Sixteen Days

A reprint from the July 1990 issue of Mills Quarterly.

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“It was like having a beloved family member in the hospital,” said one woman.

The Mills community reacts to the May 3 announcement that the College will admit men. (Ariel Eaton Thomas)

(For further reprints from the July 1990 issue of Mills Quarterly, click here and here.)

At 1:52 in the afternoon, May 3, 1990, several key Mills College people step out of a plywood-windowed room in old Mills Hall and into the bright sun of Toyon Meadow. The bells of the Campanile have been ringing, calling the campus community to hear a long-awaited announcement. Some 400 staff, alumnae, faculty, and students wait. Chairman of the Board of Trustees Warren Hellman, flanked by President Mary Metz and Alumnae Trustee Sue Tucker Farrar, ‘68, and backed by a somber row of College Officers, speaks. “The Board of Trustees has voted to admit men to its….” His further remarks are drowned in a massive noise of rage and grief as students cry, shout, scream, boo, and jeer. Hellman continues to try to explain to the gathering the reasoning behind the Board’s decision to admit men as undergraduates, but his words are unheard. A trustee standing in the audience at the time recalls later, “The pictures in the media showed grief and tears, but what you felt there at that time wasn’t grief. It was rage. I was afraid, at that moment, for the safety of everyone.” A faculty member recalls, “I was standing there feeling pretty good. I thought there was a chance [the Board would continue a women’s college]. Then Warren spoke and everything went crazy.” After the Chairman of the Board finishes, Mary Metz, then Dean of Students Patricia Polhemus, try to address the students. They cannot be heard. In the audience are out-going ASMC President Robyn Fisher and incoming ASMC President Melissa Stevenson-Dile. In an instant they have formed a partnership of leadership which is to continue throughout the next two weeks. Robyn takes the microphone. She says, “You have been betrayed.” The student response has begun.

Within hours, some 300 to 400 angry students vote to close down the College. The women vow civil disobedience to express their dismay and to move the Board toward rescinding its decision to admit men, beginning Fall 1991. At first the length of the strike—which develops into a boycott and barricade—is uncertain and some believe it will end on Monday. No one is aware of the strength and determination of the students, or of their amazing competence at revolution. In the end, there is little question in anyone’s mind that student action is the pivotal factor in the events to follow. Says one trustee, “If the students had wept and gone to their rooms the turn-around would not have happened.” President Metz explains, “The students stopped the clock, stopped the process” and gave everyone time to work out a change. 

(Marge Thomas)

Yet there are many other players in the drama which unfolds over the next fifteen days. Alumnae in the Bay Area have gathered on campus, too. Some are eager to support the students in their active protest, and turn to the Alumnae Association’s Board of Governors for a leadership role in the dissent.

The “official” stand of the Alumnae Association, as it had been presented in the Quarterly, had been to support the decision of the Board whatever it was to be, in spite of a very strong desire to see Mills remain as a college for women. Yet as the moment of decision grew nearer, that stand seemed less and less palatable. The Board of Governors have met the evening before the Trustees’ gathering, and each member has spoken in support of remaining a women’s college. The three alumnae who serve on both the Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors have been asked to take the thoughts of alumnae leaders to the Trustees at that critical May 3 meeting. Ellen Higginbotham Rogers, ’63, the newest Alumnae Trustee, does, indeed, speak the concerns of the Governors during the Trustees’ meeting. And so does Muffy McKinstry Thorne, ’48, AAMC President, who has been granted permission to address the Trustees on May 3. Muffy’s statement stresses loss of gift income from disaffected alumnae, loss of alumnae support in recruitment, the fact that Mills as a co-educational college would be a new college, not a changed college, the risks of the uncharted course. She points out that the proposal for a growing women’s college, the “Vision 2000” report, does not require that all items be adopted and certainly not all at once and that the cost factor is not as large as might be indicated. She questions demographic reports and quotes alternate projections. Finally she asks the Board of Trustees to set quantifiable goals and a deadline for meeting them before co-education is put into operation.

However, the presentation by the strategic planning committee of the Board, and, additionally, a report from the Vision 2000 committee, plus consideration of the results of a year’s work of various campus groups who have considered options for Mills and the College administration’s financial data—which has been brought together only days before this meeting—all combine to convince the majority of the Board of Trustees members that co-education is the appropriate answer to growing concerns about enrollment and financial stability. After the presentation the Board votes to change the articles of incorporation of the College to allow male students. Immediately after, through secret ballot, a majority of its members vote to admit men as undergraduates, as of Fall 1991. The actual vote count is never released, though Hellman later reports that a “significant majority” supported the decision.

In a letter to alumnae and friends of Mills, mailed on May 4, 1990, Warren Hellman and Mary Metz write, “There is not a person on the Board who refutes the benefits of women’s colleges. We recognize that the hundreds of eloquent letters from our alumnae are living testimony to the value of a Mills education.”

