Disheartened Mother

October 28, 2004

Dear Editor,

Imagine you are a grown woman of 50 who grew up around the Bay
Area during the free wheeling ’60s. Your parents were Berkeley
grads, you have worked hard at your studies all of your life,
attended Barnard (another women’s college), married at nearly 30 to
a man of the same age and with a very similar background, and
eventually became a judge. The two of you raised a daughter in the
’80s and ’90s to be open minded, creative, honest and
compassionate, something that is unimaginably difficult in our
current day and age.

When she reached college age, she applied to Mills. Although
several people had told me that once they visited Mills they chose
not to enroll, I remained interested, understood it to have a good
reputation, appreciated the fact that it is a women’s college, and
encouraged my daughter to attend Mills as a freshwoman in Fall

A year later, I enthusiastically attended classes for the first
4 days school. Three days into my stay, I could barely keep from
crying. What I saw made me sad from the moment I awoke each
morning. The hostility among the students was palpable. There is
the unmistakable feeling on campus that one is defined by one’s
appearance, and that certain looks are unacceptable. There is also
the feeling among the students that one is expected to behave in a
certain way, which must be sufficiently different than the

In a college environment, where students are young,
impressionable and exploring their identities, it is a crime for an
institution to foster these types of oppressive behaviors.
Honestly, the most interesting part of life is appreciating one
another’s differences, instead of condemning them for not sharing
your own beliefs and lifestyles.

I had heard from others of some instances last year where
opinions were harshly belittled. I was told by several students, as
well as by the professor, that a young woman was scoffed at during
her final presentation by two women to such an extent that her
presentation was interrupted. She was reduced to tears of

Struck by the lack of awareness from other on campus, I came to
see why Mills is in trouble. It is not even reaching its
undergraduate admission goals. No wonder.

On my last day, I made an appointment and spoke at length with a
prominent administrator. I saw no reason not to share my
experiences and feelings about what I had observed at Mills during
my stay there, hoping they would help instigate change. I felt that
our conversation was absolutely memorable in her ability to
discount, one after the other, all of my observations and

Although I have been an attorney and judge for 25 years and have
been in many difficult conversations, none of my experiences has
included such nearly perfect denial of the existence of any

I treasured my time there and loved meeting the students and
nearly all of my daughter’s teachers, but I cannot recall when I
have had a more difficult, puzzling, and heart wrenching
experience. I am saddened and resentful that Mills, while it
obviously has so many wonderful gifts to offer its students, is not
providing the balanced, nurturing, open minded environment which I
had the privilege to experience during my own years at a women’s
college. I am concerned for both the students and for the future of

Most sincerely,

P.R. Donovan

Disheartened Mother was published on October 28, 2004 in Opinions

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