On Feb. 2, The Boston Globe published an article written by Annie Linskey ’97 about the influence the Koch Foundation has on college campuses, offering Wellesley College as a case study. According to one of the co-student directors of the Freedom Project, Linskey skewed her words in the article. Linskey describes Wellesley College as “a lefty campus hostile to the conservative and libertarian ideas that the Kochs and their wealthy allies hold dear.” She then claims that the presence of the two students at the annual Koch retreat could be used to “galvanize donors to take matters into their own hands, and try to tilt the collegiate discourse to the right.” While many issues can be taken with this article—biased language, a reductionist narrative and selective reporting— Linskey’s article is simply another entry in the compendium of misogynistic and generalized media whose singular fascination with Wellesley, and other women’s colleges, results in a highly marketable women-against-women narrative to which audiences continue to flock.
Women’s colleges have always been a topic of fascination in the media. In recent coverage, there have been numerous newspaper articles and films that claim to know who ‘the Wellesley student’ is. Take, for example, the famous film Mona Lisa Smile (2003), in which Wellesley students are portrayed as either boy-crazy women, desperate for a husband or a fling with a professor, or as level-headed career women anxious to buck tradition even if it means being looked down upon. In the infamous Rolling Stone article from 2001, titled “The Highly Charged Erotic Life of the Wellesley Girl,” the author Jay Dixit characterizes Wellesley students as promiscuous and consumed with sexual desire. More recently, during the 2016 presidential election, the media crafted a narrative in which Wellesley students were at war with one another over the Democratic Party nomination. According to Time Magazine’s “Bernie Sanders Is Winning Feminists, Even at Hillary Clinton’s Alma Mater,” one camp included the loyal Wellesley siblings of Hillary Clinton ’69, and the other, supporters of underdog Bernie Sanders, acted as anti-institution foils. By repeatedly including these misogynistic tropes in their reporting, authors of these portrayals reduce Wellesley students to one-dimensional archetypes and further propagate a sexist representation of Wellesley College and the students who go here. The simple idea that women are complex individuals—whose upbringing, backgrounds and various privileges inform decisions, beliefs and choices— is apparently too elusive to those tasked with reporting, allowing the spread of misinformation about these institutions.
In relying on these tropes, these authors and reporters have continued to sensationalize, mystify and hypersexualize the concept of a women-led institution. In a profile by Wellesley Magazine in its Winter 2016 issue, Linskey insisted that as a reporter, she was not looking for a good story or bad story about Hillary Clinton—a fellow Wellesley alumna. Instead, I am “there to tell a story.” Yet this is not the case; Linskey and other writers have attempted to tarnish the reputation of Wellesley and its students. Linskey implies that Wellesley, as “the poster child for liberal intolerance,” is unable to comprehend ideas that are not completely aligned with its ideals. Linskey’s issue should not be with the students on this campus; it should be with the administration accepting donations from the Koch foundation. But that is not the premise of the article. Linskey justifies the idea that ‘money talks,’ which is ultimately better for the intolerant “lefty campus.” This is a message that we will not allow to slide by without comment. As the campus newspaper, we will not stand for the mischaracterization of the climate and the general disposition of a Wellesley student, especially when it comes without the presentation of accurate facts.
It is time that we set the record straight and enter the conversation on our own terms. We are more than a collection of stereotypes; to believe anything less would be senseless. While we do live in a tense political climate, we as Wellesley students engage with contrasting opinions on a daily basis and approach such matters with reasoning, facts and our collective experiences. Because of this, we will not condone undue spread of misinformation and problematic ideas—from both within the Wellesley community and especially from outside—that make the community feel unsafe and unnecessarily targeted.
As current students at this institution, as well as future alumnae, we will not be complicit while individuals outside our immediate community continue to tarnish our images and whittle away the respect of the ‘Wellesley individual.’ We recognize that Wellesley is not perfect, particularly in its dealings with the Koch Foundation. Our job as members of the student body, and especially as student journalists, is to bring these issues to light with appropriate understanding, integrity and respect for the institution and the individuals currently living and learning here. The members of this campus are not asking permission to be liberal, conservative or anything in between. Instead, we will unapologetically be Wellesley students with diverse backgrounds, interests and aspirations. Like anyone, we will not be reduced to fantastical stereotypes that have plagued our community, and many other historically women’s colleges, for decades.