The Ethnic Studies Department recently celebrated 40 years of social activism both in and outside the Mills College community.
The event was held Nov. 12 in the Student Union, guests were greeted by current Ethnic Studies students who served refreshments and handed out brochures.
Books by the Ethnic Studies faculty were available for purchase, including Color‐Line to Borderlands: The Matrix of American Ethnic Studies by the event’s keynote speaker Johnnella Butler. Butler is the Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at Mills domestic exchange partner, Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga.
“Many of us have spent our entire careers and lives anticipating a celebration like this,” Butler said. In 1968, she recalled that there was no such thing as an Ethnic Studies discipline. She recalled caucasian colleagues at John Hopkins University asking her to explain “the black perspective on Virginia Woolf.”
She emphasized the importance of providing an Ethnic Studies education to students.
“It provides a foundation for an expansion of our concept of what constitutes humanity. It offers profound ways for addressing difference, which becomes increasingly important with globalization and technological advancements,” Butler said. She emphasized the necessary and transformative nature of the field, calling the study “the first liberal art.”
The event also included a drumming and singing performance by the All Nations Singers duo. MFA students Sheila Coleman and Nzinga Woods dedicated a dance to former department chair Linda Goodrich. Sophomore Ciera Cummings also performed a Hawaiian welcome chant in honor of the other former chairs present, Paul Williams and Dorothy Tsuruta.
Julia Sudbury, current department chair, gave opening remarks on the achievements of the Mills Ethnic Studies Department.
“Today, over 50 percent of Mills students are people of color,” she said. She placed an emphasis on the essential role of student activism in creating and founding the discipline.
Activists from the founding movement were present, including Barbra Morrow Williams, alumna from the class of 1968. In January of 1968 Williams wrote a letter in the student newspaper pushing for more African American students and faculty.
“The College had just put out a catalogue advertising the school in which there was not a single African American student. It wasn’t a sin of commission, but omission,” said Williams.
A year later in 1969, the Ethnic Studies Department was founded and the program evolved into the diverse discipline it is today, a discipline which has inspired many students. Three former Ethnic Studies students, Tonda Case, a Mills alumna from the class of 1986, Esther Lucero from the class of 2007, and Mara Diaz from the class of 2004 gave testimonies of their experience.
“I was looking for a way of thinking about who I am,” Case said, and in Ethnic Studies she found a way of “changing my historical content.”
Sudbury also remarked on the success of the evening in celebrating the history of the department.
“It was inspirational, healing and transformative to gather together four generations of Ethnic Studies,” she said. The Ethnic Studies Department hopes to include more courses and learning opportunities in promoting topics on diversity and justice in the world.