Molly Curley O'Brien: A Requiem For Mills College

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Molly Curley O'Brien (Molly Curley O'Brien)

She’s been on life support before, but now her survival is in serious jeopardy. Molly Curley O’Brien has this Perspective.

We lost a Bay Area legend last week. Benicia born and Oakland raised, a critical thinker, a leader, a feminist, a social justice warrior, and committed to the pursuit of knowledge. Mills College, as we know it, died of COVID-19 related complications. She was 169 years old.

Or did we?

What is happening with Mills College is not unprecedented. Women’s colleges have suffered from declining enrollment in recent years, with several forced to close or start admitting men in order to survive. There are just 34 women’s colleges left in this country, down from 230 about 60 years ago.

As an alumna of Mills, this is a shame. I sat next to classmates who were encouraged to bring their children to lecture with them when childcare fell through. I learned in a classroom racially and economically diverse. And I learned from the Oakland community, because the pedagogy of Mills and Oakland are interconnected deeply.

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If Mills College closes, what happens to the current students, the incoming freshman who have already put down tuition payments, the deep network of alumni, the professors and the staff? What about the 135 acres of land?

Maybe nothing! This isn’t the first time the Mills community has gone up against challenge. Mills has survived the Civil War, World War I, the Depression, and World War II. In the 90s, student protesters occupied the campus for 13 days, rescinding school leadership’s attempt to start admitting men. The tenacity of the Mills community is boundless, organizing to Save Mills is happening, but is it enough?

COVID-19 is unlike anything else in our country’s history. And like COVID, Mills College’s fate remains uncertain. What is for certain is - although I am sad - I am grateful for my time there, humbled to have learned what I learned there, and am honored to be a Mills alumna now and forever.

With a Perspective, I’m Molly Curley O’Brien.

Molly Curley O’Brien has an MBA and master’s from Mills and is Director of Government Affairs for a wildfire recovery and resiliency organization.