radically alternative future. Watch the virtual Convocation ceremony.
Part of the College’s campus optimization plan, the Starr King School of Ministry relocated to the Mills campus this past fall. Starr King’s mission is to educate students for Unitarian Universalist ministry and progressive religious leadership with the goal of countering oppression and cultivating multi-religious learning. Like Mills, Starr King fosters an educational program and cultivates leaders that are dedicated to creating just and sustainable communities. While the mission-aligned seminary will maintain a separate identity from Mills, its 100 students and 25 faculty and staff will co-locate at the Mills campus when public health guidelines allow in-person learning. For now, classes are virtual for Starr King students.
About Mills College
Located in Oakland, California, Mills is a nationally renowned independent liberal arts college for women and gender nonbinary students, with graduate programs for all genders. Ranked one of the top-tier regional universities in the West by U.S. News & World Report, Mills is also recognized by The Princeton Review as one of the Best 386 Colleges in the nation. As one of the most diverse liberal arts colleges in the country, Mills has a strong record of academic success with first-generation students, students of color, Latinx students, LGBTQ+ students, and other underrepresented students. The Mills experience is distinguished by small, interactive classes, one-on-one attention from exceptional faculty, a culture of creative experimentation, and cutting-edge interdisciplinary learning opportunities which empower students to make a statement in their careers and communities.