Mills community members from the past, present and future gathered together on President’s Meadow on Sept. 23rd to celebrate the inauguration of Alecia A. DeCoudreaux as Mills’ 13th President at this year’s Convocation and Inauguration. DeCoudreaux’s address covered a range of topics, including the importance of a private liberal arts education, her intentions to fully support faculty and the continual need for women’s colleges.
DeCoudreaux’s speech considered higher education in current times, an era when many programs are being cut and budgets are shrinking. Speaking about graduating seniors she had met since coming to Mills, DeCoudreaux acknowledged student worries about getting a job with a private liberal arts degree.
“The surest way to fortify our financial strength is to fortify our academic strength,” DeCoudreaux said. “In ‘the real world,’ you can tell someone how to do a job, but you cannot tell them how to think critically.”
Faith Adiele, this semeseter’s distinguished visiting writer, agreed with the new President.
“I love the statement she made about not giving into short-term economic anxieties about the expense of liberal arts education,” Adiele said.
Many alumnae sat in the audience, as the event took place during Family and Reunion Weekend. The ceremony itself incorporated several alumnae in both speeches as well as during a piano accompaniment during a musical interlude.
“This was really powerful for those of us who are coming back,” said Anne Griffin Baker, class of ‘76. “I’m so thrilled to know that strong women are still here and still alive.”
Most faculty were in attendance, wearing the collegiate full-length robes in solidarity with students despite the sweltering heat. DeCoudreaux spoke about Mills’ history of academic excellence, crediting the faculty for their talent and dedication as well as promising to support them and their work.
“I will strive to provide you with the tools you need, so that you can provide students with the tools they need,” she said.
Many members of the Mills community felt the commitment to faculty was an important one to make.
“Her statement of support for faculty was really good,” said Thomasina Woida, class of ‘80.
Woida was also impressed by the event as a whole. “This event had the largest participation of women of color I’ve ever seen at Mills. It’s progress.”
DeCoudreaux’s speech stressed the crucial nature of Mills’ existence, as the U.S. is now home to less than 60 women’s colleges — a huge decrease from 50 years ago, when there were over 170 — a statistic mentioned by speaker Marilyn R. Schuster, Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Smith College and Mills class of ‘65 alumna. The President cited the unequal amount of women in Congress and tiny number of women CEOs in Fortune 500 companies as proof that there is a long way to go before equality is achieved.
“As long as these cultural and economic disparities exist, women’s colleges must exist,” DeCoudreaux said.
The need for Mills’ existence was attested to by every speaker, notably among them Associated Students of Mills College (ASMC) President Modesta Tamayo. Tamayo came to Mills through the Summer Academic Workshop (SAW) program as a first-generation college student. Now in her final year, she is completing a double major in English and Philosophy and has received academic honors every semester of her Mills career.
“Mills College believed in my ability to succeed when the rest of society did not,” Tamayo said.
DeCoudreaux also included a historical anecdote in her address recalling the scene at Mills “on a dusty summer day 140 years ago,” when students made the trek from Benecia to Oakland after the new campus location was purchased. The historical anecdotes didn’t go back any farther, although the land Mills occupies was once home to an Ohlone village.
“I think it would have been respectful to acknowledge the indigenous presence that existed before Mills College,” said Dr. Melinda Micco, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies. “I’m not necessarily blaming DeCoudreaux — this is also omitted in the official college history. She’s not the only one to make
As all speakers were asked to speak about their wishes for the new president and the future of the college, Tamayo said she knew her answer immediately.
“My wish for President DeCoudreaux and the future of the college is that they never value financial profits over increasing student diversity,” she said.