That letter was one of two prepared prior to the Trustees’ meeting. Creating two of everything—press releases, speeches, letters—was the difficult task of Lindsey Beaven, in charge of public relations for Mills. All reports for publication were printed twice, one explaining the Board’s vote to continue Mills as a women’s college, one explaining the alternate decision. Ironically, the efficiency of two letters and the speed with which the appropriate one is sent merely reinforces a wide spread opinion that the Board ‘s decision had been made prior to the meeting and that, as one source puts it, “The fix was in.”

But, as we have seen, reactions to the decision begin long before the letter reaches its first readers. 

Board of Governors members and other alumnae volunteers gather at Reinhardt House at 5:30 to begin the onerous task of calling 750 alumnae leaders around the country to advise them of the decision of the Board. They also attempt to call each alumna who has written a letter concerning the decision. Reactions vary. Some alumnae are resigned to the decision; some even welcome it. One AAR says that the change will make her task much easier. But other AARs resign upon hearing the news. Many alumnae vow to cease contributions to Mills. One alumna reports already having made a holographic change in her will to exclude the College. Another reports having made an appointment with her lawyer for the following day to do the same.

Sign reflects a pre-May 3 vote of the faculty which opposed co-education. (Marge Thomas)

After a painful two hours of telephone calls, Board members gather for a special meeting at 8 p.m. A dozen or more alumnae who had come to campus during the day and evening of May 3, in response to the Trustee meeting, and several alumnae who had helped with the telephone project, join the Board that night. Some students also visit. Board members are visibly moved by the Trustees’ decision. It is evident that many are having difficulty reconciling the previous Board policy to support the Trustee decision, whatever it would be, with their own emotions at the loss of the College they had known and for which they had worked. Yet the consensus of the Board is that the Association should not officially support the students in their plans for civil disobedience. Board members are uncertain about what actions the students themselves intend. Visiting alumnae who have attended the students’ meeting are much less uncertain. Many are angered that the Board seems unprepared to take decisive action against the decision and in support of the students’ reactions. Heated words are exchanged between members of the Board and alumnae visitors. Board members are accused of “rolling over and playing dead,” the sort of accusation sure to anger Board members who had been working for months to keep the Trustees from making the co-education decision and for years to keep the College from facing the enrollment and financial crises which it now faced. 

Fortunately, all gathered at Reinhardt House are Mills women. Their mutual experiences and concerns keep opposing opinions and emotions from obfuscating the cause at hand. By the end of the sometimes-tearful exchanges, each group has recognized the intent and integrity of the other. But definite differences continue to exist among alumnae. Some believe that a Mills College that is not a women’s college need not even exist. Others feel that the College must be preserved even if it is co-educational.

In the end the Board votes to seek legal counsel to determine what actions can be taken to move the Trustees to change their decision for co-education. Its members recognize that individual alumnae will seek other ways to protest the decision and support the students. The Board also votes to write a letter of protest to the Board of Trustees and to meet again early in the next week to review the situation and take further action. With heaviness of heart the Board meeting is adjourned at 10 p.m. 

The students have been active during those hours between 1:52 and 10:00, too. A group of students and alumnae have formed an Emergency Legal Defense Fund. Seniors have voted to hold Commencement but to “un-invite” the Board of Trustees. They have decided their senior gift will go to another women’s college, not to Mills. St. Catherine’s in Minnesota is mentioned. (St. Catherine’s is to play an interesting role in the struggle. Its students have already sent a petition to Mills in support of its remaining a women’s college. Later women students in Minnesota hold a rally for Mills, and striking students gather at Mary Atkins lounge to watch a video of the event halfway across the country. At the rally, many of the Minnesota students cut their hair to show support for the Mills protesters. A Mills alumna attending the St. Catherine’s event gathers the cut hair and mails it to ASMC.)

After the student vote to strike, faculty are called and asked to return to campus. About 17 faculty members address the gathered students telling them what arrangements each will make for the end of classes. The support of many faculty for the students grows during the strike and plays a major role in the continuing effort to change the Trustee decision. That support also causes tension between faculty and key administrators and among faculty themselves.

Thus the first day ends. One trustee has called the day “the valley of death.” No one is unshaken. Trustees are shaken not only by the community reaction, but by the Board meeting which in itself has been emotional. Each trustee to whom we speak asserts that he or she would have preferred to vote against co-education. The decision has been wrenching for many. Each constituency of the college present that day has experienced waves of dark emotions. Otherwise even-tempered, mind-oriented people use expressions such as “sick,” “furious,” “beaten,” “used,” to describe their feelings at the end of May 3.

