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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Wellesley College officials should listen to students and staff and change their gender policy

Beverly Xu
Wellesley students decorate a ledge with chalk in support of the recent ballot measure.

On March 14, more than a third of Wellesley College students, traditionally all-female school, voted on the Gender Inclusivity Ballot Question. It asked whether students supported decreasing the school’s use of gendered language and opening admissions up to transgender men. 

Ninety of students voted in favor, but the results were nothing more than a symbolic show of support for the change. The final decision rests with school officials, who seem to be leaning in the direction of ignoring the will of the student body.

In an email response to the initial ballot question, university president Paula Johnson reaffirmed the administration’s stance on keeping Wellesley as a women’s college, thereby excluding male transgender men and non-binary students in the process. This needs to change. 

Wellesley’s current gender policy states that applicants must “live as a woman and consistently identify as a woman” to be eligible for acceptance. While this policy does not apply to students who initially identified as female but later transitioned during their time at Wellesley, the constant use of gendered language at the school disregards this gender-diverse population. 

First and foremost, Wellesley needs to listen to its students, alumni and professors to not only ensure that their university is safe and inclusive for all, but also an institution that exists to, as Johnson said herself, “challenge the norms and power structures that too often leave women, and others of marginalized identities, behind.”

Cutting down on use of gendered language in university policy and websites, providing gender-neutral bathrooms and recognizing transgender and non-binary alumni will bring Wellesley closer to this goal, as will slowly opening up admission to transgender men and other minority gender applicants who do not consistently identify as women.

As of 2021, more than 1% of Wellesley’s student population does not identify as  female, and following Johnson’s email, some of those students reported increased transphobia, misgendering and alienation. In an interview with The Wellesley News, senior Melina Rowin expressed their reaction to the email.

“After this email I felt betrayed because I wasn’t being seen or respected as a trans student who’s very active on this campus,” Rowin said.

Even before the vote on the ballot question, students, professors and staff alike showed their support for the measure by promoting numerous sit-ins around campus on March 7. At these protests, students put forth a list of demands, which focused on reducing bias toward transgender and non-binary students, presenting the college in a way that better reflects its student body and overall creating a safer space for students of any gender.

And as a referendum signed by nearly 700 alumni asserts, the best way for Wellesley to move forward in the present political climate — when transgender rights are being threatened by anti-trans bills active in 46 states — is to “fully embrace the trans and non-binary students who have always existed as integral members of the College community.”

As an institution that, at its inception, was designed to provide an education and platform to students marginalized and disenfranchised because of their gender, Wellesley should choose to listen to their students’ demands and be more inclusive of their transgender, non-binary and LGBTQ+ students. It’s time for Wellesley to honor its history and gender diversity, and modernize its once-groundbreaking gender policy.

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