On Monday, Oct. 15, Elizabeth Warren started a firestorm when she released the results of a DNA test that appeared to confirm that she has Native-American ancestry. This came after a barrage of attacks from President Donald Trump and several members of the Republican party about previous claims of Warren’s Native-American ancestry, saying that Warren had used her heritage to advance her career as a Harvard Law professor and a political figure. This controversy continued at Wellesley, when the Wellesley College Democrats (WC Dems) sent an email at 5:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 16 announcing that the organization had decided to “cancel canvassing for the Elizabeth Warren campaign this Saturday (Oct. 20).” The email continued, “Elizabeth Warren’s recent actions regarding the release of her DNA report do not align with our ideals as an organization; we do not condone this act of cultural appropriation and have therefore taken the decision to change our canvassing schedule.”
The initial email sent by the WC Dems prompted a series of email responses with differing perspectives on Warren’s release of her DNA results. “I find it very sad that a progressive champion is being torn down for a piece of her family heritage and lore. I do not believe I will be in the future able to participate in an organization who is so willfully blind to the large issues at hand,” Piper Wysocki ’22 wrote in an email response to the whole school. Wysocki further stated to the News, “If College Dems believe that Warren’s actions are disrespectful to Native people, perhaps they should reach out and try to start a conversation. What good does it do to lash out? We should be trying to educate, not prosecute, our allies. In addition, this supports the entire culture women must constantly fight against: that we must be perfect all of the time.”
In response, Kisha James ’21, the president of the Wellesley Native American Student Association and member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gayhead Aquinnah and the Lakota, wrote, “This may seem like a non-issue or minor issue to non-Native people. It may seem like there are ‘bigger issues at hand.’ But to Native communities, this is a very serious issue.” James further added, “Warren is perpetuating and promoting the outdated, racist and damaging concept of racial blood. First of all, a DNA test can never definitively tell you if you are Native American or not. Genetics is not culture. It doesn’t mean anything to be 1/1024 Native American if you have no ties to Native politics or culture. Moreover, having a Native Ancestor many generations ago doesn’t make you Native. It is the 21st century equivalent of claiming your great-grandmother was a ‘Cherokee princess.’ No she wasn’t. And even if she was, that wouldn’t make you Native.”
While there is controversy about Warren’s decision to release her DNA report, many still stand strongly in their support of her re-election to the United States Senate. “We would like to make a clear distinction between discounting Elizabeth Warren as a candidate and criticizing her actions in this specific case,” Michelle Atwood ’19 and Colleen Sam ’19, Co-Presidents of WCD wrote in a statement to the News. “It is important to hold our representatives accountable for their actions; we chose to cancel canvassing for Elizabeth Warren this weekend because we do not condone her actions regarding her DNA test.” James also echoed those sentiments and said, “ What people seem to be forgetting is that you can support a candidate and still criticize her…The Wellesley College Democrats realized that what Warren did was wrong and responded correctly. I applaud them for not blindly supporting a candidate because she is a Democrat, for being willing to criticize Warren, and for doing the right thing.”
For now, Elizabeth Warren seems like the clear favorite to keep her Senate seat. However, her decision to release her DNA report will have implications for her potential presidential candidacy in 2020 and her approval ratings on Wellesley’s campus.