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How Mills College Closing Affects Me as a Student With Disabilities

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College was a dream after four long, difficult years at my big local high school. I was finally in a place that accepted and supported my disabilities rather than beat me down for them. Only having just learned a year before that I had a severe math learning disability and working memory deficits, I was still getting used to the idea that being “bad” at math was not just a result of “laziness” or “stupidity.” But, my college offered an environment where I could leave my frustrating days in a math class behind.

Between my newly discovered learning disabilities and long-standing fights with mental illness, I was unsure of my abilities the first time I stepped onto the inspiring Mills College campus in Oakland, California. Mental illness had left gaping holes in my high school education, and honestly, I didn’t learn much after sophomore year. My heart was thudding when I walked into the lecture hall for the first day of Intro to Western Art; after just that one class, I knew I was where I belonged.

Shortly after the first paper for that class was due, I was so nervous my stomach was doing backflips as I turned it in. Turns out I was more ready than I thought as I received my first college A. Now I was sure Mills was exactly where I was meant to be and I was there to use and hone my strengths as an Art History and History double major. It felt like a veil of darkness had been lifted, and a new brighter chapter of my life was beginning.

Now as I am going into my junior year, I still feel the same excitement and have found a magic on that campus where my depression just seems to fade into the background. So, when I got the email titled “Mills Transition,” everything seemed to fall apart right before my eyes. Mills was closing and being turned into an “institute!” Only an hour after the email was sent on March 17, I had to wipe away my tears and attend my zoom history class; the stunned silence was haunting. We sat wondering why we were in this position? Why hadn’t the school enlisted the students, faculty, alums, and staff to help come up with creative ways to save the college? Where was all the information we needed to understand the situation?

The Mills administration and board of trustees have been careful to avoid answering any of these questions and have refused transparency in many aspects of this tragedy. I, along with many of my peers, are left scrambling to try to figure out if we are going to get our degrees stamped with “Mills College.” The school has been a safe haven for many students from marginalized groups, and for me, a student with disabilities, this school is absolutely irreplaceable to me. Having one or more disabilities makes navigating the education system very difficult, and the support I receive from my brilliant professors will not be easy to find at another school. The stress of the closure right before finals aggravated my already worsening medical conditions and brought on recurring symptoms of my mental illnesses. Because of this, I was not even able to finish all my classes and have had to arrange to complete two of them over the summer. But, I look at that as one more reason this school matters; my professor was so kind and the school so easily approved my “incomplete,” so now I will be able to finish those classes without any penalty. I am sure you can imagine what that means to me as a student with disabilities.

I am sharing my story to bring light to this complicated issue as I and my fellow fighters in the Mills community work to preserve Mills College despite resistance from the administration and board of trustees. They must be called out because students with disabilities do not have the same educational options as our non-disabled peers. The world simply cannot lose a place like Mills where students like myself have found a new kind of home. I will end with the words of past Mills president Hettie Belle Ege: “Remember who you are and what you represent.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Originally published: July 10, 2021
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