The Core Curriculum

Our core curriculum supports our vision of a 21st-century liberal arts education, which prepares our students to pursue varied career paths throughout their lifetimes. It also cultivates the transformative and innovative modes of thinking necessary to solve problems beyond students' personal and material needs. The principal goal of our core curriculum is to create engaged global citizens—Mills graduates with the confidence and tools to think for themselves as well as the grace and compassion that compel them to care deeply about the needs of others. Technology continues to allow increasing numbers of people around the world to connect with one another. Our curriculum prepares our students to participate in this rapidly emerging and evolving world community and to develop their sense of responsibility for the needs of the planet and its inhabitants.

The core curriculum capitalizes on our unique setting in Oakland. The San Francisco Bay Area is home to thriving communities of radical artists, writers, musicians, and dancers, as well as creative engineers who continue to drive the information technology revolution, environmental scientists who are spearheading the “green” movement, and activists who inspire political and social change. This rich cultural and social landscape has played a crucial role in the evolution of Mills’ unique institutional identity, including its rich tradition of creativity, innovation, and experimentation.

Social justice is a strong presence throughout our core curriculum. As a women’s college, Mills has a long history of promoting access and empowerment for those who have historically been excluded from educational opportunities. The curriculum emphasizes the value of embracing a broad diversity of perspectives, critically analyzing power relations in both global and local contexts, and understanding knowledge as intimately connected to successful social change. Students learn to evaluate local and national contexts as well as global contexts and gain the capacity to make connections and see distinctions between different locations around the world. They experience the reciprocal relationship between knowledge and action and through these experiences come to see the ways in which a critical analysis of power is connected to transformative engagement with their communities and the larger world. Regardless of the specific area of inquiry or profession a student chooses to pursue, the proposed core curriculum challenges students to engage and practice social justice in whatever they do.

The core curriculum will develop in students an ability to create innovative solutions to seemingly intractable social inequalities and planetary concerns. The skills students gain lay the foundation for the practice of engaged global citizenship. Through the study of languages other than English and international perspectives, students acquire essential experience with communicating across differences. Through critical, quantitative and scientific analysis students learn how to thoughtfully analyze problems from multiple, interdisciplinary perspectives.

The core curriculum explicitly identifies our students as knowledge producers and potential agents of innovation and transformation. By combining skills-building, critical thinking, and opportunities to generate new ideas, approaches, and models, our students build confidence in their capacity to make bold and imaginative contributions to their professional fields and beyond. At the same time, they learn to talk with each other and with their faculty about their intellectual and artistic visions, and to nurture and support each other’s ideas. In this way, the core curriculum fosters not only individual creativity and innovation, but also the intellectual community necessary to sustain and support the creative process.

Core Curriculum Requirements for the Bachelor's Degree

Each of the requirements listed below can be fulfilled in a number of ways, including Mills courses, independent studies and other learning activities, transfer credit, and/or relevant advanced placement (AP) courses. A minimum of 3 semester credits (2.66 quarter) is required to complete a Core requirement. The advisor will help the student set up a core curriculum plan tailored to the student's specific academic needs and interests. Students will have opportunities to practice and fully develop the skills and competencies introduced in the core curriculum throughout their academic experience at Mills.

The core requirements fall into three categories: foundational skills, modes of inquiry, and contributions to knowledge and society. Each requirement is described below along with learning objectives for each requirement. A list of courses or learning activities meeting these requirements is available online under Core Curriculum Courses. A given course or learning activity may meet no more than two core requirements.

