Wasn’t the spring 2020 Quarterly amazing? So very humbled and proud to be an alum of Mills, an institution that’s leading the way in sustainability and outreach to the community.

-Laurie-Sue Betts ’69, Phoenix, Arizona

In 1963, I met my husband, Richard Harris, who was a student at Starr King, and we courted through 1964 at Mills when I graduated. He passed away in 1985, but would have been delighted to see Starr King at Mills, as I am. Such a colliding of memories.

-Sharon Polson Harris ’64, Lake Forest Park, Washington

Imagine my surprise when I read in the winter 2020 issue of Mills Quarterly that 19 Mills students, accompanied by President Hillman, were in Alabama visiting all of the same historical sites that I visited during my recent pilgrimage organized by the Unitarian Universalist Association. Thank you, Carrie Milligan Hall, for the captivating photo on the cover, and to you, Lila Goehring ’21, for your thoughtful article. 

Personally, I had always been frightened to visit Alabama and Mississippi where we also journeyed, but my daughter-in-law from Alabama reminded me of the obvious racism here in the North. And as I solemnly honored the women, men, and children lynched and remembered at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, I was shocked to see two columns commemorating persons lynched in my birth state of Kansas—a clear example of her comment.

The sorrow and shame I felt during my journey was held and comforted by our group singing, exquisitely led by Reggie Harris, who was one of our five leaders. I hope as a group that you also had shared moments of singing.

Upon my return, I looked for my college American history textbook that Reynolds Wik had selected for our class. Imagine my surprise, again, that even in my studies at Mills, white supremacy was addressed. It’s a tribute to our beloved Mills that studying, discussing, and experiencing difficult and painful truths of our shared history is supported and encouraged both when I was a student and today 51 years later.

–Kay Picker Lamer ’68, Arlington, Massachusetts

I just read (cover to cover) the fall 2019 issue of Mills Quarterly and felt so proud of the direction the College is taking. The fact that you have adjunct professors who truly feel connected to their departments is encouraging—in my observations at community colleges, they are dreadfully exploited. That seems not to be the case from the testimonials in the magazine, and I was happy to read that the College is hiring a lot of tenure-track folks as well.

I was also quite moved by the article “Building Community, Building Leaders.” Confidence building, especially when you can’t quite believe how you arrived in such a special place, is something I did as a young lawyer. At that point, there were not a lot of women lawyers in my community. The Summer Academic Workshop as presented now seems well crafted, and I’m thrilled that it is not only academically rigorous but also empathetic to the
feelings of young women not groomed by their high schools or families to attend an elite college.

Keep up the good work. I’m impressed at how the College is evolving when I had previously been very concerned for its future.

Margaret Fawcett ’63, Sausalito, California

The summer 2019 issue of the Mills Quarterly arrived, and I was delighted to see Marian Van Tuyl on the cover. The associated article, “Dancing with Destiny,” provided a historical literary feast for me, having earned a BA (1967) and MA in dance (1971).

Although I had personally studied with Van Tuyl, Eleanor Lauer, Rebecca Fuller, and Mary Ann Kinkead, I had never known the genesis of the world-renowned modern dance curriculum itself.

The article’s takeaway is profound: one person, a specific environment, with one innovation. In 1934, Rosalind Cassidy, chair of the Department of Physical Education, seized the opportunity to create an academic enhancement that has morphed into a monumental legacy. My Mills years studying dance fostered a lifelong platform for professional and personal pursuits, and I am forever grateful.

Thank you for publishing the article to document the “subtle secret” I know— the dance program has been and is a jewel shining brightly at Mills.

-Kristen Allison Avansino ’67, MA ’71 Reno, Nevada

The article “Dancing with Destiny” in the summer 2019 issue of the Mills Quarterly chose to credit many strong women but left out a key forefather, Lester Horton. Today, we dance in an era where equality and diversity are championed; however, Lester Horton established the first multiracial, multicultural dance company in America. The year was 1932. Horton stressed that dancers be adept in complementary fields to dance including research, lighting, set design, costuming, etc. In 1938-39, Lester Horton was a Mills dance educator, having such equitable and well-rounded philosophy to incubate our formation. (His protégé, Jose Limon, was briefly mentioned in the article, but no credit was given to Lester Horton.)

Merce Cunningham is often touted by the College as a famous graduate, but is this truly the case? Cunningham was drawn to the Bennington program and its renowned instructors, which led him to Mills College in 1939. He did not graduate from the Mills, but attending the only Bennington-Mills summer session apparently launched his awesome career. Mills College needs to consider reviving a similar summer dance exploration. What raw talent, what undiscovered dancer could likewise be propelled by the reinstatement of such a program? Who else can Mills College tack on to its glorious legacy to reaffirm its place as a beacon of dance in the West?

