In the past 16 years, the College has posted photos of the 9 ¾ platform on its official Facebook account at least seven times. The origin story of the drawing on the outdoor staircase in the Academic Quad is unknown, but the earliest photos that exist were taken in 2006. Similar photos have appeared on many Wellesley students’ Instagrams, either from when they visited campus for the first time or when they graduated.
Soren Rose ’22 has a picture like that from their first semester at Wellesley. Now, they are one of the students calling for 9 ¾’s removal due to its association with transphobic “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling.
The earliest instance of Rowling’s transphobia dates back to at least 2014 with a scene involving a trans character in one of her “Cormoran Strike” novels, but it was not until 2020 that one of her tweets gained particular notoriety. In June of that year, she retweeted an op-ed titled “Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate,” with the complaint that the headline did not use the term “women.” After facing backlash for the tweet, Rowling published a long essay attempting to explain her stance on trans identity in which she perpetuated many harmful stereotypes about trans people.
The area that 9 ¾ occupies is relatively public. The hallway is visible from College Road, and many students pass by it when walking from the Science Center to the Academic Quad. As a trans person, Rose said it was “weird and uncomfortable” seeing 9 ¾ occupy such a prominent space on campus.
“It’s just a symbol [that] this children’s story that came out before people were born matters more than trans people’s comfort,” they said.
For many students, Rowling’s transphobia cannot be separated from the content in her books. In late April, a group of students painted over 9 ¾ with a mural of the transgender flag. About a day later, presumably another group of students re-drew 9 ¾ over the flag. The trans flag was subsequently repainted. Then, on April 22, 2022, the mural and all the paint underneath it, including the 9 ¾, was power washed off by workers associated with the College. In a statement to the Wellesley College community, Dean of Students Sheilah Shaw Horton said that both drawings were removed because “the College considers painting on our historic buildings to be vandalism.”
If you don’t really care or you don’t get why it needs to change, you probably just need to google “JKR transphobia.”
For Wallis** ’22, who requested anonymity because he is not out to his family, seeing the trans flag mural was “really cool.” He felt that it affirmed trans people’s rights to be at Wellesley and “to claim this space over [Rowling].” At the same time, he felt like administration’s statement did not go far enough in denouncing the transphobia associated with Rowling and 9 ¾ and made it seem like “trans students were breaking the law and being bullies.”
“The 9 ¾ [drawing] is really, at this point, a symbol of hate to me. I don’t think [Rowling] should have any cultural relevance at this point. She’s a TERF… She’s making trans people’s lives worse every day,” Wallis, who referred to 9 ¾ as “thinly veiled transphobia,” said. “There’s no reason to celebrate her in the first place, and there’s no reason to celebrate now.”
Rose said they were shocked to see students respond to the trans flag mural by painting over it with 9 ¾, especially seeing that some went as far to put posters up around campus, including one that said “EVERYTIME YOU VANDALIZE PLATFORM 9 3/4 , WORKING CLASS PEOPLE HAVE TO PHYSICALLY LABOR TO CLEAN UP YOUR FELONY.”
In her email, Dean Horton urged students to “engage in difficult conversations” outside of painting on buildings. She encouraged students to work with the Office of Intercultural Education and College Government to plan facilitated conversations on the topic and find a different place to celebrate trans students at Wellesley. For Wallis, however, this statement ignored the context of the mural’s location.
“It really ignores the context of why it was that hallway. Like sure, we could hang a trans flag somewhere else on campus, and that would be cool, but she’s just acting like [it was just done] in this random hallway … it’s not like that,” he said. “It’s a targeted political statement; it’s targeted political art. It’s almost like she wanted to paint it as a coincidence.”
Ultimately, both Rose and Wallis see the permanent removal of 9 ¾ as a win, regardless of whether the mural of the transgender flag stays up.
Regardless of how you feel, your actions hurt people. It hurts people at Wellesley, and especially people who are already marginalized.
Other students, like Gabrielle Shlikas ’22, disagree. For Shlikas, 9 ¾ is a symbol now divorced from Rowling, and there is “nothing hateful about it.”
“I fully disagree with the sentiment that 9 ¾ being spray painted on a hallway was violent or causing anyone harm. It was a spray-painted number, in my opinion,” Shilkas said. “Even if it did make people uncomfortable, in my opinion, the only place that you’re owed comfort is in your own room. We come to college to become challenged academically and socially. Just because something makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean you get to destroy it, I mean you can try to change it, you can raise a dialogue, but I don’t think you get to take it upon yourself to do something without a vote.”
Not all students agree with this view. Van An Trinh ’24 said that even if students believe that Rowling’s trans rhetoric is insignificant, leaving up 9 ¾ is harmful.
“Regardless of how you feel, your actions hurt people. It hurts people at Wellesley, and especially people who are already marginalized. It costs you nothing to not do that,” they said, adding that attending a school with such a vibrant transgender and gender nonconforming student body has helped them feel more comfortable with their own gender identity. “Their wellbeing and their feeling of safety and community matters so much more than painting 9 ¾ for a movie series that ended 10 years ago.”
Rose added that students who don’t believe that Rowling transphobia is relevant to 9 ¾ should, in general, think more critically about the series.
“I would just implore [students to] consider what it would mean if the author of their favorite children’s book took a very solid stance to say ‘I don’t think you deserve healthcare,’” they said.
Additionally, Wallis said there was a lot the College needed to do to improve the lives of trans students at Wellesley, including dismantling gendered language use by professors, students and admissions. Wallis added, however, that in the past, a lot of this work has been the labor of transgender students, which he believes should not be the case.
“There’s no reason to defend 9 ¾ at this point. It’s not historical; those books were written in 1997. It doesn’t represent anything good,” Wallis said. “I don’t really need the trans flag to be up there forever, I just need the 9 ¾ down. If you don’t really care or you don’t get why it needs to change, you probably just need to google ‘JKR transphobia.’”
For LGBTQ+ students who want to discuss their experience, please reach out to AJ Guerrero, Coordinator of LGBTQ+ Programs and Services. She can be reached out firstname.lastname@example.org. Students can also check out the LGBTQ+ resource guide.
**Name changed to protect anonymity.
Emilie Zhang contributed reporting to this article.