Mills Students, Faculty, and Staff,
We would like to address the proposed major/minor cuts and the response that students have had to them, in regards primarily to the Book Art and Dance departments. As students who are now finishing our 4th year at Mills College, we would like to question the department’s continual inequities including but not limited to: financial inaccessibility, racism, classism, elitism, fatphobia, and transphobia.
I (Nazanin) have publicly advocated against the special topics belly dancing course in the dance department, and have privately advocated against the hip-hop dance course as well. Both courses are taught by people not of the dances original cultural backgrounds. Bellydancing fetishizes women of Middle Eastern descent, in what is now a hypersexualized dance done for the Western and male gaze. I was shocked personally, that Mills – a feminist school – would be interested in perpetuating these stereotypes about Middle Eastern people, especially when the school does not do a lot of work in supporting Islamic and Arabic students that are on campus. As for the Hip-hop dance class, the teacher is financially benefitting from black expression that came out of black oppression. Black oppression, that we, as non-black people have created and continue to perpetuate by having classes like this taught by non-black people. When departments have courses like this, people of color cannot be made to feel safe. These are direct examples of the link between low enrollment and lack of diversity in students in these departments.
In the past couple years Mills College has received a lot of input from Black students asking to make this campus safer for them after a post which threatened to lynch Black women on the campus. The response by Mills Black students and allies was largely unsupported by fellow students as well as quickly forgotten about by non-Black students after demonstrations had ended. How can departments which, with the exception of the French department, have made no effort to ensure my (Arianna’s) safety as a Mills student expect my support in allowing their continuation within Mills? There needs to be major changes within these departments which address the inequities within them.
The Majors and Minors which are being phased out are extremely crucial to the Mills experience, but the fact of the matter is there are campus-wide and department-wide inequities. These inequalities are an extremely intersectional real factor in the low enrollment of classes and majors. If students of color and first generation students do not feel safe in a department or it has been made clear to them that space is not safe for them, then where lies the point in organizing students if the same issues are going to continue?
Without the assistance of the activist undergraduate students on campus, we do not see the potential for the departments to be saved. Our support will not be given until we see a serious change in the conversation to center the marginalized students on campus. If the inequity and lack of diversity issues that led to low enrollment are not addressed, this conversation will happen again in 5 years.
“You fight for your classes; we fight for survival.” – Margarita Sánchez Morales
–Nazanin Szanto, Political, Legal and Economic Analysis and Public Policy & Arianna Cruz-Sellu, Early Childhood Education and Ethnic Studies