From the moment you step on Wellesley’s campus, gender is everywhere. Whether written on the heavy glass doors at Lulu or dropped innocuously in the classroom, the never-ending reminders that Wellesley is for “Women Who Will” are inescapable on campus and in conversation. Five years ago, Wellesley College instituted a new gender policy, which specified the rules around admitting transgender and nonbinary students. However, this more inclusive policy does not reflect the attitudes of students, staff and faculty members on campus who continue to refer to Wellesley “sisters” and use she/her pronouns without consideration for who is in the room. These current practices and attitudes perpetuate the ongoing exclusion and ignorance of transgender and nonbinary identities.
Although the policy takes a step in the right direction, it must not be where Wellesley College stops. Since 2015, all of the remaining gender-oriented Seven Sisters — Bryn Mawr College, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Barnard College and Wellesley College — have clarified admissions policies for transgender and nonbinary students. Mount Holyoke, which was the first of these institutions to changes its admissions policies in 2014, is the only one currently to welcome all transgender students, including those who were assigned female at birth and identify as male. Wellesley does not extend admissions to transgender male students.
Of note, while Barnard’s transgender policy specifies that they will accept applications from all who identify as women, regardless of the gender they were assigned at birth, the school maintains a strict women-only environment. When it comes to individuals who are gender non-conforming or non-binary, the policy writes that they only accept applications from those who “consistently live and identify as women.” Additionally, the school states that they will continue to gender language to “reflect our identity as a women’s college.”
Wellesley’s current policy aligns itself more closely with Barnard’s in that it only extends the possibility of application to those, male or female assigned at birth, who identify as women and those who were identified female at birth who identify as non-binary. Those who are assigned male at birth and identify as non-binary or identify as cis males are not eligible for admission.
However, these standards are not reflected in practice. Within the Common App, the application portal the majority of high school students use to apply for colleges, students who have not checked female in the profile section see a pop-up that reads: “Unable to add to your “My Colleges” list. Wellesley College is a female-only college. Please complete the ‘Sex’ question on the profile screen before adding this college.”
On the fifth anniversary of Wellesley introducing its new gender policy, The Wellesley News calls for the College to reject its complacent attitude and towards the neglect of the transgender and nonbinary community. To do so, we ask that the College administration revise its policy surrounding the admittance of transgender male students and usher in a more inclusive language standard for official communications. Additionally, we ask students to reflect these changes in their everyday lives in order to foster a more kind, empathetic environment.
We recognize that these issues cannot be simply “fixed” and completed with one concrete change. Fostering a kind and inclusive environment is a dynamic process, and it entails a cognizant rejection of the gender binary. By no means an exhaustive list, we suggest the following, which was adapted from the Mount Holyoke’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion web page:
- When discussing the student body, say “Wellesley students” rather than “Wellesley women.”
- Avoid making statements like “We’re all women here…”
- Use gender-neutral language whenever possible in syllabi and other general written communication.
At its core, this list of suggestions is an embrace of a gender-neutral mindset. Last year, “Wired” magazine reported that after Sweden embraced a non-gendered pronoun in 2012, there was a marked shift in Sweden’s culture, which allowed people “new, more inclusive ways of seeing the world.” When we re-examine our assumptions surrounding gender through small shifts like language, we become more tolerant of those who deviate from the gender spectrum. And, most importantly, we cannot stay silent as our non-binary and transgender siblings are stripped of their humanity by being excluded from something as crucial as language.
Our sentiments should not be misconstrued as a blanket demand to censor campus dialogue or dictate everyday behavior. We are merely advocating for a kind environment for all marginalized identities that may step foot on Wellesley’s campus which can be implemented through policy and cultural shifts within the community and beyond. It is unconscionable for the College to purport its history and values while also allowing the exclusion of an underserved community. After all, Wellesley College was founded as an institution to serve a historically marginalized population, and it must continue to do so.