How the Coronavirus Crisis Unfolded at Mills

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A timeline of how COVID-19 affected Mills students, faculty and staff members, and alumnae in the first half of 2020. Click here for thoughts from the graduating Class of 2020, good wishes to the Class of 2020 from Mills alumnae, and alumnae tales and poetry from quarantine.

  • February 28

    Two days after San Francisco Mayor London Breed declares a pre-emptive state of emergency, President Elizabeth L. Hillman sends her first email to the Mills community about the coronavirus. In it, she asks recipients to monitor their health, follow proper hygiene, and contact the Vera Whole Health Center if experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. President Hillman also says that the College is monitoring upcoming study-abroad trips, boosting housekeeping and hand-sanitizing stations in high-traffic areas, and setting aside areas in residence halls if they’re needed for quarantine. An Incident Response Team is formed to respond to the situation.

  • March 6

    In her third email, President Hillman reports that remote learning options are being evaluated if needed in case in-person classes are no longer permitted to help stem the spread of the virus.

  • March 11

    An initial announcement goes out that large classes will go online through March 29, and small classes with 30 students or fewer will continue to meet in person until after spring break (March 23–27). In addition, medium- and high-risk events are cancelled throughout campus. 

  • March 12

    The announcement broadens: all classes for the remainder of the semester will go online starting Tuesday, March 17, with classes cancelled on Friday, March 13 and Monday, March 16, so professors can prepare for remote learning. Everyone who lives on campus can continue to do so, though some choose to move out for the remainder of the school year. 

  • March 13

    “It’s an irony that to protect against COVID-19, we must isolate ourselves and cease doing many of the things we love most. Our community’s kindness, diligence, and faith will see us through.

    President Elizabeth L. Hillman, in her weekly Inside and Out message
  • March 16

    After Alameda County and other counties in the Bay Area issue a shelter-in-place order, the Mills campus closes to everyone except residents and essential personnel.

    An email appeal to support the Student Hardship Fund, intended to help students with unexpected transportation and Internet connectivity costs related to the pandemic, is sent to alumnae. More than 400 students apply for $300 grants.

  • March 18


    The number of students at the Tea Shop for dinner. Bon Appétit, the company that provides dining services at Mills, moved operations exclusively to the Tea Shop soon after Mills shifted to remote learning, and also began stocking groceries so students wouldn’t have to venture off campus.
  • March 20

    Seven weeks into his Fulbright trip to Brazil to study Candomblé music, Robert Lopez, MFA ’13, is recalled to the United States. “What I want more than anything is to go back to Brazil and finish this project,” he tells KQED

  • March 23

    undefinedTesting for COVID-19 is made available on campus. As of press time, no one had tested positive.

  • March 25

    A tweet from Assistant Adjunct Professor of Race, Gender & Sexuality Studies Natalee Kēhaulani Bauer ’97, MA ’07, who lives in Faculty Village with her family.

  • March 27

    On the day the College observes César Chávez Day, residential students and essential campus personnel spend the afternoon assisting at the Mills Community Farm. President Hillman reports in an email that “pulling piles of insidious Bermuda grass out of a soon-to-be-planted bed (while staying six feet apart) was especially satisfying after another difficult week.” Farm Manager Julia Dashe continues harvesting throughout the shelter-in-place order, even putting together Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes of vegetables for members of the Mills community to pick up.
  • March 30

    On the program Women’s Magazine on KPFA, Barbara Lee Distinguished Professor of Women’s Leadership Margo Okazawa-Rey speaks to four current and former students at Brown University about how the coronavirus is affecting vulnerable populations, including people with disabilities and those who are incarcerated.

  • April 1

    Admissions extends first-year enrollment deadline for the 2020–21 school year until June 1.

  • April 2

    #MillsConnected launches across all Mills social media networks, illustrating how the campus community is maintaining ties despite the physical distance imposed by the pandemic. As just a few examples, Director of Spiritual and Religious Life Dara Olandt begins holding online spaces for community members seeking emotional support, and athletic coaches join with the Division of Student Life to reach out to students who need help with academics. Search for the hashtag on Twitter and Instagram to see more examples. 

  • April 6

    Kjersti Aagaard ’91, a professor of maternal fetal medicine and obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital, weighs in on the effects of COVID-19 on pregnancy on PBS NewsHour.

  • April 9

    Professor of Education Priya Shimpi Driscoll speaks with Forbes about the educational use of YouTube for kids during quarantine (spoiler alert: with parental guidance, it’s OK).

    Southern California NPR station KCRW runs a piece on Sheila Young ’02, who manages a mobile COVID-19 testing station at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in South Los Angeles.

  • April 17

    “Teaching and learning at Mills look very different today. Like the #ResilientFaculty teaching across the nation and world, Mills faculty and staff have risen to the unimaginable challenge of taking an entire college online.”

    Provost Chinyere Oparah, in an email to faculty and staff
  • April 20

    A plea that Professor of English Kirsten Saxton ’90 posts on Facebook for face masks that students sheltering on the Mills campus can use is amplified across multiple social networks. Bauer asks fellow parents at the Children’s School to contribute. More than 400 masks soon arrive from many members of the Mills community, including Jade Sales-Lee ’12, who is pursuing a PhD in biochemistry at UCSF. She contributes more than 100 masks of her own making.
  • April 22

    The Mills Policy Forum begins publishing the final projects of master’s of public policy (MPP) candidates, who would normally present their findings during public in-person sessions at the Lokey School.

  • April 23

    A New York Times piece showcases the work of Assistant Professor of Practice of Public Policy Sharon Cornu and Tucker Brofft, MBA/MPP ’19, at St. Mary’s Center in downtown Oakland. Cornu is the executive director of the shelter, and with a team including Brofft, is putting tremendous effort into ensuring the unsheltered populations that use St. Mary’s stay safe from COVID-19.

    Professor of Practice Victor Talmadge contributes a video of himself performing as Iago from Othello for the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse’s “Virtual Playhouse” project. Talmadge appeared at the playhouse several years ago in Red.

  • April 24


    Approx. number of students still living on campus (97 in traditional housing; 68 in independent living). Throughout sheltering in place, the Division of Student Life coordinates activities such as virtual scavenger hunts and Netflix watch parties to keep them connected.
    With the closure of the Mills College Art Museum, senior studio art majors have no physical space for their final show, Fault Lines. Instead, their works go online in a digital catalog. Other arts events go virtual as well, including the interactive exhibition Home/Body and the final dance and music performances of the year.
  • April 30

    “Faculty members have been telling us that they’re impatient to get back into the classroom with their students!”

    Associate Provost Maggie Hunter


    The amount Mills receives from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, half of which becomes available for student financial relief.
  • May 6

    Seven Mills alumnae authors—Eve Bauman ’14, Sheryl Bize-Boutte ’73, Lisa Buchanan ’89, liz gonzalez ’99, Carmen Hartono ’90, and Lauren Speeth ’81—participate in a first-ever virtual writers’ salon hosted by the Alumnae Relations office.

    “We are asking questions we’ve never had to ask before.”

    Dean of Students Chicora Martin, in a virtual town hall for faculty and staff
  • May 12

    Professor of Biology Lisa Urry participates in episode 5 of Pearson’s Unwritten webinar series, titled “The Biology of the Virus.” In it, she speaks with a Gen Z college student and answers his questions about the coronavirus and how it’s evolved.
  • May 16

    The original date for Commencement 2020, which is postponed until 2021. To commemorate the end of the school year, a series of seven virtual celebration events are held on Zoom between May 14 and 18, split up by school and division. Students are invited to include their families and friends in the online festivities.