Nearly 200 Mills women flanked the entrance to the F.W. Olin Library in silent demonstration during the Board of Trustees meeting on Friday, Oct. 28. Their purpose was to express their frustration with the Mills administration on a number of issues: lack of diversity within faculty, ADA accessibility, family care and shuttle service, to name a few.
“We felt the need to protest because we are really tired of the ‘we don’t have enough money’ excuse that we usually hear,” said co-organizer and senior Blake Saffitz.
Saffitz, along with junior Lauren Brown, organized the demonstration, as well as the list of grievances that were presented to the Mills Administration and Board of Trustees as they left the meeting.
The list of the grievances called for an improvement in family care, dining facilities and the shuttle service on campus. The letter argues that the chaplain and diversity coordinator positions need to be permanently filled, more faculty of color need to be hired on the tenure track, the campus policy and procedure on discrimination needs to be revised, the entire campus must be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, mandatory diversity training must be required of all staff and Public Safety must be trained in sensitivity based on guidelines created by the student body.
Public Safety, already prepared for the demonstration, locked the doors to the library upon their approach. After a conversation with Dean of Students Joanna Iwata, Dan Brown had the doors reopened. The students had initially planned on entering the library but felt their presence was more powerful by sitting along the walkway to library with tape across their mouths, according to Saffitz. Several Mills staff and Board members felt the tape sent a powerful message.
“We teach our Mills students to have a voice and be empowered,” said Iwata. “I think students have a strong desire to see some changes implemented. I think this type of protest has more power because it is more symbolic.”
Mills alum and Board member Alex Moses said she was proud of the students for protesting. “Students expressing individual thought and exercising their freedom of speech is wonderful. The dedication and courage it takes to speak up is vital and instrumental for a strong democracy and a strong college.”
While proud of the demonstrators on one hand, President Holmgren felt the tape was contrary to what it means to be a Mills woman.
“First of all, demonstrating is very much a part of the Mills tradition,” said Holmgren. “I’m proud of the women for putting this together in such an organized fashion. The tape is symbolically counter to what Mills stands for being able to speak your mind and have your voice heard. I really wish they hadn’t used the tape.”
Saffitz, overhearing Holmgren’s comments, said, “I think her perspective on our demonstrating being a long standing Mills tradition is more indicative of the longstanding frustration of the students on the failure of the administration to address our concerns.”
Several issues on the students’ list of grievances are already being addressed and student committees are being put in place, according to Iwata. A follow-up meeting to discuss the grievances was requested of the administration for mid-November.