Perhaps Lester Horton’s philosophy of equal inclusion did not resound loudly enough to include him in the discussion of the initial gestation of the Mills Dance Department. Unfortunately, this hurtful cultural bias is as evident today as when I studied at Mills years ago. Lester Horton’s participation and current exclusion is part of our history nonetheless.

Former Professor of Dance at Mills College Thomas K. Hagood forewarns: “If we do not… accept a mature caretaking role for preserving our field and its legacies—artistic, historical, cultural, scholarly, theoretical, pedagogical—who will?” The absence of such an influential figure to the department’s existence is a biased self-portrayal and neglectful betrayal of American modern dance.

-Rhani Bigay ’14 Concord, California

I want to tell you how much I enjoyed the summer 2019 issue of the Quarterly. I loved the article by Jude Joffe-Block about the 102-year-old alum, Eleanor Stauffer Neely ’38. What an interesting interview! She is an inspiration, aging with zest and determination. The whole article on the history of dance at Mills was just as worthwhile, photos included.

It was also fun to read about alums I know from the Mills College Club of New York being honored by Maria Salaices Dinella ’81, such as Annette Chan-Norris ’65, Bea Jordan Crumbine ’66, and Margot Jones Mabie ‘66. I am an art major from the Class of 1971. My dad recommended Mills to me because he went to Amherst College in the 1940s, so he had heard of Mills’ strong reputation in the arts. He encouraged me to apply. I went to Mills in 1963, sight unseen, from my home on Long Island. It did not disappoint.

–Holly Meeker Rom ’71, New York

The spring Mills Quarterly noted the passing of Vera Johnson Pitts ’52. Her obituaries in the Quarterly and elsewhere summarize her academic accomplishments, but Vera is also to be remembered for her impact on the women she mentored during her long life, including those of us women of color who were in her junior high classes. Her fascinating Mills experiences as a girl of “modest means” inspired me to apply for admission. I am a member of the Class of 1968 because Vera Johnson Pitts was my seventh-grade language and social studies teacher.

Yearbook photos from her freshman year (circa 1948) show Vera exuding that same engaging confidence and perseverance that later enraptured students. Within 10 years, Vera was among a group of “well-educated, highly qualified” African American teachers recruited to desegregate the faculties at several K-8 schools with growing populations of working-class minority and white students in Stockton, California. She would be my teacher and later my counselor at Fremont Junior High School.

The Stockton Unified School District was located in a post-war, 1950s small town dominated by the agricultural industry, highly segregated by race, and further stratified by class. While only 60 miles from the Bay Area, it could have been on the moon for its access to cultural and educational opportunities for everyone. Vera inherently understood the situation, probably because of her own background in urban Oakland.

She’d grown up in the Oakland of the 1950s—before the Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education decision. Mills College may have been in Oakland, but Vera’s Oakland placed among those cities fiercely segregated by race and class, worlds away from the elite environment of the campus.

This history prepared her for Stockton and the not always positive impact it was making on our lives as black girls. Unlike some in the post-Brown vs. Board of Education era, Vera did not marginalize us or our families. Her mere presence was part of a growing social transition; she was aware that we were watching her, trusting her for cues of how to become in the emerging world. Vera took me to my first American Association of University Women (AAUW) meeting. I don’t recall hearing her refer to herself as a feminist, but Vera herself and that exposure to AAUW significantly influenced my understanding of how women and girls navigated education, community, and society.

Before “black is beautiful” catchphrases, makeup that matched all skin colors, and hair products that embraced all hair types, Vera helped us appreciate that we had beauty, too. A friend reminded me of Vera’s arrangement for the black girls at our junior high school to attend a “hair-care session” with her own hairstylist during school. Vera, too, was a vision with her carefully manicured red nails, smart clothes, “pointy toe” shoes while a driving a convertible!

In her classroom, and later as guidance counselor, she encouraged us to achieve academically and to think beyond high school. Through her lasting influence, including how to rise above microaggressions, other early K-8 students as well as later graduate students achieved more academically and professionally.

Her legacy will last for a long time.

–Barbara Morrow Williams ’68, Henderson, Nevada  

I just read of Marion Ross’s death in the Quarterly. Having been a graduate student in dance in 1975–76, I naturally interacted mostly with the dance professors of Mills. But the name of Marion Ross is the only other professor’s name that I learned and still remember to this day. Why? Because she sought out my address and sent me a postcard commending me for my master’s thesis in choreography. It was a personal and thoughtful message from someone who did not know me, who was not in my department. That experience confirmed to me again how nurturing and unique Mills has been.

—Patricia Parker Milich, MA ’76, Davis, California