Students share experiences as first, NU Bound class enters Mills College at Northeastern

After the Mills-Northeastern merger was finalized this July, the historically women’s college officially became Mills College at Northeastern University. The first cohort of and NU Bound students have entered the Oakland, California campus. Photo courtesy of Carlie Chin.

Grace Comer, campus editor

Following a contentious and litigious merger, the first class of and NU Bound students have joined the returning Mills College students in Oakland, California, at Mills College at Northeastern University. 

Although the merger was finalized in July, some students say tensions are still running high on campus. Many of the concerns raised when the merger was first announced, including the introduction of cisgender male students to the historically women’s college and the fit with Northeastern’s predominantly-white student body, have proven to be accurate for some of the returning Mills students. 

“East Oakland is my community, this is where I grew up. So [Northeastern students] talking about the communities like, ‘oh, it’s scary here’ and so forth, it’s just like, ‘why is it scary? Is it scary because it’s predominantly Black and brown people and it’s a low-income community? Or why?’” said Naydelin Sanchez, a senior at Mills majoring in history, culture and law. “Little talks like that, you can really see the deep ingrained racism that a lot of students do have that I feel like Northeastern needs to do a better job at addressing.” 

Sanchez said another barrier to forming relationships between the two groups of students is their ages — all of the Northeastern students currently enrolled in Mills at Northeastern are first-years “fresh out of high school” in the or NU Bound programs, while returning Mills students are third- or fourth-years, leaving little room for interaction in classes. 

In the few shared classes the groups do have, some Northeastern students who spoke with The News said they have not felt any tension, instead sharing positive interactions with the returning Mills students. 

“Everyone’s really nice here,” said Carlie Chin, a first-year business administration major currently participating in the Oakland program. “In one of my classes, there are some returning Mills students and they’re really, really nice. … I’ve heard that there was tension going into this, knowing about the conflict between Mills and they didn’t really like us and I was really scared, but after interacting with them, it’s just like, ‘oh, they’re really, really friendly.’”

Others, however, said the residual frustration from the merger was noticeable. Olivia Oestreicher, a second-year political science and communication studies combined major who was enrolled in the Leading Social Change program at the Oakland campus last spring as the first cohort of Northeastern students at Mills, said she felt like the returning Mills students were upset about Northeastern’s presence on campus. 

“As a student on that campus last semester, there were many times where I just felt like the merger business and negative decisions were being taken out on me as a student,” Oestreicher said. “Northeastern probably shouldn’t have hosted that program last spring. They just put me and the other couple dozen students in such a negative environment. I seriously left there very concerned for how this fall semester would work with hundreds of Northeastern students there.”

To help prevent future Northeastern students at Mills College from having the same experience she did, Oestreicher reached out to the Northeastern Interdisciplinary Women’s Collaborative, or IWC, and the Student Government Association, or SGA, to work with Mills students and their frustrations around the merger. 

“I think as a Northeastern student, what we can do to meet this moment is have a woman and nonbinary-centered organization like the IWC come and see and literally just talk to students,” she said. “Basically scope out, with the number one priority being the returning Mills students, what do they need to feel safe on that campus and feel like the history of that school is being respected? And number two, how can we help facilitate female and nonbinary-centered activities and programming to make sure that the rich and vast history of this college does not go away?” 

Both Northeastern and Mills students who spoke with The News said they feel that poor communication and planning from the administration has contributed to the problems students are currently experiencing. 

Valeria Araujo, a third-year sociology major at Mills, said the campus is physically divided, with the traditional dorms for Northeastern students on one hill and the independent housing for non-commuting Mills students on the other side of campus. She also said the dining halls and classrooms are closer to the Northeastern side of campus, which some Mills students have expressed frustration about.

“I feel like I’m an outsider,” Sanchez said. “I feel like I was coming into their school because they literally outnumbered us by so much. I feel like now Northeastern only cares about their students in regards to giving them needs, housing and other necessities, taking them on trips and so forth.” 

But Araujo said she feels having Northeastern on campus hasn’t been all bad. 

“It definitely feels way more busy, but now I feel like I actually go to a college,” she said. “Before it would be way too empty. Mills is a commuter school, so we wouldn’t have too many people staying on campus. Now it’s nice seeing more people at events. … I think having a full classroom, getting people’s ideas, feeding off people, when before it was really small classes, it’d be as little as nine people. So sometimes it’s nice going from the person that would have to participate the most to kind of sitting back and hearing other people out.”

She also said Northeastern does offer benefits to Mills students with their higher amounts of funding, but many students haven’t been able to take advantage of these benefits because they accelerated their degrees, taking on a heavy course load to graduate in 2023, after the merger was first announced. 

Many of these tensions will be resolved on their own within the next few years, as the returning Mills students graduate, leaving only Northeastern at Mills College students on campus. But Araujo said in the meantime, she thinks the Mills students are angry towards the administration, but gearing their anger in the wrong direction. 

“From the few [Northeastern] students I have met, I think they’re almost relieved when a Mills student is open to getting to know them, which I think is really upsetting,” she said. “They’re still trying to adjust to college and I don’t think the Mills student body has been the most welcoming to the NU student body. Of course there’s resentment against the institution, but I don’t think it has anything to do with the students that decided to come here.”