Students at women's college vote in favor of admitting male-identifying students to avoid being 'trasphobic'

The student referendum is a non-binding vote demonstrating student popular opinion on the issue of admitting trans-male students.

Wellesley is a women's school with the mission of providing ‘an excellent liberal arts education to women who will make a difference in the world.’

Students at Wellesley College in Massachusetts voted in a non-binding referendum on Wednesday in favor of admitting trans-male students (XX chromosomes) to women’s school school, clashing with the administration’s adamant refusal to change its policy.

Founded in 1870, Wellesley’s mission is to “provide an excellent liberal arts education to women who will make a difference in the world.” The school as produced several noteworthy alumnae, including the first female Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, and the first female presidential nominee for the Democratic party, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

In 2015, Wellesley began accepting applications from “all those who live as women and consistently identify as women,” including any trans-female (XY chromosomes) or non-binary student who is “commitment to her gender identity.” Students who transition to or identify as male while at Wellesley are still allowed to attend.

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The school’s gender policy emphasizes that “[e]very aspect of Wellesley’s educational program is, and will continue to be, designed and implemented to serve women, and to prepare them well to thrive in a complex world.”

Wellesley President, Paula A. Johnson, issued an acknowledgement of the referendum shortly after the results were released, but added “there is no plan to revisit our mission as a women’s college or our admissions policy.”

Certain students at Wellesley, however, question this mission.

“Wellesley is not currently a women’s college,” junior Ailie Wood told the school’s student newspaper. “Your classmates are trans and nonbinary, your favorite events are run by trans and nonbinary students, and the people you pass in the dining hall or on the sidewalk every day are trans and nonbinary students.”

Wood continued by noting that the school “was founded as a women’s college because they wanted to create a safe and supportive learning environment for people who were marginalized based on gender,” and as such, the school now “should welcome and support trans women, trans men and nonbinary people as well.”

Students have also long questioned the school’s reference to the student body women or alumnae and using she/her pronouns, stating that such gendered language only appeals to “elderly donors.”

The student newspaper editorial board in 2021 argued that “[t]rans students are not a small, insignificant part of Wellesley …. Wellesley would not be the same without the contributions of trans students …. Why would students donate to the preservation of a place that doesn’t want to acknowledge that transgender and non-binary students exist?”

Prior to the students’ vote, Johnson issued a statement outlining how the school at large can “do better at finding a balance” between its mission as a women’s institution and the needs of the students.

Wellesley is a women’s college that admits cis, trans, and nonbinary students—all who consistently identify as women,” she writes. “Wellesley is also an inclusive community that embraces students, alumnae, faculty, and staff of diverse gender identities. 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.”

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The student newspaper editorial board responded, saying, “We disapprove of and entirely disagree with President Johnson’s email” and that Johnson and the Board of Trustees are transphobic.

The Wellesley News Editorial Board is once again stating that transgender and nonbinary students have always belonged and will continue to belong at Wellesley, a historically women’s college.”

Wellesley denied Campus Reform’s request for comment from Johnson, and the Wellesley student government has not yet responded to Campus Reform’s inquiries. This story will be updated accordingly.

Follow Gabrielle M. Etzel on Twitter.