A recent racist post on the now-defunct Mills College Confessions page sent the campus reeling last week and set off a chain of events that’s ignited a rise to action surrounding the culture of racism on campus.
Though no one at The Campanil saw the post personally, word of its content spread like wild-fire. The anonymous post targeted black women on campus, stating that they are “too outspoken” and “should be hung.” Several versions of this statement have been quoted, some using the word “lynch” and others stating that the comment ended with a mocking glib, “Happy Black History Month.”
“This, in my view, is one of the saddest moments at Mills College,” President Alecia DeCoudreaux said. “I wish I had the power to prevent this type of thing. And I say that with a smile on my face, but quite frankly there’s nothing about this that brings a smile to any of us.”
As many have pointed out, this post is not the whole of the problem; it acted as a catalyst for the black community to speak out against the culture of institutional racism they feel is present at Mills. President DeCoudreaux mirrored this sentiment.
“This is much broader than the post,” she said. “This is about a climate of racism that is intolerable on our campus.”
The racist comment was posted on Feb. 25 and erased almost immediately, but this did not halt the community’s reaction, which began as sharing the information on Facebook. When the administration found out, they quickly organized a Town Hall meeting titled, “Moving Forward in these Challenging Times,” which took place March 4 in the GSB gathering hall, which was too small to accommodate the large number of students and faculty who came to show their support or voice their concerns.
While the administration tried to stick to an agenda that included small group discussions, short statements from both President Decoudreaux and Dean of Students Eloise Stiglitz and a brief synopsis of the recent events, the plan was quickly dismantled when students present felt that the meeting was not getting to the heart of the issue. Students took over and passed the microphone off to each other as they spoke out about their pain, fears and experiences on campus.
Dean Stiglitz, who ran the town hall meeting, felt it could have gone better.
“This, in my view, is one
of the saddest moments
at Mills College.”
“There are things that I wish we could have done differently, I think there [are] things that all of us collectively who planned it, wish we would have done differently,” she said. “[but] we had good intentions.”
President DeCoudreaux was also at the meeting. While she remained out of the spotlight for most of the discussion, she has high hopes for what comes next.
“The Town Hall gave the community the opportunity to better understand whats going on, and gave those who are most directly affected by it an opportunity to share their concerns or explain it to those who didn’t quite understand,” President DeCoudreaux said. “I see it as an opportunity for us to move forward.”
The following day, black students staged a silent protest on the Tea Shop steps, inviting all community members to take part. Dressed in all black, the students and faculty faced Holmgren Meadow and quietly held signs that read “Can you hear me now?” “I refuse to be silenced” and “I’m unsafe, how are you?” The protest went from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., and for both hours, other students and faculty stood or sat in the grass facing them, silently offering their presence.
Video clip of the black students’ silent protest, filmed and edited by Melodie Miu.
Along with the protest, the Black Women’s Collective wrote a list of nine demands they hope the administration will accommodate to help fight racism on campus. They first presented the list to President DeCoudreaux, and have since posted it on bulletin boards and posts around campus. The list includes such demands as shifting away from lumping all students of color together, an increase in tenure track faculty of color and racial sensitivity training for faculty and students, all of which President DeCoudreaux and Dean Stiglitz said are “reasonable and actionable.”
“The first order is really responding to the demands,” Dean Stiglitz said, “because if there’s one group of students that feels like they’re… being mistreated and not being heard, which is what the black students are saying, we need to take that as a wake up call, see what we can do differently and take this as an opportunity for self-reflection for all of us.”
According to President DeCoudreaux, some of the actions on the list are already underway. The Provost Office is already working with a task force on a review of the general education requirements, which will now include a requirement for teaching and educating students on racism in the United States. A retention task force was also just revitalized, and President DeCoudreaux opened the idea of connecting it to a task force devoted specifically to black students.
She also felt that having an emergency crisis response team was an important demand, specifically one comprised of black mental and emotional health professionals, which is one demand that has already been met. In a March 6 email, Dean Stiglitz notified the community of three days of free counseling by black counselors for black students, as well as a Healing Circle for all black women, which will meet weekly throughout the semester at noon on Tuesdays in the Solidarity Lounge.
“We really need to do everything we can to be responsive to our students and their needs and to make sure that they are studying in an environment in which they don’t have to worry about feeling unwelcome, they don’t have to worry about feeling threatened, they don’t have to worry about justifying their existence and they don’t have to feel the need to say ‘I too am Mills,'” President Decoudreaux said. “They will know that they are also Mills. That’s what I think we need to strive for and that’s what I’m committed to putting into place at our institution.”
The BWC’s publicity chair declined to comment at this time.
The Black Women’s Collective will be holding a meeting to welcome supporters on Tuesday, March 11 at 7 p.m. in the Student Union.
For more photos of the Black students’ protest on March 5, check out our Flickr photo album:
This news article is the headline story to be published in The Campanil‘s print issue coming out on Tuesday, March 11.
For more related posts, check out The Campanil‘s designated web page for our ongoing protest coverage.