About 30 administrators and two students attended a 17-minute meeting on Feb 9 called by President Alecia DeCoudreaux to address the departure of Dr. Joi Lewis from Mills College.
After serving five years at Mills, Lewis will be returning to the Midwest to reunite with her family and assume the position of Vice President of Student Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
DeCoudreaux emailed the Mills community about Lewis’s departure the same day the meeting was held, stating that the meeting was held in order “to continue to build a more open, collaborative community” with students, and to wish Lewis well.
“For all of us, it’s loss (and) we will have a period of mourning,” De Coudreaux said at the meeting, “but it’s hard to stay in that place in view of the fact that this is such a joyous time for her.”
DeCoudreaux and administrators who spoke at the meeting assured the Mills community that this Division of Student Life (DSL) leadership transition, effective after Dr. Joi’s exit, would not affect the quality of service.
“We are here to support students,” said Angela Batista, associate dean of students and community life. “We don’t want students to step away because of this transition.”
While a national search for a new dean takes place, Batista and Kennedy Golden, associate dean of students and operations, will report to DeCoucreaux. Themy Adachi, athletics director, Dorian Newton, director of counseling and psychological services, and Monica Wilson, executive assistant to the dean of student life, will report to Golden.
Though no specifics have been given about the process of finding a new dean of student life, DeCoudreaux said that “a search committee will be formed with constituent representation” to replace Lewis by the fall semester. The committee will include a student voice as promised by DeCoudreaux and will be formed as soon as possible.
“We want this to be as collaborative and inclusive a process as possible,” De Coudreaux said.
As DeCoudreaux said in her email, Lewis has made important strides at the DSL, including the development of such programs as The Narrative Project, the Belonging Initiative, and the Soup and Substance program, which have aided the increase of student retention.
As an advocate for social justice and equality, Lewis’s focus at Mills has been on creating community amongst the student body’s diverse population. She helped form the Diversity and Social Justice Center, established the Community Health Resource Center, and played an important role in enabling the Kaiser Student Health Center to open on campus.
Reactions to Lewis’s departure throughout the Mills community have been mixed. Though beloved by many students, some still harbor hurt feelings about the lay-offs that took place in DSL last semester.
“Does anyone stay at Mills anymore?” Mills alum Kirin Khan wrote on The Campanil’s Facebook page. “Between transfers, budget cuts, and firings, I am struggling as an alum to feel connected to my alma mater.”
Kirstyne Lange, one of two students who attended the Thursday meeting, had more sentimental feelings towards Lewis.
“She has been a pillar to my growth in the last few years,” Lange said, “and I truly appreciate her for extending herself to me. I am saddened to see her depart Mills.”
MaggieJo Banken, who is on break from Mills but will return as a senior next spring, felt that Minneapolis was a good place for Lewis.
“The twin cities (Minneapolis and St.Paul) is where, Minnesotans go to college. People come from all over the state, from farms and small towns to get an education,” Banken wrote. “Who better to help students be well equipped to live in a diverse world than Dr. Joi?”
Though some do still feel upset about the lay-offs, the appreciation of Lewis’s service to Mills runs deep.
“Even with the lay-offs when I was feeling upset about all that,” junior Kiaonno Bradley said, “I could still go and talk to [Dr. Joi], respect her decision and know it was nothing personal.”
At the end of the meeting, De Coudreaux asked the room of some 30 Mills associates if there were any further questions or comments. She was met with silence. But when the meeting was dismissed, everybody in the room stood to give Dr. Joi an extended ovation.