Last semester, Mills President Beth Hillman informed the Mills student body of a new partnership with Starr King School for the Ministry (SKSM). In an email to students, faculty and staff, Hillman announced that the two institutions have signed a Letter of Intent that confirms the graduate theological school’s relocation to the Mills’ campus in Fall 2020.
“Starr King’s relocation into existing spaces on our campus will bring a new educational partner whose mission complements Mills’ own. It will also add vibrancy and opportunity for current and future students while enhancing our sustainability,” Hillman said in her email. “I look forward to sharing more about our ongoing efforts to bring not only new educational partners, but also new housing, workforce, and community development opportunities to the campus, our students, and our City of Oakland neighbors in the near future.”
Founded in 1904, Starr King School of the Ministry is a graduate seminary currently based in Berkeley, California. They are a member of the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), an association of eight private, American theological schools, five academic centers and four affiliates.
The graduate school relates to Mills in its small siz
e, with approximately 100 students and 25 staff and faculty.
Through its association with GTU, Starr King students are able to cross-register at UC Berkeley, gaining access to the university’s research, performance facilities, library collections and museum collections.
“SKSM’s association with UC Berkeley dates back to Horace Davis,” reads the graduate school’s “About” page, “a Starr King founder who served as president of the university from 1888 to 1890 and allowed seminary students to take UC Berkeley classes at no charge.”
Additionally to serving as a University of California president, Davis served in Congress as a California Representative from 1877 to 1881. He was a devout Unitarian, and contributed heavily to the graduate school in its early days as the Pacific Unitarian School for the Ministry, the working name of the seminary until 1941.
Starr King’s educational approach is focused on Unitarian Universalist values. These values encourage congregants to accept and respect all people, with a focus on personal growth.
Unitarian Universalism is a progressive religious tradition that was created through the merge of Unitarianism and Universalism, two previously separate practices that both historically held social justice values.
“Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion. Unitarian Universalists do not share a creed, but are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth, as well as a free and responsible search for truth and meaning,” the graduate school explains on their website. “The theology of individual Unitarian Universalists ranges widely, including Humanism, Atheism, Agnosticism, Pantheism, Deism, Christianity, Feminism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Paganism, Buddhism and many more.”
According to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the Universalist Church of America was founded in 1793 and the American Unitarian Association was founded in 1825. Since its merger in 1961, Unitarian Universalism continues to honor its roots, aiming to “provide a strong voice for social justice and liberal religion.”
Starr King School for the Ministry offers three degree programs: a Master of Divinity (M.Div.), a Master of Arts in Social Change (MASC), and a Master of Arts (M.A.). They also offer certificate programs in Unitarian Universalist Studies and a Certificate in Multi-Religious Studies.
In an “I am Starr King” interview, Clovice Lewis, a graduate student obtaining an M.Div, shared his intentions moving forward with his degree.
“I’m really interested in talking, writing, speaking about large issues like counter-oppression, racism, climate disruption,” Lewis said, “and I want to do that on an international and national level. I’m really interested in polity. I’m interested in UU [Unitarian Universalism] policies and vision going forward at that level.”