Day 2

Friday, May 4

On Friday, May 4, the boycott is in effect. Students blockade five buildings and 19 different doorways. Horns blow constantly as striking students cruise the campus. The campus is transformed with signs on trees, buildings, gates. “Betrayed!” “Tradition!” “We will not accept this!” At Richards Gate students have placed a smaller sign reading, simply, “Closed for Repairs.” Different signs are to appear daily and the color yellow, symbol of anti-co-education sentiment since before the decision, appears everywhere. At Reinhardt Alumnae House “the telephones ring off the walls,” reports Director Linda Kay. Volunteers help answer phones, including a new pay telephone that has been installed in anticipation of an increased need. The Association cancels a reunion-giving seminar to have been held over the weekend. The mailing of the May fund appeal has been postponed the night before. Reinhardt House is the only administrative office untouched by students who honor the Association’s independence from the College and the alumnae commitment to women’s education. Throughout the day alumnae gather there; some are staff persons barred from their offices, others are Board members who have previously volunteered to help, some are individuals who have been drawn to the campus by the news and want to do something—anything. At one point an Associated Press reporter enters and sees a group seated in a circle. They are a concerned alumna who has driven two hours from her home to be on campus, an administrative staff member/alumna from a barricaded office, an Association staff member, and an Alumnae Trustee. “Am I interrupting a meeting?” she asks. “No, a wake,” is the response which is carried in newspapers around the world. Alumnae Director Linda Kay goes out to find President Metz to inform her of the previous night’s Board decision to seek legal counsel. Metz is not at her home, which is barricaded. (The President’s house also serves as offices since the earthquake in October closed Mills Hall.) Linda finds the president and one vice president, Donna Howard, sitting in a pick-up truck. During the day a group of faculty meet in the faculty dining room. At mid-day, college officers and Linda Kay meet with President Metz. She has agreed to address the students in the afternoon, on the condition that there be no heckling or jeering to disrupt the gathering. College officers express concerns for her safety and security is arranged. Earlier in the morning, after a false fire alarm has brought fire fighters to Mills Hall, the president and a faculty member who met at the building have engaged in a heated confrontation which is observed by several members of the community. There is no question in anyone’s mind that anger is the prevailing emotion still. At four, President Metz addresses a group of about 300 students. Alumnae, staff, and faculty are also present, as are the growing numbers of newspaper and television reporters. In perhaps one of the most painful moments of the two weeks, the President says, “I voted to admit men to Mills,” and the students silently turn their backs on her.

After her remarks, students ask questions, raising their hands to be acknowledged. A tearful student says, “You lied to us.” It is clear that much student anger toward the president comes from their previous respect for her and their belief that her stand for women’s education would not waiver. One banner reads, “Mary, you taught us to stand up and then you sat down.”

A moment filled with pain: students turn their backs on Mary Metz when she voices her agreement with the co-education decision. (Marge Thomas)

Meanwhile, alumnae who had been on campus the night before have returned to their jobs and are spending the day telephoning other alumnae. Surely never have so many alumnae called so many other alumnae in so little time. Those alumnae who were active in supporting the students return to Mills after 5:00 and begin to walk the barricades, talking to students, asking, “What do you need? ” More alumnae join them in their walk, including at least one member of the Board of Governors, and soon about 15 are gathered. They discuss the fact that AAMC did not have a policy in place yet and that there was a need for a way to give alumnae who wanted to act immediately a format for action. After discussion, the group decided to form MAAC, Mills Alternative Alumnae Coalition. “It was a nice anagram for AAMC,” reflects one alumna later. That evening, MAAC alumnae were told by students that rumors are circulating that Kimball House, now used as a social sciences faculty building, would be made into administrative office space. Students ask MAAC to take care of that building and the alumnae agree.

That evening, too, Oakland police come to campus. They have not been invited. In an early college officer meeting it has been immediately agreed that calling the police is not an option. “There was no question,” says Lindsey Beaven, “we just don’t physically remove Mills women.” Mills security guards come quickly to Sage (the old administration building) where the police have gone and ask them to leave the campus. “There is no problem here,” says one Mills guard.

Day 3

Saturday, May 5

The weekend is a hard one. MAAC alumnae arrive at Kimball House between 6:30 and 7 in the morning and, as Chris Daniel reports, “enter and begin to use Kimball House. We do this with the knowledge of the faculty members who occupy the building.” One senior faculty member gives the alumnae her numbered code to the copy machine, saying, “I will personally cover the cost of your use of the machine.” During the day they call alumnae to inform them of activities on campus and to invite them to an alumnae picnic which has been scheduled for Sunday. MAAC women have no computer lists of local alumnae, of course, but they do have the alumnae directory. “We just started with the As and called everyone in the area. We got through the Hs, maybe.” Two key visitors talk with MAAC that weekend. Nancy Thornborrow, economics professor, spokeswoman for the Option 1 group (remain a women’s college) and a chief writer of the Vision 2000 document, spends almost three hours with them giving them the background on the decision-making process of the year and the materials of the Vision 2000 and other reports. Linda Kay, with two of her staff members, visit for about an hour. The group talks about the importance of an independent alumnae organization, the rationale behind the  Association’s not wanting alumnae to be told to cease sending gifts to the Alumnae Fund, and the difference between an incorporated organization with by-laws and governing boards and a grass roots organization which has more flexibility in action. “Most of us hadn’t understood the status of the Association,” reports one MAAC member.

