Over her past 40 years at Mills College, Kennedy Golden has held many jobs, but she’s always made herself available to help the students who study here. Years ago, when she was working in the theater department, a student came to see her at Lisser Hall with
“I always think back to this student,” Golden said. “She told me it had always been her dream to be in the circus. Ringling Brothers came to town holding auditions and she tried out and was offered to tour with them for a year.
It was her senior year, but we talked about it and agreed that if she didn’t go, she’d always wonder what it would have been like. So she went for that year and sent me postcards saying, ‘I’m still in the same dirty costume in the same dirty tent, but I love it.’ She came back and graduated and she was happy.”
Little did Golden know it, but this interaction was great experience for the job she holds now. Her official title is associate director for Division of Student Life. What does that mean? “I make a lot of piles of paper on my desk,” Golden said.
“But seriously, it’s all about the students.”
Golden’s office is room 103 in Cowell. It’s big and bright, with a huge wooden desk at the center. The desk has been the dean’s at least as long as Golden has been at Mills, but “it’s mine now,” Golden said with a smile.
Golden will probably sit on the guest side of the desk, to make the student she’s meeting with comfortable. With a short, graying bob, kind eyes, and an eclectic sense of style, she seems experienced, but approachable.
If a student is considering leaving Mills, they have to talk to Golden first. She wants to make sure no one is scared to approach her. “It’s a gift every day to be able to sit down with students as they’re trying to overcome challenges and send them where they can get help.” Golden works to refer people to campus resources that can make life easier “whether that be the counselors down the hall or to Erika Macs at the Chapel,”
In 1969, Golden moved to the Mills campus with her nine-month-old son Alex and her then husband, Jim Wright, who was hired to teach theater. As a one-time theater major herself, Golden volunteered in the drama department for many years before the department was cut in 2004.
“My son thinks of Mills as his hometown,” Golden said. “He was raised in Lisser.”
Although she hasn’t been actively part of theater for many years, Golden still feels passionately about it. “Whenever I see President Holmgren, I ask for a Beginning Acting class,” she said. “Even if we can’t have a real department, I think acting is
so empowering for women. I saw over and over again that it’s a life changing experience.”
For much of her time at Mills, Golden worked at the bookstore, selling and buying textbooks at the beginning and end of semesters. She assisted in the psychology department, went to work at the Mail and Copy Center, and then, “Some friends convinced me to apply for this job in Student Life.”
Golden was hired as an office manager in 1989, the year before the strike. As the students protested to keep Mills undergraduate all-women, most of the DSL staff quit, but Golden stayed strong, giving the protesters outside Cowell access to food, showers, and beds.
As the trustees agreed to keep Mills a women’s college, President Holmgren was inaugurated and Myrt Whitcomb was brought in as Dean of Students. Whitcomb and Golden worked closely together, committed to the students, for many years and still get together to talk about Mills today.
When she retired, “the great revolving door of deans,” as Golden called it, began. In 2007, Dr. Joi Lewis was appointed dean. “I can’t express what an incredible pleasure it has been working with Dr. Joi,” said Golden. “She has been so supportive and she’s so busy, but she’s always looking for more time to devote to students.”
Lewis, in turn, has nothing but good things to say about Golden. “I feel immensely blessed to have her on my staff and to call her both colleague and friend,” said Lewis. “She is the kind of person that is willing to jump in and do whatever needs to be done, particularly if it is supports our students.
If a student is considering leaving Mills, they’re required to talk to Golden first. “A lot of students are scared to see me,” she said, “because they think I’m going to try and talk them out of it,” but that’s really not what her aim is at all.
“I always encourage leaves of absence instead of straight withdrawing. It’s harder for the school to process, but it’s better for the student. That way, if she wants to come back, it’s easy.”
Taking a leave of absence is best for some students, in Golden’s opinion, “For whatever reason – health, mental health, financial, in today’s economy. If Mills has accepted you, we want you here, but now isn’t always the right time.”
Tonia Blackwell, assistant dean of Students, has only been at Mills for nine months, but said she has seen the great effort Golden puts into her job. “Her insight and thoughtfulness about Mills and its students are truly reflected in her work with various college constituencies,” Blackwell said.
“‘We’ll still be here,’ that’s what I like to tell everyone who decides to leave,” said Golden. “Really, that’s what we’re all doing here: making sure Mills will always be here.”
That is certainly true for Golden. While they were both living in Faculty Village, chemistry and physics professor John Vollmer’s quick thinking saved her son Alex after he was attacked by bees. Alex is married to a Mills alumna and they were married in the Chapel, as Golden was to her second husband, Vincent, who is an electronics technician at the San Francisco airport.
“Mills has given more to me than I can ever give back,” said Golden. “I mean, my son met his life partner here; that’s amazing!”
Family is very important to Golden. She loves to read, but she said her most important hobby is spending time with her family. “I’m taking my 16-year-old grandsons to the Vagina Monologues,” she said. “I might not tell them that before they get here.”