Amidst the confusion of an on-and-off campus-wide power outage, students living in the Warren Olney residence hall were surprised to see an in-person tour being given to UC Berkeley representatives on the evening of Dec. 3.
This came as a surprise due to the lack of communication to students regarding the tour and the current access policies enforced on-campus due to COVID-19. Living at Mills during a pandemic has restricted gatherings of any kind and the use of all common spaces on-campus. Students are prohibited from visiting one another in separate residence halls and from having outside guests.
In a statement regarding the in-person tour on Dec. 3, Vice President of Strategic Communications and Operations Renee Jadushlever provided the following statement:
“Yesterday, December 3, Mills staff conducted a tour of residential and athletics spaces with 12 visitors from UC Berkeley following all COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, including completing required wellness checks. We apologize that students did not receive advance notice of this visit to their residence hall and understand both their surprise and concerns. We had intended to inform residential students of the visit ahead of the tour and take responsibility for neglecting to do so.
We would like to assure you that the entire visiting team was masked, socially distanced, and did not talk or interact with anyone while on the tour for more than 15 minutes. The unexpected power outage surprised all of us and we regret that it expanded the concerns of students during a tour that was designed to be as low-impact as possible. The visit was scheduled during a low-occupancy time for students, and when many departed and have not returned from Thanksgiving. There is actually no time when Mills is operating when we can hold tours of entirely empty residence halls since we allow students who do not have another place to go to remain in residence.
We consider housing and food security especially critical for our students now, and we are managing those concerns alongside minimizing Covid-19 risks. This tour was unlike other types of visits we have prohibited, such as admissions tours or general campus visits that involve an extended period of time and a great deal of interaction. Please know that we have canceled a future tour in response to your concerns.”
Students discussed in a forum on MillsGo, the free campus app, their confusion of the power outage and the unknown tour happening in Warren Olney. There were concerns about student health and safety and a lack of transparency regarding future plans of the merge between UC Berkeley and Mills, as the initiative remains in discussion.
“I don’t know where else to express concern but it was really uncomfortable to have the tour come inside our living halls,” Aya Alshalal, a sophomore at Mills, commented in MillsGo, “We have a whole virtual tours system on the website … I just need this administration to stop letting random people in our buildings, which for right now are our homes.”
The admissions tours led by student ambassadors and staff in the Admissions department have adapted to a virtual setting since March.
Quinn Prado Diaz, the admissions counselor and visit coordinator at Mills College, trained several student ambassadors to lead virtual campus tours after the in-person prospective student tours were paused due to shelter-in-place orders. During this transition, overnight visits for admitted students — typically held in the Spring during Admissions weekend — were canceled. Prado Diaz and student admission ambassadors lead weekly virtual events for admitted or prospective students that contact their office to learn more about Mills.
According to Vice President Jadushlever, the in-person tour given to UC Berkeley representatives was different than typical tours on-campus such as admission tours and general tours that are postponed until further notice.
Nora Kremer McCarthy, a first-year, expressed a desire for notification of the tour and more information as the proposed merge between Mills and UC Berkeley has not been finalized.
“I wish they would have told us, like, ‘Hey, there’s a group coming in’ … we wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it anyway if they told us, [but] it would have been nice to know that was happening so we weren’t blindsided by these random people coming onto campus,” Kremer McCarthy said. “The whole Berkeley thing is kind of mystifying anyways, but I just like [want Mills to] be a little bit more transparent. And if you’re going to let random people into our homes, can we go into our own dorm halls as well?“
As Kasina Vaesworn, a junior majoring in Sociology, sat in the meadow doing her homework, she saw the tour being led through central campus and into the Tea Shop. The attendees were masked and distanced, but she was confused about the occurrence as currently Mills is a closed campus.
“That was definitely a concern during COVID; all the rules in place are to protect us with not having guests and family can’t [come] visit us for good reason,” she said. “But then to have UC Berkeley reps being led through the place that we get our food and through the place that we live, like our home right now, when our own family isn’t allowed to — which they shouldn’t be, to be clear — is just a bit alarming and disappointing, especially since no one was notified of this.”
COVID-19 policies restrict students from having outside guests inside of the residential halls and any campus buildings, with the exception of caregivers providing care to a resident or the family member of a resident. These individuals must be approved by Student Access Support Services. Students living in residence halls are assigned specific shared spaces to use, such as bathrooms and kitchens, in order to maintain social distancing and are not allowed to use shared spaces that they were not assigned.
Students may visit each other in the same residential hall while complying with social distancing rules. In the Student Guide for COVID-19 for 2020-2021, Mills College encourages students to form a “social bubble” or cluster of up to 12 people, meaning every person in the cluster interacts with the same 12 or fewer people.
For many students, the arrival of the UC Berkeley representatives on-campus was the only time since the virtual town hall held in October that they had heard about the merger in discussion.
“I remember there was a town hall … it just seemed like it was very elusive. A lot of questions were answered, but not answered in a very political way,” Vaesworn said, “I haven’t really heard anything since, having Berkeley reps show up.”
While the total number of COVID-19 cases on-campus has remained at three since the beginning of the semester, the in-person tour for UC Berkeley representatives spread concern about contract-tracing and heightened risk amongst residents. Students hope to be notified of instances similar to this in the future and continued communication about plans regarding the proposed merger.