College officials use the term “Women’s Centered Environment” to describe the curriculum, however, some students don’t see the college as women centered enough or are conf to the confusion that some have had with the wording, the college may move to change the rhetoric. According to President Janet Holmgren, the phrase “Women’s Centered Environment” was created in 1998 when Mills was re-accredited as a college by the Western Association of Colleges and Universities.
“We evaluated ourselves and the faculty looked at the curriculum,” said Holmgren. “The distinctive feature about the curriculum is that we’re ‘women centered.'”
The rhetoric is supposed to enhance the notion that the focus of the graduate and undergraduate programs is women’s education, said Holmgren. Dean of Faculty Susan Steele said that the term means that the courses at Mills include the consciousness of women. It also means that the college is providing a liberal arts education exclusively for undergraduate women and that both the graduate and undergraduate programs are devoted to the advancement of women.
“It’s a concept that keeps evolving,” said Holmgren. “It’s a very provocative phrase because it makes people think about what women’s education is.”
However, Holmgren said that the rhetoric has confused some people and that it doesn’t seem to capture the essence of Mills. So far, she has received mixed reactions from both faculty and students.
“I imagine that the faculty reaction is not unlike the reaction of students and alumnae,” said Holmgren. “It’s mixed.”
Since the rhetoric has caused confusion, “… we may have to change it,” said Holmgren.
Senior Erin Pehl, a drama major, said that the rhetoric is confusing because the theater is where the college could help in the advancement of women, yet
she feels the administration is not paying much attention to that department.
“The administration is ignoring women in theater,” said Pehl. We’re doing
‘women centered’ productions that are being ignored by the supposedly ‘women centered’ environment.”
Senior Eliza Riley, another drama student, views “women centered environment” from an accessibility standpoint.
“Lisser Hall is the most inaccessible place I’ve ever seen,” said Riley. “They are denying the disabled woman access [to the stage and audience].”
However, Professor of Education Edna Mitchell said she is not confused but happy with the rhetoric.
“I don’t see it as cheap speak,” said Mitchell. “I think it’s a commitment. Some people [professors] see it as a commitment to educating students in their academic areas.”
If members of the Mills community think that the term is being used in order to dilute the educational mission of the college or as a way to sneak more graduate men into the school, they are wrong, according to Steele.
“I’d say they were misinformed,” said Steele. “They would be fighting a battle that was already won 10 years ago. I don’t see it as a way to sneak more men in.”
“People might think we’re going co-ed through the back door [by using this rhetoric],” said Director of Student Activities Liza Kuney. “I think people need to look into it before they start saying that.”
“I’m completely convinced that there is a complete stand [on the part of the faculty and administration] in favor of retaining Mills as a women’s college,” said Mitchell.