Associate Director of Residential and Commuting Life Lael Sigal is leaving Mills on Oct. 28 to look after her sick mother.
Sigal has been working for Mills since 1999, when she was hired as a Residence Director, and was promoted to the Associate Director of Residential and Commuting Life in the last year. Sigal’s responsibilities include creating and overseeing programs, connecting with the entire freshwoman class, educating freshwoman about issues such as money management and sexuality, training students to become Resident Advisors and being on call for crises on campus.
“RAs and all professional staff work with students to challenge them and support them,” Sigal said. “I’m always telling my RAs that working with resident life you have the opportunity to change people’s lives. That’s both an honor and a responsibility.”
Her job enables her to work closely with students and puts her in touch with the issues that most concern students.
“My idea is that you need a passion for students, for working with them, and that never faded,” Lael said. “I definitely consider myself a student advocate … I think you can be a student advocate and an administrator. I think that’s what makes a good administrator.”
Since Sigal’s position requires her to live on campus, she’s spent a total of 13 years living on college campuses, including her college and graduate school years.
“I’ve liked ‘living in,'” said Sigal. “It’s a lot of stress, but students get to see me in different capacities. They see me when they’re sick, when they’ve been sexually assaulted … but living in is hard.”
Sigal will be moving to Alameda and plans to work, sleep, and look after her sickly mother.
“My best friend says ‘you’re going to sleep’ because my job was really taxing and time consuming,” said Sigal.
Additionally, her mother, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2001 has had a recurrence. Sigal will be spending most of her time with her mother, who has been living with her in the residence halls on and off since she was diagnosed.
“She’s my mom, what else am I going to do? When someone can’t breathe right in front of you … you feel completely powerless. It’s hard, it’s really hard … My goal in my life is to create a safe and happy place for my mom to pass in. She needs to feel love, to have love around her,” Sigal said.
Many students are upset by the news that Sigal is leaving Mills and are concerned about the impact it will have.
“Lael is the person that made Mills run,” said RA Elina Rios, a sophomore who was trained by Sigal. “She’s one of those people that make you feel special just by smiling at you, and although she is busy as hell and you can tell she’s stressed out and worried about something, she not only makes time to talk to you, actually listen to you, but actually, miraculously, comes up with a solution to whatever problem you might have. She’s amazing.”
RA Blake Saffitz said Sigal is “one of the most overworked people on campus” and that her resignation “is a total travesty.”
Although Saffitz said she will miss Sigal, she understands why she is leaving.
“She’s at a point in her life of personal growth, and she’s grown too big for Mills,” said Saffitz.
Dean of Student Life Joanna Iwata, who has worked with Sigal since May 2005, said she is looking for candidates to fill Sigal’s place, and is hoping to have someone by the end of the semester. Iwata mentioned she is currently looking at how to “learn from her” and share that knowledge with others.
“We’re grateful for what she’s done to enrich, enliven and engage students in the different kinds of programs she runs and oversees. She’s played a huge role in elevating the office in terms of offering programs to students,” said Iwata. “Her leaving is going to create a major loss for us because she played such a key role in all of our inner workings. She will be missed.”
She will be replaced by two coordinators instead of being replaced by another Associate Director, according to Sigal. She said this is “actually a really good thing” because RCL is understaffed as it is.
When asked what she would say to students before leaving, Sigal said, “I’m going to miss them incredibly and to thank them for helping change my life, and I hope I’ve had a positive impact.”