That day MAAC alumnae also have t-shirts made to sell at the picnic, issue a press release, and prepare informational sheets for alumnae. The press release states, “Should the Alumnae Association of Mills College choose to oppose the Board’s decision, MAAC will immediately align itself with the official organization and continue to pursue a reversal of the coed decision.”

Reinhardt House remains open all weekend. The telephones continue to ring throughout Saturday and Sunday, and most of the staff simply work through the hours—no one expects a day off until the crisis is over.

Day 4

Sunday, May 6

The supplies of food from alumnae, parents, staff, friends are unlimited and occasionally quite elegant. This cake comes from the parent of a student.

On Sunday alumnae and others come to campus for a picnic and a series of talks by assorted interested speakers. Some of the speakers seem to have little to do with Mills, but wish to align themselves with the women’s issues involved. It is apparent that the situation at Mills has far-reaching implications for education and for women. Media representatives roam the crowd, dangling large covered microphones on long poles over conversation groups. At one point during a heated discussion on the issues, an alumna from the class of ’52, says, “There’s a mop over our heads.” The talk quickly shifts to “Who was in your class at Mills?”—conversation guaranteed to send the mop quickly away in boredom. The MAAC group holds a meeting at 2. More than 70 alumnae attend, though many who have come for the picnic have already departed the campus.

At the meeting alumnae offer suggestions for supporting students, effecting a Board reversal of the decision, and providing long-term support and protection for the College. Though one alumna suggests civil disobedience tactics that far exceed those the students have decided upon, most ideas are within the framework of the student boycott and also call upon the expertise and talents of the alumnae gathered. At one point a plea is made for care in not splitting alumnae and weakening the Association. The meeting begins in Persis Coleman lounge, which is too small, and students invite alumnae to the main hall of the Student Union. They meet there until some students ask that the group blockade Haas Pavilion so the gathering moves and continues the meeting in the entrance to the building.

Day 5

Monday, May 7

Blockaders at the Fine Arts building, now used as administrative offices. Note recycling bags in background, found at all blockades.

On Monday, students continue their blockades and their effectiveness in stopping the operations of the College is the talk of the campus. It is hard to say how many students are actively involved in the action. Each day some 300 people are fed “on the line.” Classes are poorly attended. “I’m meeting my classes but they aren’t meeting me,” reports one professor. Some faculty have suspended classes. Some have assigned papers in lieu of final exams. Some have offered students the option of taking the grade they had earned as of May 3 as their final grade. In some cases, professors who have favored co-education and objected to the strike offer alternatives for classwork to their students on the barricades. Other professors are less flexible. Particularly in the sciences, classes are held and finals are scheduled. Explains one science professor, “In some courses there is a specific body of information which has to be included. I can’t say someone has completed, for instance, genetics, if she hasn’t received all the information.” While most faculty members seem to support the students, some do not. There is an angry confrontation between one professor and blockading students when he attempts to obtain his mail from barricaded Sage. The students do not permit him to enter, but do bring his mail out to him.

About 20 staff members meet informally. Staff, perhaps, are in the most ambiguous position during the strike. Communication is difficult. College officers attempt to set up telephone conference calls each morning and each evening. But by early morning, most officers are already receiving and making calls and it is difficult to make contact with one another. One reports, “I spent a lot of time looking for [other] college officers.” On campus meetings of officers and most meetings with President Metz are disrupted by chanting students and honking car horns. Each college officer and administrator deals with his or her own staff individually. Because responsibilities and attitudes differ among administrators, individual staff persons have widely varying experiences during the chaotic time. Though a telephone tree is developed later, not everyone can be reached properly. Some staff members are kept fully informed about the situation as it develops; others receive little information. Many members of the staff are in support of the student strike and come to campus daily even though their offices are not available to them. At one point, college officers agree that staff should be asked “to take a couple of days off,” as one college officer puts it. But, she adds, “how that was said and how it was heard was different depending on who was saying it and who was hearing it.” Food services employees continue to work, supplying meals to students. Liz Burwell says, “we have a contract with these students, after all.” Staff of the Dean of Students office are on campus daily, talking with the students, facilitating communication as much as possible. Chaplain Linda Moody makes regular rounds of the barricades. Business office staff sets up some operations off campus, at first in a hotel, later in private homes. Telephones for some offices are moved to “voice mail” so that messages can be received. The library is not barricaded and services there continue.

