Wellesley Students Pass Ballot Initiative to Admit Transgender Men

Wellesley President Paula A. Johnson said in a statement that the Massachusetts women's college has no plans to enact the nonbinding student vote.
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  • The nonbinding student ballot initiative asks the college to change its admissions policy to welcome all transgender and nonbinary applicants, including transgender men.
  • Wellesley President Paula A. Johnson said in a statement that there is no plan to revisit admissions policies or the college's mission as a women’s college.
  • Some students say that the Wellesley of today is not a "women's college" but instead a "historically women's college."

Students at Wellesley College, a women's liberal arts college in Massachusetts, this week approved a student ballot initiative asking the college to change its admissions policy to welcome all transgender and nonbinary applicants, including transgender men.

Under its existing admissions policy, the college accepts applications from "those who live as women and consistently identify as women," which includes transgender women and nonbinary students who "were assigned female at birth and who feel they belong in our community of women."

The student ballot initiative also called for Wellesley to use gender-neutral language when referring to its student body in official communications — for example, replacing "women" with "students."

The initiative was nonbinding, and Wellesley President Paula A. Johnson said in a statement that the college has no plans to enact it.

"We acknowledge the result of the non-binding student ballot initiative," the statement said. "Although there is no plan to revisit our mission as a women’s college or our admissions policy, we will continue to engage all students in the important work of building an inclusive academic community where everyone feels they belong."

Is Wellesley a 'Women's College' or a 'Historically Women's College'?

Before Wellesley students voted on the initiative, Johnson sent a March 6 email to the college community with the subject line: "Affirming our mission and embracing our community."

"What does Wellesley mean by 'a women's college'?" Johnson asked. "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 said that some transgender male and nonbinary students whose identities have evolved during their time at Wellesley have felt excluded by the college's use of the term "women." Also, many women-identifying students committed to the mission as a women's college had been criticized for their views and felt pressured to describe the college as a historically women's college.

"So how do we reflect our mission and identity as a women's college while recognizing and embracing the diversity of our community in a way that does not make any student feel erased or ignored?" she asked. "Let me try: Wellesley is a women's college that admits cis, trans, and nonbinary students — all who consistently identify as women."

The Wellesley News Editorial Board "disapproved and entirely disagreed" with Johnson's email and emphasized that Wellesley is a "historically women's college."

The independent student newspaper intends to publish a longer and more thoroughly researched editorial addressing the ballot initiative, the editorial board said, alleging that Johnson's statement is part of a broader trend of the administration and the board of trustees intervening in student discourse.

"Much like when President Johnson condemned our editorial supporting the liberation of Palestine and student-led pro-Palestine activism, College administration and the Board of Trustees have once again monopolized conversations about Wellesley's community and future, conversations that should be led by students, who make up the majority of the College community," the editorial board wrote.

A Conversation About 'Wellesley of Today'

Student elections typically deal with student government issues. But the ballot question dealing with admissions at Wellesley made the ballot after passing through the student government Senate on Feb. 27.

It was penned and brought up by two students just weeks prior.

"The Ballot Question has built upon existing conversations and started new ones among the student body about the use of gendered language at Wellesley," ballot author Cricket Liebermann told The Wellesley News. "My hope is that these conversations will continue to be had beyond the Ballot Question. Even more so, I hope students are respectful of our many trans and nonbinary sibs and alums in these conversations."

College Government President Alexandra Brooks said they hope the ballot will bridge the disconnect over inclusive language between administration and students, The Wellesley News reported. Brooks said that the Wellesley Board of Trustees represents the college of 50 years ago, which is not the Wellesley of today.

"... (E)ven Wellesley five years ago is very different from the Wellesley of today," Brooks said. "I think the goal of this ballot initiative is to show the Board of Trustees and the College administration that this isn't just something that a few people care about or something that only the trans students care about, but it's something that is a large opinion of the student body."