The announcement that my graduate school, Mills College, will not be offering degree granting programs anymore is devastating. It’s hard to understand how something like this could happen…things that you think will last forever, that you wouldn’t even think could possibly change, gradually dissolve, shift, and become other than. Maybe this is just what getting older is all about. Whatever it is, it gives me pause.
Today, going to college to study dance is a normal career path. It is a more desirable one for many. However, it’s important to remember that dance has not had a seat at the higher education table for even 100 years yet! The first dance major program was founded in 1926 by Margaret H’Doubler at the University of Wisconsin. How incredible that once upon a time you couldn’t even study dance in college, and now there are so many programs to choose from? Therein lies the reality…it’s hard for small colleges to get the enrollment they need to make it work. (Especially amidst social and political unrest and a global pandemic.)
What I am most proud of as a Mills College alumna is that in 1941, Mills College became one of the nation’s first liberal arts colleges to grant a degree in modern dance in the country. How cool is that? Merce Cunningham, Yvonne Rainer, and Anna Halprin danced in those spaces. For us dance geeks that’s pretty cool. Mills College is a part of dance history.
As an aside, when dance began occupying academic spaces, dance making changed too. It can be argued that new theories, new spaces, and expanded resources breathed life into the way we think about dance, teach about dance, learn about dance, and make dances by way of critical discourse in higher education. It also created job opportunities for teachers and generated dialogue across disciplines. I believe that dance in higher education has been a total game changer for our field. Mills was a part of that.
Beyond the significance of Mills College in dance history, Mills also offered the first computer science major at a women’s college. I mean…
Set in Oakland, California, one of the most radical cities in the world, home to the BLM movement and the Black Panther party, it was the overall charge of the campus culture that struck me the most. A women’s college, one of the few left in the country, with a guiding principle towards equity, serving as a safe haven for LGBTQIA+ communities, dreamers, and first generation heroes. A college like that creates a culture of progress. The fight, the fight be free, to just exist, taught me a lot.
I am awe-struck by the radical women throughout history who have dared to educate themselves and live out loud, and those who fought for an institution like Mills College to exist in the first place. It’s pretty badass, and will be sorely missed.
Now to rebuild…