In fall 2021, an independent group of Mills grads approached the Office of Alumnae Relations to ask for ways in which alums can stay engaged as Mills College at Northeastern University takes shape. Now known as the Alum Engagement Committee (AEC), these alums led a series of Zoom discussion groups last fall in collaboration with the College. They’ve already presented the results to College leaders, including President Hillman, and have planned another round of discussion groups.
“Our 170-year history demands respect with regards to certain areas of concern that we are identifying with our alums,” says Lynette Castille-Hall ’75, an AEC member. “Tradition, curriculum, and buildings and grounds are just a few areas in which we want a voice.”
“If we don’t bother to try to communicate those things to Northeastern, we’re giving up our one shot before the merger,” adds Lisa Kremer ’90, also an AEC member. “Plus, Northeastern should welcome our input if they want to cultivate us as supportive alums.”
“Every 10 years or so there’s a different group of students who enter. We have been able to incorporate diverse groups over the years. We should continue to do so.” -Class of 1968
Alums were invited to participate through an email from the Office of Alumnae Relations. Nearly 50 were able to attend one of the seven sessions on the schedule. Each session averaged about seven alumnae, with participation from a wide range of majors, demographics, and locations. Class years ranged from 1955 to 2021.
Even with such a diverse representation, there was one overarching sentiment: a deep sense of grief. “During the meetings, we discovered another function: For alums to get together and talk about their sadness about Mills changing and their concerns about the process, as well as what they’d like to preserve,” Kremer says. That sorrow also extended to frustration with how information had been communicated concerning the College’s transition and, later, merger plans. Many alums said they felt unheard, and their sense of trust in the administration was wavering.
“It’s clear that alums need a platform for expressing their feelings about the future of Mills and the Northeastern, clearing the air regarding the lawsuit, and asking questions about what is true and what is rumored,” Castille-Hall says. “More information from the College regarding the partnership is absolutely critical.”
“As Mills welcomes all genders, let’s not re-misogynize the classroom.” -Class of 1963
However, in that shared grief, there was also a wide range of opinions about what the future could hold. Many participants shared their priorities, hopes, and excitement for a post-merger Mills, while others said they found it difficult to participate because of their opposition to the merger.
Alums identified many core Mills traits they want to see continue under Northeastern, such as a low faculty-to-student ratio to foster close relationships and a commitment to historically underrepresented groups—particularly a focus on women’s leadership. They raised concerns about whether the Mills legacy of liberal arts education, including the visual and performing arts, would continue, and about the status of the historical traditions, buildings, and archives on campus.
They also expressed different visions for the alum community. A few said that eventual graduates of Mills College at Northeastern University should be considered separate from Mills College alums, and they would not attend events with Northeastern alums. But the majority saw inclusion as a way to heal the deep divides that currently exist in the community.
“I would love to help young men be better allies and partners with women.” -Class of 1987
“One of the most important things we realized is that we want the Office of Alumnae Relations to continue—it supports the regional clubs, class secretaries, class agents, the Quarterly, Reunion, and more. Northeastern’s alumni office does things entirely differently,” Kremer says.
Following the first set of focus groups, AEC members met with College administrators, and Kremer says they were receptive to the gathered feedback. “They talked about ways to address what we brought up and wanted to hear more as we continue with the groups,” she says. “I’m glad we have a solid line of communication so we can give input and ask questions, and they’ll give us answers and ask for input.”
As this issue went to press, the AEC was organizing a second set of virtual sessions with groups of alum volunteers (class agents, class secretaries, and regional club leaders). The goal is to keep the information flowing as merger work continues. Interested alums can also contact the AEC through firstname.lastname@example.org if they have any input to share. “Further conversation will really help alums do a deep dive with specific ideas,” Castille-Hall says. “We’re just getting started.”
“Can we please show up authentically for BIPOC students?” -Class of 2012
AAMC & Mills Mutually Drop Lawsuits
On January 12, it was announced that the Alumnae Association of Mills College (AAMC) and the College had mutually agreed to withdraw their lawsuits. Further discussions are underway between the two entities this spring.
A Shared Vision for Good
The ideals behind the Mills mission are not unfamiliar to members of the Northeastern community. Here are some examples of the work they’re doing around the world:
• Mary Bonauto, who graduated from the Northeastern School of Law in 1987, is the civil rights project director at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in Boston. She served as one of the lead attorneys in Obergefell v. Hodges and made oral arguments before the Supreme Court, leading to the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States in 2015. Bonauto was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2014.
• Malathi Reddy ’23 fulfilled her second Northeastern co-op requirement with the Human Rights Campaign, where she served as executive board and relations co-op. In that role, she assisted with data management and report acquisition in addition to planning the annual Equality Convention. She told Alison Booth with News@Northeastern that her advocacy writing class inspired her to find causes that mattered to her.
• Last year, Northeastern’s Hodgkinson Award went to three graduating seniors working on issues of global health and social responsibility. Kerry Eller, who studied bioengineering, worked with her peers in the Innovators for Global Health to re-examine the efficiency of medical tools and equipment in disadvantaged countries. Connor Holmes was honored for his efforts with the advocacy group Partners in Health Engage, helping to bolster health systems for members of the LGBTQIA+ community around the world. And Abigale Purvis, an international business major, was motivated to investigate sustainable food systems through Northeastern’s Social Enterprise Institute. Her two co-op experiences involved the two sides of the food chain; the first at a Boston nonprofit that feeds and trains the unhoused to work in food service, and the second on an Ecuadorian farm.
• University Distinguished Professor in the School of Law Martha Davis directs the school’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy. She has conducted extensive research on affordable access to water and, in a 2019 report, showed that 36 percent of American households will struggle to pay their water bill in 2022—and that those inabilities to pay more frequently affect low-income people of color.
Keep up with Northeastern happenings at news.northeastern.edu, and check out the “Who Run the World? Girls!” episode of the Northeastern Next podcast—featuring five alumni and student Madison Neuner ’24—at alumni.northeastern.edu.
Stay tuned! This summer, Northeastern Alumni Relations will provide more information on the benefits Mills alumnae/i can anticipate from Northeastern in addition to what’s already available through the Alumnae Association of Mills College (AAMC).