Foundational Skills
Critical Analysis3
Information Literacy0
Written and Oral Communication7
Quantitative Literacy3
Ways of Knowing/Modes of Inquiry
Race, Gender, and Power3
Scientific Inquiry3
Language Other Than English3
International Perspectives3
Contributions to Knowledge and Community
Community Engagement2
Creativity, Innovation, and Experimentation3

Foundational Skills:

Critical Analysis (3 credits)

Mills graduates enter a world in which an unprecedented amount of information is available at the swipe of a smart screen. In order to thrive and to make an impact in this information society, students need to develop the ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate varied information sources skillfully and critically. At Mills, students learn to approach knowledge generated in scholarly, governmental, media, and community contexts with a critical lens. They gain the ability to ask vital questions, to interrogate their own assumptions and those of others, and to use logical reasoning and evaluative skills to detect and counter bias and unexamined societal assumptions.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will critically analyze information and ideas.
  • Students will examine issues from multiple perspectives.
  • Students will engage in an exploration of the relationship between past systems of knowledge and present scholarly and creative approaches within and across disciplines.
  • Students will consider how our understanding of significant questions and ideas is informed by the critical, scholarly, and creative approaches through which we approach those questions and ideas.
  • Students will develop discernment, facility, and ethical responsibility in using information.
  • Students will engage as active participants in the College's intellectual community.

Information Literacy/Information Technology Skills (0 credits)

According to the Association of College and Research Libraries, “Information literacy is the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning.” In a society of rapid technological change and proliferating information resources, individuals are confronted with an abundance of information in a variety of formats. Students should have the skills needed to evaluate the authenticity, validity, and reliability of information. Being information-literate and being able to utilize information technology effectively are critical components in establishing a pattern of lifelong learning, and an essential aspect of a well-rounded liberal arts education.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to define and evaluate different types of authority.
  • Students will know why and how to give credit to the original ideas of others through proper attribution and citation, acknowledging that intellectual property is a legal and social construct that varies by culture.
  • Students will consider how and why some individual or groups of individuals may be underrepresented or systematically marginalized within the systems that produce and disseminate information.
  • Students will be able to formulate questions for research based on information gaps or on reexamination of existing, possibly conflicting information; determine the appropriate scope of investigation; and monitor gathered information to assess for weaknesses.
  • Students will be able to synthesize ideas gathered from multiple sources, and draw reasonable conclusions based on the analysis and interpretation of information.
  • Students will design and refine needs and search strategies, based on information needs and search results.
  • Students will identify and locate technology resources and apply them to solve complex problems.

Written and Oral Communication I and II (7 credits)

The ability to communicate effectively in speaking, writing, and digital presentation is integral to every aspect of a liberal arts education, and an essential competency that prepares our students to become engaged global citizens. College-level communication and literacy are rigorously and thoroughly supported at every stage of a Mills student’s academic career, from the introductory first-year composition course to a capstone project or advanced courses in the student’s chosen field. Students are trained to move easily and fluently between different rhetorical expectations and formal registers. They are also encouraged to develop and refine their own voice and sense of style.

In their first year at Mills, all students take a course that introduces college-level written and oral communication skills. All undergraduate students who have not completed an acceptable college-level English composition course are required to take Rhetoric and Composition for the College Writer (ENG 001 for 4 credits). ENG 001 must be completed by the end of the first year at Mills. AP credit can be used to satisfy ENG 001.

Students build on these skills in a second requirement that provides them with the opportunity to develop and practice effective written, oral, and digital communication. This learning forms the foundation for continued development of specific rhetorical practices within the student’s chosen discipline(s).

Learning Objectives

  • Students will develop skills in writing, digital presentation, and oral communication as complementary parts of college-level communication and literacy.
  • Students will be able to move easily and fluently between different rhetorical expectations and formal registers.
  • Students will develop and refine their own voice and sense of style.
  • Students will practice and refine different forms of communication that are appropriate for the multiple contexts and disciplines that they engage with.
  • Students will understand thoroughly the relationship between form and content.
  • Students will understand the role of drafting, revising, presenting, and receiving, processing, and using feedback as important parts of the writing process.

