At the Berkeley shuttle stop last weekend, I overheard furtive comments from two undergraduate students about men being the “antithesis” to Mills. My first reaction was to call them out, but figured they would either deny or downplay saying anything, so I let it go.
On the ride back to campus I reflected on whether or not men are indeed contrary to Mills’ mission, and decided to ask several undergraduates for their opinions.
One said in an e-mail she didn’t think men are the antithesis to Mills, but those “who are respectful of the community and receptive and willing to explore gender dynamics are important and valuable members of Mills College” and that she “[does] not believe that gender alone defines a person, but rather, that attitudes, values, experiences and beliefs truly shape who we are.”
Others said they were initially shocked to see men walking about the campus because Mills was touted as a space exclusively for women. Another student said she could understand the surprise due to the tradition of the “‘S.P.A.M.’ (Strong women, Proud women, All women, Mills women) inspired sentiments” she heard during freshwomen orientation and at other school activities. She noted, however, that “antithesis” is too harsh a word and said men should not be excluded all together, given the number of male instructors and undergraduate international students, and that Mills has offered coed graduate programs since 1920. “Look at the school’s motto: una destinatio, viae diversae (one destination, many paths). We may come from different backgrounds and personal experiences, but we’re all here to learn, regardless of gender.”
At that point in my queries, I also wondered why a women’s college would admit men as graduate students, and why as early as 1920? Maybe it was due to some dire economic situation, a federal regulation, or perhaps the administration had a flowery vision of unified learning between men and women on the graduate level. Honestly, I can’t say for sure.
I did, however, find insight from an October, 1976 The Mills Stream article, in which then President Barbara M. White said during her inaugural address: “We are not a college without men; we are a college for women.” Speaking on the advantages of a women’s college, she said: “The college for women says by its very existence that a woman should have every opportunity to develop her potential to the full. It is dedicated wholly to that end.”
Whether or not one believes men to be the antithesis to Mills is a personal decision. But keep in mind not only have men been apart of the Mills community for decades, but the percentage of male students within the total campus population has remained small. And while I can’t speak for every man who has stepped through the front gates, I’m sure there has been more of an effort made than not to respect the College’s philosophy of empowering women through education.
So, if I must be criticized for being a dude, at least let it be for such stereotypically male behavior as streaking through Toyon Meadow after a raging kegger, asking 50-plus undergrads for their phone numbers, or obnoxiously demanding the spotlight in the classroom. That way, I’ll feel like I deserve it.
– Ishmael Ali Elias, graduate student