The ongoing quest for a visible and supportive environment on Mills campus for students of color’s has sparked controversy and debate between administrators and students regarding race and space.
A group of students, women of color and white students, used the lounge area of Caf‚ Suzy as a race-conscious study space shortly before spring break.
Sophomore Ebony Cain, the unofficial spokesperson for the Solidarity Lounge (S-Lounge) had reserved the lounge to serve as a temporary race-conscious study space for students.
According to Sophomore Alysha Grevious, another key player in the planning of the S-Lounge, after 40 to 50 people attended during that three-day span, Caf‚ Suzy was designated the ideal space to hold S-Lounge.
“People really enjoyed it,” said Grevious, “and that’s when people really started seeing a need for the space.”
The new S-Lounge, according to a developing proposal, would also exist as a comfortable environment to meet the needs of students of color.
Although plans to create such a space have been on the student agenda for years, this is the first time students have claimed and moved into an existing space.
Cain says the S-Lounge will be successful in the contested space because the location is central and accessible. Furthermore the room will be open later than the library and the Women of Color Resource Center in Mills Hall. Students believe that the often unoccupied lounge would be a suitable space for speakers, events, resources and discussions regarding issues or race, coalition-building, social justice and diversity at Mills, much of what the current proposal states.
During a critical time when women of color are voicing experiences of covert and overt racism on campus, and many are considering transferring to other schools, supporters and attendees of the S-Lounge say that such a space will support women of color at Mills. Grevious said that although the college reports that Mills has higher numbers of women of color on campus compared to other private, liberal arts institutions, “there is no space that represents us.”
However, Liza Kuney who oversees student activities in the contested space informed students that Suzy’s is not available to become the permanent home of the S-Lounge, or anything else. Although she, as a representative of the college, supports the idea for creating such a space, Suzy’s, she said, cannot be it. “The lounge is open to all people in the same way that the Student Union is open to all people.”
Student organizers and supporters, however, feel that the college is resisting the solidarity lounge because Caf‚ Suzy’s is in a highly visible location. Feelings of resistance also arose from an occurrence following the first night of the 3-day temporary S-Lounge occupancy before Spring Break. According to students, the tables were pulled out of one of the rooms that were in use for S-Lounge. While the key students in the planning of S-Lounge expressed feeling that the unannounced removal of the furniture was an administrative show of resistance to the idea, Kuney, who played an authoritative role in the furniture’s removal and the blocking off of one of the doors, attributed the incident to administrative miscommunication and confusion of power and authority.
“I understand why people went there because race matters and race matters in every single thing,” she said in response to student’s belief that the move was racist. “Race will always matter- even when it’s not the issue.” She later said, “Race is not why the solidarity lounge shouldn’t happen there…nothing [permanent] should happen there.”
As the proposal for the S-Lounge is under revision, the community is considering questions of whether a race-conscious space would exclude white women or groups not addressing race issues. “We do want to invite everybody to come,” but the focus, said Grevious, is for the space to be centered on women of color and supported by white women. “Solidarity speaks of uniting everybody across all race, cultures, ethnicities” she said. “I don’t think that we’re asking too much to ask people not to be racist when they come into a particular space,” added Grevious.
The Solidarity Lounge has been considered and planned since the beginning of the semester. The idea emerged as a continuation of the Diversity House. Senior Nubia Meza recalls petitions being circulated during the 1999-2000 year, and a temporary diversity tent being erected near Toyon Meadow. Meza remembers that the presence of the tent encouraged other students to dialogue about the need for such a space. After a failed attempt to gain funding from the Irvine Grant in 2002, said Grevious, a curious group of students picked up the proposal where it left off as the construction of a diversity house, and are now requesting that the unoccupied lounge area of Caf‚ Suzy’s be the new place for the old idea.
Students decided to change the name of the idea from diversity to solidarity in order to be more direct about the work they intend to do in the space. “Diversity is one of those words that can be a way of skirting around what you’re really trying to say” said Grevious. As racial tensions become visible and undeniable in dorms, Sophomore Miko Tolliver, one of the student organizers for S-Lounge, believes that this space will allow students to really experience diversity. “It’s the difference between being taught and actually experiencing it.” Last semester Tolliver led planning meetings for the S-Lounge to develop a mission statement paralleling the Mills College statement and to continue and extend the work done towards the diversity house.
As the move towards a women of color centered space draws close to creation, students and administrators hope that after the completion of the proposal, a committee of dedicated people will assemble to implement the S-Lounge. Although the students want Suzy’s and the administration prefers a different location, both parties believe the Suzy’s could be the temporary space until the end of the semester. Both students and administrators, however, do feel that a committee would be needed to manage the permanent space over time and keep its history once key people graduate.