The President’s Advisory Committee on Gender and Wellesley (PACGW) has taken on the responsibility of determining how Wellesley will define what it means to be a women’s college in the 21st century. The goal of the committee is to address how to act in the face of changing gender norms. This is accomplished by identifying key issues relevant to College policies and procedures that are affected by our society’s shifting perspective on gender.
Gender in the 21st century no longer means what it used to — mainstream culture is becoming more aware of identities outside the gender binary. Many believe that Wellesley in the 21st century must adjust to these changes.
“There’s nothing about the committee that wants to redefine this place. Everyone on the committee is devoted to Wellesley as a college,” said Kayla Bercu ’16, student representative of the PACGW. “Has gender studies really evolved? We need to think critically about how this will impact current students and future generations.”
The committee is in communication with the Trustees about admission and graduation policies. Wellesley College currently allows students to graduate no matter their gender identity. However, the College’s current policy is that students eligible to apply to Wellesley must identify as female on their birth certificate. The committee, which includes students, faculty and alumnae, is now in the process of revisiting these graduation and admission policies.
“Whose applications are we willing to consider? At this moment, we only look at applications that check the female box on the Common Application,” said Adele J. Wolfson, chair of the PACGW.
Wellesley is taking precautions with these decisions because there are several factors that need to be taken into consideration.
“What would it mean in terms of the mission of the College? What would be the legal, philosophical and other such implications for the College? That is essentially what we report to the Trustees so that they can make an informed decision,” Wolfson said.
The PACGW is also taking into consideration the repercussions that the changes in policy will have on the student body and faculty. There have been issues in the past about transmen and transwomen on campus and the committee plans to look into all the possible ramifications of their decisions before carrying them out. Due to the sensitivity of the discussion, student opinion varies greatly. One topic that was discussed last semester was whether or not transwomen deserve a place on the Wellesley campus.
“I don’t understand why it’s okay to accept women who choose to become men and not accept men who have chosen to become women. It’s unfair because you’re demeaning the value that the College was founded on. It doesn’t disrupt the sisterhood of the College. This is a women’s college, but there will always be gender minorities here and we should support whoever people choose to be here,” Sydney Brumfield ’18 said.
Similarly, students agree that the decision is a tough call, and that it will be difficult to redefine gender norms while complying with the College’s mission to empower women.
“No matter who is entering into this college, they should be fully dedicated to the idea that this is a women’s space and for the empowerment of women. For the committee to be thinking about all of that, they have to take into consideration how everyone feels about the potential change in policy,” Bercu ’16 said.
In order to better understand student opinion, the committee sent out a survey administered to the entire student body and faculty members late last semester. The survey responses were anonymous and focused on collecting data from a diverse group of students, including a range of gender identities. Almost half of the student population responded to the survey. According to estimates, the entire transgender community at Wellesley constitutes only a minute percentage of the student population. Further details of the survey results will be released after the College consults with the Board of Trustees.
Moving forward, PACGW is organizing events and providing educational material to educate the Wellesley community, especially students who are not well-educated about gender.
The PACGW already hosted a session called “Talk about Gender 101” last semester. There was also a talk-back discussion following the Jan. 29 performance by the Wellesley Summer Theatre of Sarah Ruhl’s modern adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel, “Orlando.” The committee will offer a variety of educational materials this semester to help inform students and faculty members on gender identity and the definition of gender in the 21st century. In addition, the student representatives of the PACGW hosted a discussion with the Board of Trustees yesterday evening in Tishman Commons.
In the following weeks, members of the PACGW will meet with College Government and Senate. Bercu encourages students to come into the discussion with an open mind.
“I think people fear that Wellesley will change and that is the number-one thing the committee refuses to let happen. It’s the fear of not knowing and the fear of change, but I don’t think it’s the fear of these individuals itself. It needs to be clear to students that the most important things about Wellesley are not going to change, in fact — they will be empowered even more,” Bercu said. For more information, students and faculty can visit the PACGW website through their MyWellesley accounts where videos, books, articles and other informational media are provided.