[Editor’s Note: Before continuing with our regularly scheduled story, we would like to take a moment to acknowledge the many victims of the Saturday’s Earthquake in Nepal. The Wild Hunt has reached out to Pagans in South East Asia and to first responders. In the coming days, we will be sharing what we learn and the various ways to assist those victims.]
OAKLAND, California – On April 23, Mills Pagan Alliance of Mills College was presented with the Student Organization of the Year Award. The annual recognition honors an “organization that has demonstrated through their events and activities, outstanding collaboration and dedication to educating the Mills and broader community.” This marks the first time that the Pagan organization has won the award, and been publicly recognized by the college.On hand to accept the award were co-founders Kristin Oliver, Rose Quartz and Sasha Reed and member Nikka Tahan. Oliver said:
This award says that the Mills community is a place where Pagans can practice and thrive openly, a place where Pagans at Mills are respected and admired, and where Pagans are known as community leaders. For us, it means that what we do matters. What we say matters.
She added, “We won because of the leadership we demonstrated in the aftermath of losing the campus chaplain. In her absence (and we still don’t have a school chaplain) we played a huge role in keeping spirituality alive and present for all faiths for this entire year.”
Before this school year, the Alliance founders had already been demonstrating strong community leadership. Oliver said that in past years Mills College only had dormant or “defunct” Pagan club. Like at many schools, the viability of the student club is wholly dependent on the eagerness of its members. Often, when the founders and other invested members graduate, the club falters or completely dissolves.
In 2013, one of the college chaplains approached Oliver, asking if she would like to help lead the club with Quartz and Reed. She agreed, as did the others. So, in an attempt to breathe life back into the old organization, they changed the club’s name to the Mills Pagan Alliance and immediately began working to connect with the community.
At the first meeting, they asked attendees “What do you want out of this club?” The answer was unanimously, “We want to learn.” Since 2013, the Alliance has built a small Pagan library with donations from many in the Bay Area. It regularly brings in local speakers, such as Rev. Patrick McCollum, Sharon Knight, Timotha Doane, Violet Fortuna, Moonwater SilverClaw, Thorn Coyle, Crystal Blanton and Granny Greenleaf. And, the club hosts a number of campus events throughout the year. One of the first was a Samhain ritual that was held right in college’s chapel.
In 2014, Rev. Patrick McCollum turned to the Mills Pagan Alliance to find a student interested in accompanying him to the United Nations International Peace Day events in New York City. Then junior Rowan Weir was selected and became a U.N. Pagan youth delegate. As a regular guest of the club, Rev. McCollum also has brought his World Peace violin to meetings and even allowed Reed to play it.
In addition to events and guests, the Pagan Alliance has also begun reaching out beyond the college campus. For example, the group was actively in attendance at PantheaCon 2015 in San Jose. Members assisted Rev. Selena Fox with her Brigid Healing Ritual and were vocal during the Turning the Wheel: Nurturing Young Leaders and Embracing Change panel. During that session, they asked questions on how younger generations can be effective and integral parts of the movement, the important conversations and the evolving structures at both a local and larger community level.
The 2014-2015 Student Organization of the Year Award demonstrates that the college itself noticed all of the Alliance’s work and the rising spirit of leadership within its ranks. However, it was the club’s perseverance after losing its chaplain, which ultimately earned it the recognition.
Oliver explained that the circumstances of the chaplain’s dismissal were “mysterious.” She had played an instrumental role in the rebuilding of the Pagan Alliance and bringing together the three student leaders. Oliver described the chaplain, who preferred to be anonymous, as “a wonderful person and … extremely supportive of the club.” Her dismissal came as a surprise.
Even after the hearbreaking news, the Alliance continued on with its work in support of its mission, and that perseverance won it the award. Member Blue Anderson said:
I think that this award represents an acknowledgement of this club as not only unique, but important. We all knew that the student body knows that we’re here. We have a presence on campus. People see us around. But receiving this award seems to say not only, “We see you,” but, “We value you, too.”
Co-founder Sasha Reed added:
In today’s predominantly Christian society, pagan groups are so frequently either blatantly discriminated against or simply brushed under the rug. By awarding Mills Pagan Alliance the Club of the Year award, to me this sends a clear message that our school both respects us and recognizes the work we’ve done. When Kristen, Rose, and I first sat together and discussed the prospect of starting a pagan club, I never thought that it would expand to be the community of strong, supportive students it has become today. Winning this award means so much to me; a recognition of my faith as a legitimate, respected practice in my school community, and a recognition of all this club has achieved. Going forward, I hope this award will allow Mills Pagan Alliance to serve a wider community within our school and the surrounding city and also help our club to receive additional funding to host more events, and also solidify this club as a permanent, prominent force on Mills campus.
Oliver noted that the award also has a very personal meaning for two of its members. Reed and Quartz are graduating. For them, this is the proverbial “icing on the cake” of their time at Mills College and a mark of job well-done.The club’s next event will be a Beltane ritual held May 1 at the college’s Botanical Gardens. The event is open to all students, faculty and staff. Then, May 9, the Alliance will be taking part in the 12th annual Berkeley Pagan Festival, during which members will be assisting with the main ritual. Next year the group hopes to host a hospitality suite at PantheaCon that caters to college-age Pagans and addresses issues specifically facing young Pagans. Oliver said:
Going forward, we are still committed to being at the forefront of keeping spiritual and religious life a permanent feature on campus for all until a permanent multi-faith chaplain is hired. But we are also interested in how we can be of service to the greater Pagan community, particularly for those of college age. We will certainly be engaging in the conversation regarding race, gender, and privilege within the Pagan community.