In addition to regular food service, students are supplied with food from alumnae, parents, friends, faculty, and staff. A staff member is seen carrying a large bowl of fresh strawberries to a barricade late one night. A parent and member of the plant staff is seen pouring hot chocolate at a barricade another night. Alumnae march into the Student Union continually bearing bags and crates of fruit, cakes, donuts, soft drinks, cookies….Bags of trail mix are distributed to the barricades one night by a man who is both an alumna’s husband and an alumna’s father. A group of alumnae go around the barricades asking for “wish lists” and then bring the desired items back. “Someone wanted frozen yogurt. Another animal crackers. Another wanted a certain kind of bubble gum. Someone wanted mashed potatoes. I went home and made up pots of mashed potatoes,” reports Cynthia Waggoner, ’72. The supplies of food became a topic of conversation. “Someone called this a catered in strike,” reports Robyn Fisher. Another student recalls that it was agreed on her barricade that if the food kept coming in the way it was the students would “get so fat we’d need only one person to barricade a whole door.”

Satarupa Bhattacharya, ’92, from India: her barricade location is the rear of the Sage Building. “Someone has to guard the back door,” she says. She stands next to Martin Butler, long-time College painter and parent of two Mills women. Martin brings food and good cheer to the barricades, and helps clear the campus of painted signs after the strike, a job made easy by the students’ careful use of chalk and water-based paint.

On that Monday, however, a crisis develops between members of MAAC and AAMC administration. Linda Kay learns that MAAC alumnae are advising callers to stop contributions to the AIumnae Fund. She stops supplying names of interested alumnae to that group. Most MAAC alumnae, including key leaders, are at their own jobs during the day. The MAAC women remaining on campus are among the more militant. Not able to obtain the services they demand from Reinhardt House, a group of alumnae with some students take over the building and evict AAMC staff.

Linda Kay has prepared for the possibility of a take-over of Reinhardt House. She has blank checks in her car and a stack of critical papers to be removed from the building in case of an emergency. Staff has discussed how to react to such a situation. When the dissident alumnae enter the building and take over the space, one staff member does try to explain the pronunciation of “alumnae” to those who were now answering Reinhardt House’s phones. Staff leave the building without attempting to confront the occupiers, though in one of the few physical contacts during the entire two weeks, Associate Director Yuri Mok is shoved from the building by an unidentified alumna.

Linda Kay sends most staff home, and sets up a “front office” on the bench outside Reinhardt House. She also arranges with the telephone company to limit access to non-local calls from the AAMC phones.

When MAAC leaders learn of the take-over, they return to campus as quickly as they can and, as soon as possible, begin an hour-long discussion with alumnae in Reinhardt House. “As soon as possible” means after the “Phil Donahue Show” which features Mills College, which has been arranged by students, and which is watched throughout the campus. In discussion, a compromise is reached. Occupying alumnae apologize to Linda Kay and her staff and leave the building. It is after 5 p.m.

Alumnae Director Linda Kay’s office is used by militant alumnae after take-over of AAMC offices. Reinhardt House is returned to staff later in the day.

In the meantime, the faculty are meeting to begin to frame a proposal for the Board of Trustees. Mary Metz is working with them and suggesting stronger commitments before it is sent to the Board. Yet by the end of the day, 74 faculty members have signed a petition for the reversal of the decision and a five-year opportunity to make necessary changes. The possibility of negotiating with the Board for a reversal of the decision gives Linda Kay, also at the meeting, hope. She sends a note to President Metz, “Call me.”

After the meeting Linda Kay returns to Reinhardt House (and Reinhardt House is returned to her). At home that evening she receives a call from the president. Linda asks, “Is this a dead horse or is there something we can do? Is there something within reason we can do to make a difference?” The President says she will talk with members of the Trustees’ Advisory Committee.

Meanwhile, MAAC is having another meeting, this time in a basement room at Haas Pavilion. Seventy alumnae and one dog gather to continue plans for action. Among them are women from five decades of classes, though those from the 1970s and 1980s are most prevalent. Chris Daniel facilitates the meeting. Actions discussed include continued supplies to students, a legal investigation of the affairs of the College, changes in the manner in which trustees are appointed to the Board, the formation of a task force to create a business plan for Mills, an independent audit of the college. Cathy Gildea, it is announced, has resigned her job to stay at Mills each day to provide continuity in the MAAC group. She is one of several alumnae who make significant life adjustments at this time. Julia Batzhas come to Mills from her home in Washington, D.C., to attend a wedding. She stays an extra ten days and trains students in facilitation techniques. Many alumnae agree to go to a San Francisco television station to appear in the audience of “People Are Talking,” a show which will air in the morning. Others agree to go to the office of Warren Hellman to stage a protest against the Board’s decision. The alumnae also agree to “dress as if you are going to a tea or a corporate board meeting, whichever is your life style.” They wish to look professional and competent. There is a prevailing sense that the decision may be reversed and that the College must never be allowed to faIl into this crisis again.

Day 6

Tuesday, May 8

Kristen Baumgardner ’88, entertains the community with a series of strike cartoons. Here she captures the mood of the blockade.

Tuesday, May 8, begins a new phase in the crisis. Small, frail glimmers of hope appear here and there. Between 8:00 and 8:30 in the morning, Federal Express delivers the first faculty proposal to each member of the Board of Trustees. Trustee Terry Fairman reports, “It was a joyous feeling to read that proposal. I knew it was meaningful even though it was incomplete.”

