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Can't Mute This Chat

Why Students and Alumnae at Mills College are Resisting Northeastern's Campus-Grab

Accounts from Save Mills campaigners of Northeastern’s so-called merger with Mills College

Reading News@Northeastern, an NEU student wouldn’t have any reason to view our school’s acquisition of the Oakland, CA-based Mills College with anything other but rose-tinted glasses. The College has historically served women and was among the first universities to welcome LGBTQ students, and Northeastern touts Mills’ pathbreaking social justice legacy as a testament to its own apparently lofty commitments.


But neither Northeastern admin, nor the Mills College administration, is telling the whole story. That’s left Mills students, faculty (adjuncts represented by SEIU 1021) and alumnae to shine a light on the problematic aspects of the merger (outlined by Save Mills College Coalition, and here by The Huntington News) - namely, that the arguments for the merger itself may be suspect, and Mills administrators have not communicated with the Mills community in good faith. Members of that community have duly filed a lawsuit, and Oakland City Council has urged an investigation of the College’s closure.


Here in Boston, we’re all too familiar with Northeastern’s expansionism (see: previous Disorientation article, and this reporting from The Scope Boston on NEU’s contribution to gentrification in neighboring communities Roxbury and Mission Hill), so it should come as no surprise that Northeastern’s opportunism yanked the rug from under the students who may not have chosen to be our new classmates. A 2013 graduate of Northeastern and recent Mills alum’s letter to former president Beth Hillman in The Campanil, the Mills student newspaper, describes how “it’s been difficult [for people] ... to trust that corporate entities and conglomerate organizations are working on behalf of their welfare.” That’s especially true when Northeastern is being, well, Northeastern, as we current students know it: the “merger” is an “opportunity” with no (human) cost.


Here’s a letter from Abby Selby (reach out to her at abbymselby@gmail.com, and access resources she compiled in her LinkTree), a former Mills College student, to NEU students:


My name is Abby Selby; I'm an honorary alumni of Mills College despite it being the same dream school that abandoned me. I was accepted in early March of 2021, yet not even two weeks later the closure announcement arrived. I didn't even hear the news from the school; they never indicated anything about it for all those months I waited to be accepted, all while they continued to admit freshmen and masters students without warning.


The closure was originally scheduled for 2023, by which time I was promised time and time again that I would have graduated. That promise was never kept and continuously revoked, revised, and rebutted. I assumed I could escape the chaos, but I was wrong like other students who were thrown under the bus in so many ways. At every "town hall meeting" held to supposedly give us answers, we received none and our questions in the chat were ignored.


We waited over half a year to find out if our majors would survive, or if we would still graduate in 2023, a promise still held until January 2022 when it was suddenly announced we would merge with NEU in 2022. We were given six months to make life-altering decisions while still paying an overpriced tuition fee for a school that no longer could grant degrees in time. Some students couldn't transfer, some had credits that wouldn't transfer, some didn't have money to do so, and others watched as over 22 majors were killed overnight without warning. We tried talking with the administration, who locked us out when we peacefully protested and disrespected us by not listening to the same students they failed to serve.


Mills was once my dream school, where I planned to spend my last three semesters to achieve my goals, and they were shot down. Although I was able to transfer, it doesn't erase the injustice that has happened to us - countless disappointments and stories we can tell. I urge you to please remain open to Mills and its history, as well as the stories of students disappointed by its administration and to support them however you can.


Joyce Yee, a class of 1990 alumna of Mills College, founding member of and team lead at All4Mills (read more on the merger at www.all4mills.com), reflects on the activism to save her alma mater:


“Can’t Mute This Chat”


Being on campus this week for orientation was like being in the “Upside Down.” It was all so familiar, yet not the same anymore. As I drove down the beautiful tree lined road, I found the anger of the last 16 months had been replaced by an overwhelming sense of sorrow and sadness. Mills as I knew it was lost and I was stuck in the Upside Down. The sadness runs deep. Mostly because we, the alums, never got any answers. We were never really, actually included in the discussion. Instead, thanks to the administration, we found ourselves divided from one another. Oh, they still won’t give us access to the alum database, thereby keeping many alums uninformed. They even told students to not talk to us. When we did connect with students, apparently the alums “were always so demanding / disrespectful when they were on campus”.


Really? Chocolate chip cookies and conversation was disrespectful? At every weekly visit to campus, I made sure we invited students to join us. One of the very first students we met was the NEU cohort. They were so excited to be in CA and were really looking forward to the semester. They met Mills students and felt a sense of belonging. And, then there was the Townhall. Those very same students they’d met found out their majors were canceled and they had a week to decide on staying at their dream school or to transfer out. Joy at being back in-person, on campus suddenly turned to sorrow. The NEU cohort found themselves consoling their new friends. And, the admin? They provided no emotional support. In fact, they muted the chat and did not address any concerns about the announcement.


