Yesterday afternoon, a Mills College senior dropped into my office hours to say hello, having traveled to Montgomery, Alabama, with me two years ago as part of a civil rights history class. She shared that she was taking classes outside of her major (child development) this semester since she had already completed those requirements, and was feeling challenged and inspired by classes in book art and gender studies in particular. She also expressed her enthusiasm for the merger of Mills College and Northeastern University (NU), explaining that she was a practical person, and had been researching Northeastern—along with many of her Mills classmates—since our first announcement of a potential alliance during the summer. She asked about the discount on graduate degrees that NU will offer Mills alumnae, and about NU’s innovative approach to experiential learning.
Her curiosity and openness characterize the most frequent response we’ve received to our announcement of a historic merger agreement between Mills College and Northeastern University, which comes just in time for Mills College. Without an academic partner whose strategy aligns with Mills’ values and mission, and who possesses the financial strength to help Mills to recover from both the enrollment downturn of the COVID-19 pandemic and years of operating losses, we would not be able to continue to serve students like the enterprising senior from whom I heard yesterday.
Yet not all share the excitement of the student who visited me. Many of you have seen the hostility directed toward Mills College, me, other college administrators, and our Board of Trustees through the social media platforms that many of us rely on to stay in touch. The vitriol that has appeared on these platforms of late confirms the harmful impact that social media can have on public discourse and critical thought. “The Facebook Files,” an ongoing study of Facebook’s operations by The Wall Street Journal, suggests that the social media users often suffer harm, some of which is well documented in studies conducted by the companies that own these platforms. For instance, The Journal reports that Instagram knows from data it has collected that teenage girls who use its photo-sharing app have higher rates of body dysphoria, anxiety, and depression. Of course, we have much more to learn about how social media affects us and our relationships. That’s why the student who visited me is thinking about graduate school, perhaps in Mills’ educational leadership program, or perhaps in Northeastern’s information science program, a new door that has opened to her with the Mills- Northeastern merger.
This is the beginning of a new chapter for Mills. The NU merger will allow us to sustain our leadership role in women’s education, equity and antiracism, and creative, life-changing teaching and learning long into the future.
Mills’ status as a historic women’s college will never change and will be celebrated on our campus, which will become the home of both Mills College at Northeastern University and the Mills Institute. The Institute will be dedicated to the advancement of gender and racial justice through programs and partnerships that support transformative teaching and learning, research, and career development for women, gender nonbinary individuals, and historically marginalized racial and ethnic communities. Our students, faculty, staff, and alumnae will help shape the future of the College. After a year of transition, Mills will offer undergraduate and graduate education enriched by Northeastern’s innovative approach to experiential learning, and the Mills endowment will be used to support education and inspiration on the Mills College campus.
It seems appropriate that while Mills is undertaking this historic transition, a transition I am committed to seeing the College through, my own life is changing in dramatic ways too. My wife Trish and I have sent four daughters off to their first year of college in the past month. As many of you know, it’s a remarkable learning experience to send young adults off to live and learn on their own, perhaps even more so after the pandemic’s lockdowns and limitations. I have witnessed their college discernment processes firsthand, and they have taught me plenty. I look forward to using that insight, and the resources of Northeastern and Mills both, as we forge a new future for Mills College.