Chairman Warren Hellman is less impressed with the faculty approach, but he, too, has a sense that something could happen to change the Board’s decision. “The first inkling was at a demonstration outside my office. I got the feeling from them [MAAC alumnae] that the Alumnae Association was starting to understand the depth of the problem and was receptive to making changes.” The MAAC alumnae have followed through on their plans of the night before. Danza Squire becomes the spokesperson for this group. She has attended the “People are Talking” show and, from the audience, has made the statement that “no one had posed it to us that we had a limited amount of time [before a final decision was made].” Trustee Sue Farrar, on the panel, responded, “We are listening.” “That was the first sign of hope,” Squire remembers.

But the Hellman Protest group does not have an action Plan. “Now what? We were at Hellman’s office with no plan. There were press there and we weren’t sure what we were doing. We decided we were just making our presence known…I explained our position to the press.” Unexpectedly, Warren Hellman decides to meet the group. “Oh, my God, he’s coming down!” is the reaction. Danza Squire decides there should be conversation rather than confrontation. She introduces herself and shakes Hellman’s hand. Others follow suit’ Hellman asks if the alumnae are there to ask for his resignation (a common call of the students). Squire says that was not their intention but that she had heard that the trustees were listening. “Is it true?” In the ensuing conversation, Hellman explains to the gathered alumnae the Board’s thinking. He tells them that when the Board asked for solutions to problems all they got back was “mush.” Hellman is told that if the Board reverses the decision alumnae will be there with “our time, our money, our experience.” They ask, “Don’t you think commitment has a value?” Hellman replies, “Yes, if commitment is translated into action.” When asked if he would consider changing the decision of the Board, Hellman replies, “It is not an impossibility.”

Meanwhile, the Trustee Advisory Committee meets and after that meeting Mary Metz calls Linda Kay to say that the Board would entertain a proposal from AAMC, provided minimum goals were included, goals suggested by the trustees. Kay meets with college officers and discusses a proposal. Annual Giving Director Judy Calhoun has worked up new giving projections based on the excitement that exists now for Mills. She agrees a telethon can be mounted quickly. Not all happenings of the day are as positive. Prior to May 3, a staff meeting had been called for this day. The Staff Advisory Committee meets in the morning and decides to have the planned meeting. However, some college officers advise their staff members not to attend.

On that day, too, students receive a memo from President Metz. The first purpose of her memo is to advise students that, contrary to what some may have assumed, she has received no communication from students. The second purpose is to warn students that, “the blockade must end by 4:30p.m. on Wednesday, May 9, and all offices must be open for business as usual by 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, May 10, or it will be impossible for the College to hold Commencement.” She informs students that if the College is prevented from holding Commencement, residence halls will be closed to all, including seniors, on Friday, May 18. (The last day of classes had been scheduled for Wednesday, May 9, finals had been scheduled to follow, and Degree Day was to be Sunday, May 20.) The students’ reaction is largely irreverent and heels dig in.

Graduate students in creative writing join the barricades, blocking the door to the Graduate Studies office. They call themselves the Writers’ Block. Val Bailey, Director of Graduate Admissions and Student Services, stands to the right of the group. “It’s so sweet of them to choose our office,” she says.

That night the Board of Governors meets. Linda Kay has had a meeting with AAMC President Muffy Thorne, who is pleased by the proposal drawn up by Kay and the college officers. Representatives from MAAC are invited to make a presentation to the Board. Past presidents and former Alumnae Trustees of AAMC are invited to attend the first part of the meeting and discussion, but are informed that the voting will be done in closed session. MAAC members are greeted warmly by the Board. Their offer to form a task force to create a Business Plan for the College is accepted by the Board and incorporated into the proposal to the trustees. However, the business plan becomes one for the AAMC, not for the College as a whole. Alumnae vote quickly and unanimously for the proposal, a demanding and challenging one for the Association. AAMC agrees to raise $10 million in endowment by the end of 1994/95. It agrees to increase the unrestricted gift of the Association to the College to $750,000 by the end of 1992/93. It promises to increase alumnae participation to 50% within five years. It agrees to postpone fundraising for Mills Hall. This pledge is made provided the Board of Trustees sets aside its decision to admit male undergraduates. Later, the Association makes further commitments regarding recruitment goals, promising to increase AAR-generated applicants significantly over the next five years, and making other recruitment pledges.

As soon as the proposal is passed, Linda Kay calls MAAC alumnae, headquartered in Persis Coleman lounge, and the press—which has been roaming around outside the building taking photographs through Reinhardt House windows—is allowed into the building. MAAC and AAMC alumnae drink champagne together. President Thorne tells alumnae Board members about the students’ need for food and bedding.

