Dear Mills Community,
During my first semester at Mills back in 2008, Dr. Joi and her team in the Division of Student Life collected narratives from students about their experiences at Mills. Their analysis of the results revealed that most of the 94 students who responded appreciated being a part of the Mills community, enjoyed the benefits of going to a small women’s college (such as the accessibility of professors) and felt they had been empowered to question their previously held beliefs about the world.
However, many students also expressed they didn’t feel like they truly fit in. They felt Mills was a school for people different than them: Queer students felt like it was a school for straight individuals, straight students felt like it was a school for queer individuals, white students felt like it was a school for people of color, students of color felt like it was a school for white individuals and so on.
I find these results really striking. To me, it bears witness to the manner in which students at Mills often isolate themselves within certain groups on campus, and it emphasizes the need for a larger dialogue amongst the Mills community. Mills has created spaces on campus for different interest groups to meet, such as the Mary Atkins Resumer Lounge and the Parenting Lounge, and is home to many different identity-based groups, such as the Black Women’s Collective and Mujeres Unidas. These lounges and organizations help build community and empower students through the safer spaces they provide. But it is not enough for Mills students to discuss social justice issues just amongst individuals that are like themselves. Institutions of oppression within our society work to reinforce the divisions among “minority” groups, and these divisions are what hinder progress towards social change.
Last spring, I created the Bay Area Queer Student Network to foster a more united discussion of social justice issues not only within the Mills community, but also amongst students within the larger Bay Area. While there are many different definitions of the word “queer,” I use the word in a very broad sense to refer to anyone has felt marginalized by the dominant culture. In reality, no one fully lives up to the expectations of the status quo, so, as I see it, we’re all a little bit queer.
The Network is meant to be an all-inclusive organization with the purpose of encouraging a greater sense of community among queer university students around the Bay Area. My hope is that The Network can instigate a larger dialogue which questions the existing power structure while emphasizing the intersectionality of oppression.
At this point, The Network only exists as a Facebook group to discuss queer-oriented issues and provide information about events around the Bay Area, but I hope that, over the next year, it will progress beyond the virtual world to cooperate with other organizations such as Mouthing Off! to plan events both on and off campus.
I have really enjoyed my time at Mills and have become increasingly more nostalgic as I begin my senior year. That being said, I do not feel that Mills always fully lives up to the hefty promises of empowerment and activism the promotional materials make. But what I like best about Mills is the great amount of fierce, thoughtful, motivated individuals that make up our vivid community.
Together, I think we have the power to make Mills a truly visionary place.
Ariadne Nelson, senior