My daughter, Aly, is a high school sophomore. She has been by my side protesting on the County Courthouse steps, protesting at the President’s House, marching with the staff and faculty and so much more. And through it all, she sees the injustice being done to the people of Mills: students, staff, faculty. She sees where voices have been silenced. As a result, surrounded by Mills alums, she experienced some of that “Mills Magic.” Aly found her voice. She’s Ele and takes on the daily Demogorgons without a second thought.


For Aly’s sake, I keep seeking answers. Maybe someday, she’ll get to dive deeper into what Social Justice means at Mills College. For now, we’ll make sure our students see justice as the civil lawsuit begins (after two postponed hearings by the admin). And, we’ll continue to work in tandem with the City of Oakland’s Council that unanimously passed a resolution to investigate the merger.


Hope runs deep for me. I do believe in everyday miracles. I participated and witnessed the student strike of 1990 that reversed the Trustees decision to go co-ed. I’ve held my baby boy while cancer brought him to the brink of death. And, I know that we will find justice for Susan and Cyrus Mills. ‘Cause, you know what? This chat will never be Muted.


A current Mills student, requesting to be identified by initials A.B., wrote to us describing their experience in depth. They’d like to emphasize how little time students had to make life altering decisions, and the long periods of time they had to wait to receive relevant information. This statement was drafted March 11, 2022:


The Northeastern University and Mills College merger is not going well by any reputable standard.


The Merger, which was announced to students on September 14th, 2021, and had been in talks since June 16th of the same year, raised forth a huge upwelling of anxiety about graduation, financial aid, and college identity. Mills had announced its closure on March 17th, 2021, to little warning to both students and faculty. Both students, staff, and faculty were informed within hours of each other, and suddenly, everything about our education, jobs, and housing were at risk. It didn’t help that the closure email was sent just a day after the one year anniversary of Mill’s COVID-19 order. The closure announcement made many people uneasy, especially any student who was set to graduate after Spring 2023. The school promised to stay open until that date, assuring the then-sophomore class of 2023 that they would be secured a Mills Degree.


Then, UC Berkeley entered the picture. Mills had previously announced on October 6th, 2020, that they were in talks with UC Berkeley to “consider deepening Mills’ long-standing partnership with UC Berkeley”. This email went largely unnoticed by the student body at the time of sending, as it was sent a full 6 months before the closure was announced. After the closure, that UC Berkeley partnership announcement suddenly started to make more sense. Mills then announced, on March 25th, 2021, just over a week after the closure was announced, Mills proudly proclaimed that they were partnering with UC Berkeley for the “UC Berkeley Changemakers Program”, a first year program that would bring 200 UC Berkeley students of all genders to the Mills Campus to be involved in exclusive programming during their first year of college. This was not taken well by the students, as it was extremely vague in nature and did nothing to ensure the continued livelihood of the school. Enrollment opened for Fall of 2021 that very day, and was an optional program for UC Berkeley admitted students. And then, the UC Berkeley Changemakers program never happened. It was never brought up in official communications again, and rumors swirled about what caused UC Berkeley and Mills College to call it off within months of announcing a program. Many cited hearing about extremely low enrollment numbers, others claimed that Berkeley planned on letting all of the Faculty go, most concluded that UC Berkeley probably just wanted the land Mills had (an impressive 135 acres of land, including sizable patches of relatively untouched forest) and cared little for the students.


The UC Berkeley changemakers program was morphed into the Northeastern Changemakers program, which only brought in around 20 students to the campus.


During this UC Berkeley Changemakers plan, President Elizabeth ‘Beth’ Hillman invited students to plan her new “Mills Institute”, which she would remain president of. The first announcement of the vague ‘Mills Institute’ was on March 31st, 2021, less than a week after the UC Berkeley Changemakers Program was announced. There was no groundwork for what the institution would look like, what purpose it would serve, and who it would even benefit, other than the administration members who would keep their positions through the closure. The only follow up by the President's Office to this email communication was sent nearly three months later on June 3rd, 2021, which stated that Mills was in talks with other institutions in regards to the merger. They were still promising degree referrals to be continued until 2024, and assured students that graduation would be possible from Mills if completed by this time.