MAAC and AAMC women spontaneously take up the AAMC banner and leave the building. An innocent yellow chrysanthemum at the doorway loses most of its blossoms as alumnae pick the flowers to carry. The group makes a circuit of the campus, visiting each barricade, singing to the welcoming students, handing them flowers. The alumnae sing “Remember” and “Fires of Wisdom,” and “On Mills College.” Students respond by joining in, or singing their own song, “We Will Not be Moved.” A “hug patrol” of alumnae moves from the choral group into each student barricade embracing students, saying “Thank you.” Students reply, “Thank you! Thank you!”

Day 7

Wednesday, May 9

Cindy Proctor,’92, and Kate Espinoza, ’92, sit with Damion Bradley who joined them in the blockade of Alderwood Hall. I came to help, says Damion, because, “I have a friend who came to Mills. She had been a shy person with no self-confidence. Mills changed her. Other women should have that chance.”

And now the College rolls toward resolution. The next day, Wednesday, May 9, the staff begins work on its proposal to the Board. The Strategic Planning Committee of the Trustees meets. Student leaders have their first meeting with Mary Metz. They use Linda Kay’s office. Two trustees, Sue Farrar and Terry Fairman, are there. The students bring a professional arbitrator. The students bring their first proposal. Fairman reports, “We asked them to separate the items that they didn’t have any control over from the ones they did. We told them to deal only with those things which they could deliver.”

Linda Kay calls a press conference. “I was concerned about the faculty proposal. They were being asked to make sacrifices. I decided it was important to get the word out about our proposal. I asked the students to arrange a press conference—they were so organized” Kay begins her announcement: “Warren, we accept your challenge.”

Day 8

Thursday, May 10

One hundred fifty people respond to the call for phonathon volunteers. They raise more than $3 million in pledges.

On Thursday, May 10, AAMC begins negotiations with both College administration and students for the use of telephones in Cowell. A massive phonathon is to begin this night. Student strikers make all decisions by consensus. MAAC alumnae help negotiate an agreement with the students. They go from blockade to blockade talking about the issue—may alumnae volunteers break the blockade to use the telephones to raise pledges? The negotiation process takes more than three hours of discussion. Access to the computer is also necessary and requires the cooperation of both the students and the administration.

The phonathon is one of the most dramatic expressions of alumnae commitment. Eleven shifts of three hours each are arranged, each fully staffed with volunteers—alumnae (and alumni from the graduate school), students, parents, a prospective student, and at least one trustee. About 150 individuals join the effort to raise pledges for a women’s college. The response is amazing. Only one-third of the alumnae body is reached in the six-day period. From that minority of alumnae, $3.1 million dollars is raised in five-year pledges. Seventy percent of those called say, “Yes” to the call for help. One alumnus caller, Ray Beldner, MFA ’89, reports, “Not one person turned me down.”

Ray is also part of a group of Mills alumni who plan a male protest against the Board’s decision which is to be called “Men Against Men.” Unfortunately, the planned demonstration does not take place. Still, many men, graduates, fathers, and friends of students, assist with the effort, joining the barricades, even cooking for the striking students. Husbands of alumnae also joined in. Carol Zischke’s husband takes five days off work to provide child care and household help while Zischke works with the Association.

As alumnae gear up for a massive fund drive, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees meets and votes to consider taking the constituency proposals to the full board. A group of faculty members, told of the trustees’ decision, begins to hone the faculty proposal and to collect signatures. 

Although some staff have been cautioned that it is inappropriate to become involved in the issue at hand, many meet to provide support for one another and to continue work on their own list of pledges to the Trustees.

Day 9

Friday, May 11

The seriousness of intent is reflected in this Sage Hall barricade.

By Friday all constituencies have completed or are working on proposals to the Board of Trustees. Faculty meet for a “first reading” of their proposal. Staff continue to work on their list of pledges. Linda Kay flies to Los Angeles where she will receive $80,000 in pledges from 40 alumnae who gather to hear news of Mills.

Day 10

Saturday, May 12

Three generations of Mills women on campus to support women’s education.

On Saturday, trustees receive the students’ proposal, outlining their commitment should the Board rescind the May 3 decision. “I was thrilled by it,” reports one member of the Board. Over the weekend, faculty continue to discuss their proposal and on Monday they meet to vote 59 to 16 in favor of a series of pledges that can only be called sacrificial. Faculty agree to adopt a 5 + 1 course load, increasing their work load by 20% through an additional course or other service. They agree to increase faculty-student ratio from 1:10 to 1:13 by 1995. They commit themselves to the admissions efforts of the College. One professor calls it “an amazing vote.”

Meanwhile, the phonathon continues through Wednesday. Alumnae and other volunteers meet in front of Cowell each evening, receive box dinners which they eat while hearing instructions and guidelines, are given the hastily created alumnae contact sheets, and then are led past the student blockaders through the designated door. Early in the phonathon each must show identification which is checked against an approved list. Later entrance is less exacting. At the end of each night students are given estimates of dollars pledged. Student support for the phonathon grows. Association staff members spend Wednesday night and into Thursday morning entering pledges on the computer and recording data. MAAC alumnae have been asked to relieve students on the barricades this night so that all may meet to discuss ending the strike. Some 200 students gather in the Student Union and attempt to come to a decision through consensus. Though almost every decision made throughout the strike has been made through common agreement, eventually students vote, and they vote to end the strike on the next day.

