The walls of sociology professor Dr. Bruce Williams’ office are covered in pictures, certificates, awards, letters and drawings from his peers, friends and students, accumulated over the 19 years that he has been at Mills. From a photo of his “groupie club” to a road sign made in his honor, it is clear as he retires that Williams has made an impact on many students’ lives.
“He stays true to his word. He expects a certain standard,” former student Christine Kwak said. “I could tell he had a lot of credibility in what he was teaching.”
Williams taught race and ethnicity, race relations, sociology of capitalism, social inequality and more. He was also the director of Mills’ Summer Academic Workshop (SAW) program from 2000-2010, acclimating first-generation students to the college climate and providing support, and from 2010 co-directed with Sabrina Kwist. Working with SAW has been one of the most important things to Williams in his career at Mills, as he also comes from a low-income, first-generation background.
“It’s the special relationships I’ve established that I would say you’ll only see at Mills and with SAW students,” Williams said.
Those relationships with the students are the main reasons Williams has stayed at Mills. Pushing students to go beyond their best, teaching them how to think critically while incorporating humor into his lessons. Kwak said that Williams is one of the driving forces behind her wanting to go into education.
“He really wants the students to amplify their thinking in the ways that we learn about the systems around us,” former student and SAW participant, Isabel Cortes said. “He’s definitely someone I hold dear.”
Having previously taught at Vanderbilt University and the University of Mississippi, as one of the only, sometimes the only, African American in the entire social sciences department, Williams found himself being the social change agent.
“In both places I became the focal point in trying to improve the campus climate,” Williams said, something he continued at Mills.
When he came to Mills, the students welcomed him, forming a “groupie club” within the first couple of months he arrived and cheering for him at Convocation.
“When I came here there was already a demand for what I was teaching, but also the way I was teaching,” Williams said. “I never felt so appreciated as a professor until I came to Mills College.”
Now, Williams is handing the reins off to the next generation. He hopes the social sciences continue to welcome and retain people of color on staff, while he enjoys his self traveling, playing tennis, and cooking.