The Northeastern Partnership was extremely out of the blue to most students. Most of us had hardly even heard of Northeastern, as it has little name recognition on the West Coast, where schools of high renown and exclusivity are often thought of to be some UC institutions, and Stanford, along with obvious East Coast choices such as the Ivy Leagues. The partnership being announced just a week after a call for Mills Institute ideas was not very reassuring to students either. Not to mention it no longer guarantees degrees to the class of 2024. The Merger was set for 2023, and there was nothing any of us could do about it. There was a plan, or so the administration told us. The Merger was finalized in September, and then… little was heard about it. Students were asked to fill out paperwork in order to give Northeastern access to our academic records for a nebulous ‘degree audit’ in November of 2021. This process was vaguely explained throughout the semester by various administrative offices, and made students even more concerned about degree completion. A student information session was held in January, which promised individual meetings for each student graduating after the merger to ensure that our Mills credits would be seamlessly integrated into the Northeastern System. The Meeting was short, and included the most horrible announcement to the majority of the student body: An intense slashing of offered degrees, which included the most popular degree paths offered by Mills. Students pursuing degrees in Education, Child Development, Art History, Dance, Biopsychology, Biochemistry & Microbiology, Ethnic Studies, Global Humanities, and most importantly to our institution, Women, Gender, and Sexuality studies, would no longer receive that degree. They would instead be offered the opportunity to pick a degree that Northeastern offered, but could only remain in Oakland if they wished to pursue a degree that was accredited in California. Boston exclusive offerings are still available to students, but with no information about housing provided.



The meeting promised individual meetings, which would be scheduled after an “Intent to Continue Enrollment” form was filled out by the student. Students were encouraged to fill it out, and many did. And then we waited. For a month an a half. Many were rightfully angry that the audits didn’t begin sooner, and many more were baffled at the idea that Northeastern thought that a single admissions counselor, Jordana Bischoff, could handle the entire student body of Mills College. The form was due in late January, and students expected meetings to begin in February. They didn’t. They started for Graduate students, but then were quickly canceled, because degree audits hadn’t actually been run for the students who were meeting with Jordana. And so students waited more, even though an email sent on February 25th stated that the meetings would happen as planned. On March 3rd, the administration changed their mind. Students would be emailed preliminary degree pathways, and there would be group meetings around the completion of degrees. This did not go over well with most students. It got worse when preliminary audits began to be sent out, starting around 8pm on March 4th, and according to some reports, continuing to be sent out past midnight.


The Preliminary audits are half-finished at best, to useless at worst. Some students had lists of unevaluated courses in the double digits, and many saw ridiculous discrepancies in what was ‘major fulfilling’ and what was ‘elective’ credit. Mills Biology courses BIO001 and BIO002 don’t count as a Northeastern Intro to Biology credit despite using the exact same textbook. Some students have not received an audit on credits currently in progress, while some have. Basic prerequisite courses do not count towards degree requirements, but upper divisions do? Students are given an excel sheet with standards they often cannot fulfill- 3rd year students cannot be expected to do an entire Co-op before graduation in 2024!- and are asked to sort it out between themselves and their equally uniformed faculty advisors, who don’t even receive the audits unless provided by a student. Group meetings were scheduled starting March 7th, a mere three days after emails were sent out to students. The meeting times, which indicate that meetings start at 12:15pm and have no ending, conflict with a lot of classes, or highly coveted lunch hours between classes.


How is this an acceptable way to treat students? We were promised a seamless transition, and this is not it. The entire class of 2024 is arguably stuck at this institution, unless they want to transfer somewhere else, where they will have to take an additional fifth year of classes in order to receive a degree. Northeastern Students likely have little power in this situation, but any and all support is appreciated. We may pale in size compared to the main Northeastern campus, but our degrees are in jeopardy. Our financial aid may also be in jeopardy, if promises continue to be broken. We fear for our devoted staff, who’s union continues to be ignored by Northeastern. We fear for our professors, who, while guaranteed employment, will see radical shifts to their departments, or the removal of their subjects altogether. We are not being taken seriously, and any indication that this merger is going smoothly and that students are happy about it is at best, a misjudgement, and at worst, a lie. If it is at all possible, demand justice for us. Help us get the degrees we were promised. Because no student shouldn’t have to have their entire academic lives put in such an uncertain state.


A.B. recommended these articles to us: this on CalMatters and this on The Oaklandside cover programs lost in the merger; concerns about the new co-ed demographics of a majority queer and POC campus here; and an opinion on The American Prospect about financial mismanagement by Mills admin.




Disclaimer: This unofficial guide was created by a diverse group of students with a wide range of experiences and opinions. This guide was not sanctioned by any member of the Northeastern University administration or faculty, and is not the product of any official student group. The views and opinions do not necessarily represent the opinions of the individuals involved but are meant to foster dialogue and encourage students to creatively address issues in their community.

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