Students at the all-women Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, have voted in favor of opening admissions to all nonbinary and transgender applicants, including “trans men.” Biological males have been admitted to the college for years if they claim to be female — the concern now is biological women who claim to be males as well as those that claim to be beyond the binary concept of gender.
On Tuesday, students voted in favor of a referendum calling for Wellesley College to change its admissions policy. The referendum also called for changing the school’s language around sex, such as using the word “students” or “alumni” instead of “women.”
“The college will continue to engage all students, including transgender male and nonbinary students, in the important work of building an inclusive academic community where everyone feels they belong,” Wellesley College said in response to the student-led referendum.
Student body president Alexandra Brooks told the New York Times, “We’re just asking the administration to put on paper what’s already true of the student body,” adding, “Trans men go to Wellesley, nonbinary people go to Wellesley, and they kind of always have.”
Last week, Wellesley College president Paula A. Johnson warned students in a letter that “the results of the vote on this ballot question are nonbinding and will not impact any of the policies or practices of the College or of student organizations at Wellesley.”
“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 added. “We have chosen a different path, one that aligns with peer institutions including Barnard, Smith, and Bryn Mawr colleges.”
Johnson also said that the school will “continue to advance our mission as a women’s college while acknowledging and celebrating our students’ diverse identities,” and make sure that all students “feel seen.”
“Wellesley is a women’s college that admits cis, trans, and nonbinary students — all who consistently identify as women,” Johnson insisted. “Wellesley is also an inclusive community that embraces students, alumnae, faculty, and staff of diverse gender identities.”
Johnson’s message, however, garnered criticism from the editorial board of the school’s student newspaper, the Wellesley News, which accused the college of engaging in “transphobic rhetoric.”
“We disapprove of and entirely disagree with President Johnson’s email,” an opinion piece by the editorial board read, adding 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.”
“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,” the piece continued.
The editorial board concluded by expressing its “unequivocal support for transgender, nonbinary and gender non-conforming people — at Wellesley and everywhere — who enrich all communities they are part of.”
“We strive to reflect this principle in our coverage and refuse the use of our platform to spew transphobic rhetoric especially because of its very real consequences,” they said.