Representation of Mills College may not always live up to reality

November 20, 2003

So here we are-in our own micro quagmire, fighting an epic
battle of the sexes, talking again about gender equality.

When men and women, undergrads and grads are mixed, individual
needs get replaced by the needs of the group. We become a
community-a motley collection to be sure, but a community
nevertheless; we are a plurality. As a plurality, none among us has
the authority to chase anyone else away. We are invested in this
place, just as we are invested in our expectations of it. One of
these two investments is less profitable that the other.

It didn’t turn out to be like we thought it would. The diversity
celebrated in the catalogues looks nothing like this campus; and
the exclusive education of women undergrads has taken a back seat
to financial realities. None of this is fair. Graduate students
shouldn’t have to share their time with undergrads (nor should they
have to endure abuse and resentments from them) or vice versa.
Women who pay to attend a women’s college should actually get what
they pay for.

Are differences among women any less dramatic or complex than
differences between women and men? Of course not. You might say
that we did not sign up for the kind of diversity that involves
gender mixing, that you may embrace difference so long as that
difference does not bring a penis to class. Still, what’s done is
done; although women far outnumber men on this campus, men and
women do, from time to time, inhabit the same space. And attempting
to run the perceived enemy-whoever that enemy may be-out of town is
bad for everyone.

Here is the situation: Mills is a lovable school; it’s not
perfect. Maybe we have hostilities over gender, class, race, and
age-just as those hostilities permeate every corner of the planet.
But we don’t inhabit another corner of the planet and we don’t
inhabit any other spot in history. As humdrum as it certainly is to
some, we are not beginning the battle for the women’s rights
movement, just as we are not living through the Civil War. We
landed here, in Oakland, in this century, with much to do, but much
already done. We don’t have to pretend that inequality and
oppression don’t exist but we also don’t have to relive old battles
when our interests are not genuinely threatened. Being territorial
about education makes sense if someone is trying to steal your
book, forcing you to work instead of go to school, or telling you
you’re too stupid to try, but being territorial about a classroom
where men take up two seats out of twelve seems tiresome: it is
obvious to me who would win should mutiny occur.

I was as surprised to see a group of graduates in my first
classes as they, doubtless, were to see me. The thing is: we’ve
come to sort of like each other. And that bond is based on the
classroom experience and the common material we study. Sometimes
that bond is formed with men.

Perhaps we were not given all the facts about this place: that
because the school is broke we would be shuffled together-grads and
undergrads, men and women, willy-nilly. That is, of course, the
administration’s fault and their task is to change what they do
control. Since the budget seems out of the question, what should
change is the image of the school that they market. Our differing
expectations are not completely our responsibility; they were
nourished by videotapes, pamphlets, speeches, and reputation. The
school is transforming, and if the graduate program is to become
the school’s cash cow, someone ought to mention to both graduates
and undergraduates the close quarters they will share. As long as
undergrads and grads come here expecting either separation of the
sexes, or lectures geared toward their education level, the tension
between them will persist.

While I do not deny the importance of the sense of
disappointment and anger voiced by some women about the presence of
men on campus, we cannot cloister ourselves away and pretend that
people who are different from ourselves, who make similar demands,
and compete for our resources, do not have a right to exist. Men
deserve to be known for who they are and not what they represent
historically, as if any of us were guilty for history’s misdeeds.
If we cannot find common ground in this sacrosanct, protected world
of education, then where will that perfect place be, when will be
the time? As always, college is an opportunity to challenge, test,
and hopefully dispel some of our less original, preexisting
assumptions and fears. We pay for our education and we have a right
to make certain demands on that place that cashes our checks. But
we cannot buy simplicity, for that we should go to a resort. The
world-even the college world-just isn’t made of neat oppositions:
good and bad, women and men, black and white, etc, etc.

We are all entitled to be here and so must learn, or remember,
to share.

Shannon Ryan, Senior

Representation of Mills College may not always live up to reality was published on November 20, 2003 in Letters to the Editor

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