Quantitative Literacy (3 credits)

Discourse in the contemporary world is awash with data, numbers, and computational innovations. The quantitatively literate citizen can approach complex problems with careful reasoning, does not shy away from quantitative arguments, and can confidently and intelligently assess claims involving data and numbers. To thrive and contribute, Mills graduates need a set of basic quantitative tools and quantitative interpretational/communicative skills, and an appreciation for the value of quantitative analysis alongside other forms of critical thinking about the issues in their lives. Students can meet this requirement with a wide variety of courses in math, computer science, social science, philosophy, natural science, and more.

Learning Objectives

  • Interpretation: Students will have the ability to explain information presented in mathematical and computational forms.
  • Representation: Students will be able to convert information into mathematical and computational forms analytically and/or using computational tools.
  • Analysis: Students will be able to draw appropriate conclusions from the analytical or computational analysis of data and understand the limits of such analysis and the assumptions on which it is based.
  • Communication: Students will be able to communicate quantitative ideas in the languages of mathematics, computer science, or quantitative social sciences and will be able to utilize quantitative information in support of an argument.

Ways of Knowing/Modes of Inquiry:

Race, Gender, and Power (3 credits)

The race, gender, and power (RGP) requirement enables students to develop an understanding of race and gender as socially constructed, intersecting, and contested categories related to power and privilege. Students gain the analytical tools they need to understand, communicate about, and act within social contexts shaped by inequality. The requirement empowers students to locate themselves in relation to structures of power and privilege, and to identify appropriate and effective responses to inequality. Scholarship on social inequality increasingly draws attention to the intersections between systems of dominance, and the need to analyze racial and gender identities as simultaneous, co-constitutive, and interactive. The RGP requirement enables students to analyze the ways in which race and gender intersect with each other and with other identity categories including sexuality, class, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, citizenship, and nationality.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will demonstrate the ability to analyze race and gender as socially constructed, dynamic identity categories related to systems of power and privilege.
  • Students will analyze the ways in which race and gender intersect with other identity categories including sexuality, class, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, citizenship and nationality.
  • Students will demonstrate familiarity with the ways that marginalized communities have resisted structures of power through social movements, civic engagement, artistic expression, and scholarship.
  • Students will be able to engage with the intellectual and theoretical contributions of marginalized communities, and contrast them with dominant perspectives.
  • Students will communicate effectively across differences with an understanding of their own social location.

Scientific Inquiry (SI) of Natural Systems (3 credits)

Natural science involves the exploration of the world around us through the integration of previous knowledge, scientific principles, observation, experimentation, and logical reasoning. In addition to being introduced to a set of known facts about natural systems, students will gain a critical understanding of central concepts and theories used to study biological, chemical, and/or physical processes. Students will assess scientific claims based on existing data and/or their own observations or experimentation. Courses will explore a range of topics, all of which are united by the central tenet of scientific inquiry. Most courses will therefore ask students to devise testable hypotheses or otherwise inquire about the processes of natural systems through analysis of scientific texts, raising questions about existing data, or hands-on experiences, including those in the laboratory and/or field.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will demonstrate basic knowledge of at least one area of the natural sciences and the major principles that underlie it.
  • Students will be able to think critically by evaluating quantitative evidence or otherwise examine and interpret existing data or patterns from natural systems.
  • Students will apply scientific modes of inquiry in multiple contexts, such as the ways that humans influence or study natural systems.
  • Students will be able to distinguish between science and non-science.
  • Students will develop skills to work as part of a team to solve problems, develop hypotheses or otherwise inquire about the natural world in a collaborative manner.
  • Students will describe explorations and discoveries of natural historians and scientists from texts, literature and experiences.
  • Students will gain an understanding of the importance of women in the sciences.

Language Other Than English (LOTE) (3 credits)

Mills graduates need to be able to thrive in an increasingly interconnected world. As global citizens, Mills students develop the ability to understand and to communicate with a diversity of individuals and societies. Language study cultivates empathy and greater respect for others and disrupts students’ established ways of thinking and relating to the world. Because the structure of language and the structure of thought are tied, the study of a new language challenges students sense of what is “normal” and the universality of their experience. Once students have completed one semester of language study, they will have the opportunity to continue their studies during their time at Mills, developing more advanced language skills for use in future scholarly work, personal interactions, and careers.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will demonstrate basic competencies in three modes of communication in a language other than English: interpersonal skills (negotiation of meanings), interpretive skills (appropriate oral, written, and cultural interpretations), and presentation skills (creation of oral and written messages for different purposes).
  • Students will develop the ability to articulate thought in a language other than English and reflect on differences between that language and English.
  • Students will engage in an exploration of their own culture and worldview and contrast it with those of another culture or worldview.