Day 15

Thursday, May 17

Students end the strike on May 17, with a grand procession across campus, collecting barricaders from each blockade, swelling the march to parade size. (Linda Moody)

That next day, Thursday, May 17, Muffy Thorne and Linda Kay take the AAMC proposal and the results of the phonathon to the Executive Committee ofthe Board of Trustees. Other constituencies also bring their proposals, and the committee sees the final staff proposal for the first time. “We talked about how truly inspiring it was,” reports one Board member. Staff had promised to raise $50,000 by 1995 through fundraisers, sales of t-shirts, and direct contributions. “Staff campaign has reached its goal for 1990-91 [of $9,500] based on pledges received to date” they report. They pledge to assist with recruiting through high school visits and phonathons, and they offer to be cross-trained in different jobs to increase productivity and use of Resources.

Those who meet with the Executive Committee are heartened by the response. “They seemed to be concentrating on how our proposals would be implemented rather than on whether they would be accepted,” reports one presenter. Linda Kay says, “They asked questions which focused on whether we understood that all constituencies need to succeed. Even if AAMC succeeded, if others didn’t, it was no go.”

Students on strike begin the march across campus ending the action. At each barricade they pick up more students who take up sleeping bags and books, tv sets and flower vases, and join the march. And then they begin to clean up. Barricade areas are swept, windows are washed, trash is emptied, signs are brought down. “It’s our campus, our school. We care about it,” says one student. The Board’s decision seems almost inevitable, now. Administrators make a banner, “Mills College. For Women. Again.” They hope to use it after the Board’s vote which will come on Friday.

Day 16

Friday, May 18

Warren Hellman dons a yellow beret as students, alumnae, staff, faculty, and trustees celebrate. (Marge Thomas)

And Friday comes, sixteen days after Warren Hellman’s announcement shakes the fabric and structure of Mills College. By 9:00, people are gathering on Toyon Meadow. The media have formed a solid row of video cameras and microphones crowd the podium set on the Rothwell Center steps. People will be gathered, not by the ringing of the Campanile, but by the honking of students’ car horns. “I guess students don’t want to be ‘tolled’ any more,” observes one alumna. Some students have camped out in the meadow and many others have spent the night in the Student Union. The strike is over; the sense of community and a need to be together is not. By 11:00, some 200 people are gathered in the center of campus. Talk is desultory. Tension is high.

Meanwhile, Linda Kay and some college officers are at the site of the meeting off campus, sitting outside, waiting. “There was no contingency plan for a Board decision to remain co-ed,” says Kay. “The plan was we would stay there until a contingency plan was made.” The Board meets from about 9:00 a.m. until nearly 1:00. The resulting resolution reads in part, “WHEREAS the alumnae, faculty, students, staff, and administration of Mills have overwhelmingly demonstrated their commitment to the College’s mission as an institution for the education of women, WHEREAS these constituencies have translated that commitment into action through the proposals they have developed to maintain the health and vitality of Mills as a women’s college …. NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT: the Board of Trustees’ May 3, 1990, Resolution Nos. 2 and 3, which provide for the admission of men to Mills College’s undergraduate programs by the fall of 1991, be and are hereby rescinded.”

There is further delay as Mary Metz and Warren Hellman work on their comments to the students and press. Trustees and administrators “shove down some food, mostly standing up,” reports an observer. It is time to return to campus. Student leaders receive the telephone call, horns blow, and the crowd grows denser. Students come from the Student Union and sit on the steps in front of the media mobs. They sing, “We Shall Not be Moved.” They chant, “Strong Women. Proud Women. All Women. Mills Women.” Mary Metz, college officers, and many trustees appear on the steps. Warren Hellman begins, “All of you have had a lot of banners for us. Here’s one for you.” And the banner is unfurled. As on May 3, everything goes crazy. But this time the tears and cries are of joy. Hellman tells the celebrating crowd, “Sometimes in your lifetime, you’re involved in something that may not just change an institution, it may change the world. I think you’ve done it.” Mary Metz says, “Our passion for women’s education has made history,” and is corrected by the crowd yelling “HerStory!” Laughing, Metz corrects her word. She calls many key players to the steps: alumnae leaders, faculty leaders, student leaders, staff leaders. Melissa Stevenson-Dile and Robyn Fisher speak briefly. “We are strong, we are proud. And we will be here forever,” says Fisher. Dile says, “I am in awe of you. We have proved to ourselves and to the rest of the world the inestimable value of women’s education.” Fisher says, “Let’s take the day and celebrate.” And everyone does. 

And now the work begins.