Students at Wellesley College, a top liberal arts school that has only accepted women for the past 150 years, are set to vote Tuesday on whether transgender men and nonbinary applicants should be allowed to apply.
The private Massachusetts college, which boasts on its website about being a place for “women who will make a difference in the world,” is holding the referendum after some students flagged concerns about the current admission policy.
Wellesley — whose alumnae include Hillary Clinton and Madeline Albright — at the moment only accepts students who “live and consistently identify” as women.
The referendum, which is nonbinding, will ask students for their opinions on whether the admission policy should be opened up to include all transgender and nonbinary students.
The ballot also asks whether the language used in the college’s official communications should be more gender-inclusive.
Students at Wellesley College in Massachusetts are set to vote Tuesday on whether transgender and nonbinary people should be allowed to apply.AP
Wellesley’s president, Paula Johnson, who opposes the referendum, warned students in a letter last week that the results of the ballot question wouldn’t have any impact on the school’s policies or practices.
Johnson said the ballot was instead a chance for students to “express their views” on the controversial issue.
“We are not a ‘historically women’s college,’ a term that only applies to women’s colleges that have made the decision to enroll men,” Johnson wrote. “We have chosen a different path, one that aligns with peer institutions including Barnard, Smith, and Bryn Mawr colleges.
“In accordance with our admission policy, Wellesley admits applicants who identify and live consistently as women, regardless of the gender they were assigned at birth,” she added.
The students who oppose the current admissions policy have argued the school isn’t female only because some classmates have transitioned to male or begun identifying as nonbinary while studying there.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many of Wellesley’s 2,500 students identify as trans or nonbinary.
Wellesley College President Paula Johnson, here with alum Hillary Clinton, says the school accepts students who “live and consistently identify” as women.Boston Globe via Getty Images
They added that some of Wellesley’s trans and nonbinary students feel excluded by the use of the words “women” and “alumnae” in various college communications.
Johnson sought to address those concerns, saying it was important all students “feel seen” and that the school was working on finding a balance.
“Wellesley is a women’s college that admits cis, trans, and nonbinary students — all who consistently identify as women. Wellesley is also an inclusive community that embraces students, alumnae, faculty, and staff of diverse gender identities,” she argued.
“I believe the two ways of seeing Wellesley are not mutually exclusive. Rather, this is who we are: a women’s college and a diverse community.”
The student newspaper’s editorial board penned an op-ed accusing the college of engaging in “transphobic rhetoric.
“For now, we would like to emphasize that President Johnson’s response is part of a broader trend of Wellesley’s administration and the Board of Trustees intervening in student discourse, which sets a problematic precedent,” the editorial said.
“We also want to remind the Wellesley community that President Johnson is the spokesperson for the Board of Trustees, which must be held equally responsible for the College’s transphobic rhetoric.”