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Saying Goodbye to Safety: All-Female Mills College Turns Co-ed

When Kate Valente packed into college, she didn’t pack the pepper spray. The list she looked up online for college girls always included pepper sprays and maces to roam the campus alone, but she told herself.

“Here” is historically Mills College * for all women in Oakland, California. Since its founding in 1852, Mills has been Pioneer of higher education for all women, And has fascinated women seeking experience in gender-separated colleges in all disciplines. Valente joined this heritage because of the lack of men on campus and her reassurance that it nurtured for her and her female companions.

Now she may need to be added to the packing list.

On Tuesday, September 14, Mills officially announced its next plan. Merged with Northeastern University, Ends its position as a single gender degree-granting institution. Valente is worried that the dynamics in the class will change as the boys arrive on the Mills campus shortly. She had it before.

A protest pamphlet distributed by students on the Mills campus. Photo by Kate Valente.

Her concerns are well-founded. Irena Huang, a Mills graduate who attended a master’s degree at the University of Chicago (co-education) after graduating in 2018, found a difference between her two academic experiences from the beginning. “I definitely didn’t talk much in (graduate) classes,” she said. “I felt my opinion wasn’t that important,” she said. In contrast, her education at Mills was always defined in a safe place, with a certain sense of “freely say what you want to say.” “I’m worried that becoming an educational institution that includes gender will change the basic aspects of Mills education,” she said.

The merger with Northeastern has been in place since President Elizabeth Hillman of Mills went in June 2021. Announced the beginning of formal discussions With a university based in Boston.Like many others A small liberal arts college losing money During the pandemic, Mills struggled to remain financially viable during COVID-19 — but their money concerns really started long before that.

May 2017, Mills First Declared a financial emergency, And announced plans to dismiss faculty members and redesign the curriculum to increase enrollment. However, since then, Mills’ financial situation has continued to deteriorate, and new students like Valente are also showing signs of problems. For example, when she arrived on her campus this year, she discovered that the entire housing sector had resigned a week before her classes began. For weeks, the student keycard wasn’t working, but no one solved the problem. (Since then, it has been resolved.) “The fracture was obvious,” Huang said. “Looking back, we can see the rationale for where the closure decision comes from.”

Thirty years ago, the university first attempted to move to co-education for financial reasons. This move has worked in many other historically all women’s institutions for the past few years, between 1967 and 1991. At least 12 gender-separated schools are now co-educated, Mainly for financial reasons such as Vassar College, Skidmore College, Sarah Lawrence College. But the trend didn’t stop there. In the last 50 years The number of all women’s colleges in the United States has declined by more than 80%..

In 1990, when Mills first tried co-education in the waves of other schools, The administration responded swiftly to 16 days of protests It remains gender-separated, depending on the student requesting the school. Reluctantly, the university gave up. But now they are firmly on their decision.Inside her September 14 letter Kathleen Sanborn, chair of the Mills Board and a graduate of Mills, wrote to the Mills community:

“”We studied opportunities and possibilities and scrutinized the finances of the university as a whole. We believe in university leadership, but we do research, debate, and verification. The board made factual decisions … To be clear, Mills has experienced systematic financial imbalances for decades. Current dynamics in higher education have pushed Mills into an unsustainable state. “

This is disappointing as all female school graduates tend to be very high Satisfied with their educational experience After graduation, he is statistically successful.according to Women’s College CoalitionFemale-only college graduates are more likely to earn a graduate degree, especially color graduates are more likely to earn a STEM degree than co-educated schools (34% to 19%). ). In addition, graduates are more likely to succeed in areas of male dominance, 6 times more likely Become an executive of a Fortune 1000 company. And, and perhaps most importantly, the risk of sexual assault— 26% of undergraduate women In co-educated schools — much lower in all women’s institutions.For example, Wellesley College 14% sexual assault rate..

Even Huang, who laments the loss of such safe and formative space, recognizes that the merger is the only possibility. Forward pass For those who are still in Mills for financial reasons. “I hope it’s good for faculty and staff,” she said. “I know they were denied salary increases and their retirement fund matching stopped for a while … it would be great if the Northeast could recognize their union.” But when it comes to students, “I don’t know. Hmm … I think I would be scared if I were a current student, “she says.

“”[I] I hope they hear what we thought was a little more special about college, “Valente said sadly. I don’t think anyone has stopped asking us, “Hey, what do you want?”, Taking into account our interests. “

* Mills College has historically been a women’s college and is a term frequently used by recent graduates to celebrate Mills’ beginning as an educational space for women and then expanding its definition. It is now a protected education space for women and those who do not equate with gender binary, such as transgender, non-binary, gender liquidity and gender-incompatible students. In 2014, Mills College was the first women’s college to introduce a transgender admission policy, and its website states: “Historically serving women … Mills is a self-identifying woman at birth. People assigned to women are gender binary. ”Many students do not identify as women and do not use her / her synonyms. Although this article uses the terms “single gender” and “all women,” Mills College goes beyond binary to serve students and graduates to become a comprehensive learning space. I would like to admit that I am working hard.

About the writer: Gavi KleinBrandeis University Senior is a 2021 Fellow. SySyms Journalism Excellence Program * At Women’s eNews, Sy Syms Foundation.. The Women’s News Fellowship’s SySyms Journalistic Excellence Program supports editing and development opportunities for editorial internships in pursuit of journalism excellence.

SySyms Journalism Excellence Program

Women’s News’ SySyms Journalistic Excellence program was launched in 2014 with the support of the Sy Syms Foundation. Fellowships provide support and development opportunities for editorial internships seeking journalism excellence.

“For democracy to flourish, all voices must be heard,” says Marcy Syms, founding councilor and chairman of the Sy Syms Foundation. “Through investigative journalism, Women’s News understands the essence of great journalism. The Sy Syms Foundation is proud of this collaboration to support today’s latest female journalists.”

Women’s eNews trains, trains and supports new journalists with a focus on social justice and women’s rights as part of their mission to create social change for women and girls through investigative journalism.

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