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Wellesley students fight for trans men to be allowed to attend the all-women’s school

Wellesley College
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Students at the all-women’s Wellesley College are currently in a battle with the administration over whether to expressly allow trans men to attend the school.

Students are voting Tuesday in a referendum on whether the school should allow this and whether official Wellesley communications should use non-gendered language. The results of the vote are nonbinding but are a way for the students to express their views.

The school already allows trans women to attend but the school’s president, Paula Johnson, does not believe enrollment should be open to trans men, arguing that doing so would make the school co-ed and stray from Wellesley’s original mission as a refuge for women.

In a recent message to students, Johnson asserted that “Wellesley admits applicants who identify and live consistently as women, regardless of the gender they were assigned at birth,” but said it is important to “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 and ignored.”

Johnson committed to better supporting trans students and said she does believe it’s possible to be both inclusive and a women-only school. She said that, among other things, the school will install more all-gender restrooms, hire a new director for the Office of LGBTQ+ Programs and Services, and update language on the school website to make it clear that anyone who transitions while attending Wellesley remains welcome.

“Wellesley is a women’s college that admits cis, trans, and nonbinary students—all who consistently identify as women,” Johnson wrote. “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.”

According to the New York Times, students have held an ongoing sit-in at the Wellesley administration building to protest Johnson’s stance. The Wellesley News Editorial Board also released a statement vehemently disagreeing with Johnson.

“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,” wrote the board.

“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.” 

“We want to end with our unequivocal support for transgender, nonbinary and gender non-conforming people — at Wellesley and everywhere — who enrich all communities they are part of.”

Supporters of a more inclusive school believe that Wellesley was founded as a safe space for anyone experiencing gender discrimination — which would include trans men. As Lawrence A. Rosenweld, a retired English professor, told the Times, Wellesley is a place for those “not in positions of power in a patriarchal society.”

Many also argue that a policy change is merely making official something that is already true, as trans men who have transitioned as students already attend the school.

“We’re just asking the administration to put on paper what’s already true of the student body,” said student body president Alexandra Brooks “Trans men go to Wellesley, nonbinary people go to Wellesley, and they kind of always have.”

A policy change, Brooks said, “would not in any way change the culture of the school.”

“It’s still, and always will be, a school to educate people who are of marginalized genders.”

And it isn’t only students who disagree with Johnson. Hundreds of faculty, alumni, and staff reportedly signed an open letter condemning the school for “focusing on the letter, rather than the spirit, of its founding.”

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