The Board of Trustees and administration have had to be reminded time and time again that transgender and nonbinary students belong at Wellesley. They have actively refused to acknowledge this as evidenced by their gendered admissions programming and language as a whole, and administration’s stance on the 9 ¾ platform is only the most recent example of this. The Wellesley News Editorial Board is asking the College to take a more active stance against 9 ¾ and transphobia and leave up the trans flag mural on the staircase between the Science Center and Founders Hall.
For a long time, this staircase was referred to as Platform 9 ¾. For those not familiar, the phrase originates from the “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling as the location of the train that takes students to their magical school. The origin story of the 9 ¾ being painted on this wall at Wellesley is unknown, but the earliest photos that exist were taken in 2006. Since then, the College has repeatedly used pictures of the hallway on its social media. On its official Facebook account, the College has referred to or posted about it at least seven times.
The News believes that this tradition cannot be separated from Rowling’s transphobia, which has come to light in recent years. The earliest instance of Rowling’s transphobia dates back to at least 2018 if not earlier, though her views did not gain attention until an infamous tweet in 2020. In June of that year, Rowling retweeted an op-ed titled “Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate,” and mocked the headline for not using the term “women.” After facing backlash for the tweet, Rowling then published a long essay attempting to explain her stance on trans identity while also outlining “five reasons for being worried about the new trans activism.” The essay, riddled with dangerous transphobic stereotypes and outdated science, was profoundly hurtful.
Recently, a group of students took it upon themselves to separate Wellesley from this history by painting a trans flag over the 9 ¾. After a day, the trans flag had been painted over, and the 9 ¾ redrawn. After students repainted the trans flag a second time, it was power washed by the College. The trans flag was later repainted and remains up at the time of this writing. Let us be clear: the action of painting over the trans flag with 9 ¾ or power washing it off cannot be read as anything other than transphobic.
Although Rowling has only recently become more and more vocal about her transphobia, her books reflect her bigoted worldview in palpable ways. Many of its characters are riddled with harmful stereotypes, and in newer additions to the Potterverse, this issue remains. Rowling also attempted to retcon her series to make it appear more diverse, but when push came to shove, refused to back that up when the opportunity came to represent queer identities in the Fantastic Beasts movie series.
Harry Potter was, for better or worse, a formative part of many people’s childhoods. Whether you still read or watch Harry Potter in private is not something we seek to control. Every person can decide for themself the extent to which they can separate the art from the artist. However, it is important to understand that as important as Harry Potter may have been to you personally, if you choose to engage with the series, it is crucial to do so critically. Additionally, we ask students who still don’t see an issue with having such a public display of hate to think about what it means for someone with a history of violent transphobia to occupy such a prominent space on campus.
For all these reasons, The News Editorial Board believes it is time to get rid of the 9 ¾ markings in the stairwell and leave the transgender flag up between the Science Center and Founders. In an email to the Wellesley College community, Dean of Students Sheilah Shaw Horton wrote that the transgender flag and 9 ¾ was removed because “the College considers painting on our historic buildings to be vandalism.” We call on the College to affirm the belonging of transgender students by explicitly acknowledging the hate and transphobia that 9 ¾ represents, and going beyond vague references to “vandalism” and “dark hallways.” If the College really cared about vandalism on their “historic buildings,” they would have washed off 9 ¾ 16 years ago.
We are also, once again, asking the Board of Trustees to reconsider their use of gendered language in their admissions programming. Specifically, we call on Debora de Hoyos and Christopher T. Pasko, the chair and vice chair of the board, respectively, to spearhead this effort given their roles. We also hope that other members of the Board of Trustees who feel similarly to us will advocate vocally for trans students’ perspectives. We hope students and professors reading this will reconsider their own use of gendered language in social settings and in the classroom. Finally, we hope that this editorial serves as a reminder to listen to trans and nonbinary students on campus. Many of the issues discussed in this editorial were first raised by them, and their presence at Wellesley is welcome and invaluable.