25 years ago, students gathered together in the center of the Mills College campus to hear that Mills College would become a co-educational institution. The thought of losing what was known as a place for sisterhood and community launched students into action.
May 3, 1990 would bring on two weeks of civil disobedient actions from students, such as blockading important buildings from faculty and administration and chanting slogans to make sure they were heard. On May 17, the strike ended as students heard that the decision was reversed. Today, the Mills strike resonates with many alumnae that either participated in the strike or were objective viewers of what happened during those two weeks.
Meredith May, a current visiting professor of journalism at Mills, was a junior during the strike. At the time she and other students heard about the potential decision of making Mills a coed institution, but she thought it was a rumor. However, May recalled the moment when former President Mary Metz announced the decision to make Mills coed at Toyon Meadow (also known as Holmgren Meadow) on May 3, 1990.
May remembered the response from students as a “collective shriek,” with emotions varying from shock to sadness. While Metz continued to speak, students decided to turn their backs to her, starting the strike that was to come.
“It was a collective response to a betrayal,” May said. “Part of the outrage was that the discussions were held without us really knowing what was happening.”
Lisa Kremer, former co-Editor-in-Chief of The Mills College Weekly at the time, felt that her roles as a student and reporter were great experiences for her, watching Mills students work together to make a change.
“The amazing thing about it was the sisterhood,” Kremer said. “It was an amazing experience of people coming together, united in what they wanted and figuring out what to do about it.”
As part of the protest, May felt that the strike made her a stronger reporter and person in the future.
“It was the first time I felt that I had to fight for something, and that I believed in something enough to stop my world and schedule and protest,” May said.
Kremer, class of 1990, also recalled the different groups that formed to maintain organization for the strike — i.e. groups for food and supplies, relaying messages, media and interviews, etc. As a journalist, Kremer felt the conflict of staying objective during her reporting and being a student in the middle of the strike.
“One of the aspects of being a [student] journalist is you’re supposed to not participate in the story you’re covering,” Kremer said. “At the same time, it was fundamental to my identity and all of our identities as Mills students.”
Kristen Caven, class of 1988, participated in the dialogue as a cartoonist at the Weekly during the time of the strike. The inspirations for her cartoons took place in and outside of Mills. In fact, one of her cartoons, “The Family Dinner,” was inspired by a conversation over dinner with her family about the strike, particularly with her aunt and uncle.
“Everybody who was connected to Mills in any way was called up to defend what was going on because people did not understand what women’s education was about,” Caven said.
Alumna Elizabeth Carter also expressed that the strike was a proud moment for her. Carter, class of 1993, remembered the immediate organizing following Metz’s announcement. This organization led to the blockade and “shut down” of the school by the students; Carter was one of the students who blocked Haas Pavilion.
“It was watching everyone step up and be really empowered and feeling like we could really shift things even though it seemed pretty impossible because no one had done it before,” Carter said.
Looking back on the strike, Carter feels that the strike influenced her in her dedication and focus to issues important to her.
“It was this galvanizing experience, being in something that was really important to you and that you were willing to sacrifice a lot for,” Carter said.