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The Next Domino To Fall: Mills College

By Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland City Councilmember At-Large–

We have been watching an all-out assault on women’s rights, and the signs that the LGBTQ+ community is next. The U.S. Supreme Court just wiped away the reproductive rights of millions of American residents without a second thought with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. In concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas showed an appetite for going further and doing more damage to women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights as well. In times such as this, we need to preserve the safe spaces where women students, BIPOC students, first generation students, and LGBTQ+ students can be educated and empowered. Up to June 30, 2022, Mills College was this type of safe place.

Mills College has been an important part of Oakland’s legacy since 1872. As the oldest women’s undergraduate college in the West, Mills has played an important role in our community by carrying out its mission to remove barriers for the advancement and empowerment of women. Mills College isn’t just in Oakland, it is Oakland—with a student body as diverse as the city itself.

Mills College has always been on the cutting edge of women’s rights and equality. It was the first women’s college to offer a computer science major. It was also the first women’s college to openly accept transgender students.

Alumni include filmmaker Sofia Coppola, the late actress Olivia de Haviland, and our own Congresswoman Barbara Lee … and countless other individuals having an impact on their communities and the world.

Despite this rich history, after 170 years of operation, without warning or attempt to work the student body, alumni groups, or any other stakeholders, in March 2021, the Mills College Board of Trustees and Administration announced that the school was going to close because of finances.

From the beginning, students and alumni have asked questions that haven’t been adequately answered. But the process continued and the merger with Northeastern University was proposed. Still student and alumni questions were not answered.

The merger closed on June 30. Isn’t it cruelly ironic that as we were celebrating 50 years of Title IX and what it meant to women, the 170-year legacy of Mills College was being merged out of existence?

But that doesn’t mean that the questions can’t be answered, because they still exist! On July 19, the Oakland City Council passed a resolution sponsored by President Pro Tempore Sheng Thao and me to call on the U.S. Department of Education and the California Bureau of Private and Post-Secondary Education to conduct an independent investigation into the circumstances around the merger between Mills College and Northeastern University.

Councilmember At-Large and Council President Rebecca Kaplan, who is the Vice Mayor of Oakland, was elected in 2008 to serve as Oakland’s citywide Councilmember; she was re-elected in 2016 and 2020. She also serves on the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC). Follow Councilmember Kaplan on Twitter @Kaplan4Oakland ( and Facebook (

Published on July 28, 2022

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