International Perspectives (3 credits)

At Mills, we are committed to pushing our students’ horizons by expanding their knowledge of the world beyond the United States and exposing them to multiple scholarly and creative perspectives on cultures outside, and increasingly present within, the United States. The international perspectives requirement enables students to experience new modes of thinking about the world beyond Europe and North America. To meet this requirement, students complete at least one approved experience abroad or course focused on a country, region, or culture beyond the United States that includes cultural and historical perspectives from the place or culture being studied.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will reflect on their value systems and way of understanding the world and understand that these are not universal.
  • Students will analyze the history, arts, politics, language, and economy of a non-Western national context using scholarly or creative perspectives from the culture being studied and demonstrate the ability to contrast these with dominant US perspectives.
  • Students will demonstrate knowledge of at least one ethnic or national group and its experiences outside of the United States.
  • Students will demonstrate knowledge of intellectual and/or creative contributions from at least one culture, country, or region outside of the United States.

Contributions to Knowledge and Community:

Community Engagement (2 credits)

Regardless of their academic focus, Mills graduates will live and work in a world that is increasingly diverse, global, and interconnected. The “book learning” of the engaged global citizen must be coupled with hands-on experience and concrete engagement with challenges that require socially just solutions in every sector.

The community engagement requirement offers the opportunity to integrate “thinking” with “doing” by connecting theoretical and critical analysis with praxis in the community. Through experiential learning within the richness of Bay Area communities, paired with critical reflection within the classroom, students’ build their capacities to engage with the principles of social justice and collaborative leadership. This empowers students to collaborate with community partners to foreground marginalized cultural perspectives and address overlooked societal needs. It also enables students to develop their own roles as innovators and change agents in relation to complex and dynamic community contexts.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will apply concepts explored in the classroom in a practical context.
  • Students will demonstrate the ability to apply leadership competencies and skills through engagement with community organizations on projects that are meaningful to both the organizations and the students.
  • Students will develop the ability to engage in thoughtful, self-reflective, and ethical collaboration in a community setting.

Creativity, Innovation, and Experimentation (3 credits)

The creativity, innovation, and experimentation component of Mills’ academic core curriculum encourages students to explore how new ideas are created and introduces them to the skills and ways of thinking necessary to solve problems in today’s rapidly changing world. Innovation can occur in a variety of disciplinary and multidisciplinary contexts, and can incorporate different facets (aesthetic, social, intellectual, practical) of human experience. Experimentalism in the arts encourages individual approaches to creativity that yield radical new forms, practices, and innovative thinking in and across artistic disciplines. Formally innovative creative writing reveals new worlds and extends the limits of our students’ imaginations. Studying literature can uncover the virtually unlimited interpretative possibilities one may encounter in a single text. Designing and implementing a ground-breaking research project in the natural or the social sciences, writing a busine ss plan for some new enterprise or advanced computer code for a robot, or arguing for a new model or way of understanding human social networks are forms of creativity that can lead to fundamental changes in our lives.

This component of our academic core curriculum encourages students to seek alternatives rather than only to problematize received values and traditions. It contributes to a 21st-century liberal arts curriculum, which not only helps prepare students to pursue various career paths during their lifetimes, but also cultivates the transformative and revolutionary modes of thinking necessary to become trailblazers and innovators in their lives beyond Mills.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will extend their creative strengths and skills.
  • Students will design or produce work that demonstrates independent thinking, originality, and inventiveness.
  • Students will produce innovative solutions to real-world problems.