Note: This article was written before the sit-in for trans solidarity. Consult the Opinions section for an updated response to recent developments on campus.
On Feb. 27, Wellesley College Government Senators unanimously voted to pass the Gender Inclusivity Ballot Question. The Ballot Question aims to make the language used at Wellesley more inclusive of nonbinary and trans students, and to shift the admissions policy to allow trans men and nonbinary people who were assigned male at birth to be accepted.
The Ballot Question was originally brought up in Senate on Feb. 6 by two students. Cricket Liebermann ’23 was one of the students who helped author and present the original proposal and is a representative for the Ballot Question.
“The Ballot Question has built upon existing conversations and started new ones among the student body about the use of gendered language at Wellesley,” said Liebermann, “My hope is that these conversations will continue to be had beyond the Ballot Question. Even more so, I hope students are respectful of our many trans and nonbinary sibs and alums in these conversations.”
The election results of ballot questions are not binding, meaning ballot questions do not directly change policy. The purpose behind a ballot question is to demonstrate how much support it garners among the student body. If a ballot question gains enough support from the student body, it could influence decisions the College Board of Trustees makes.
College Government President Alexandra Brooks ’23, said they believe this Ballot Question will help bridge the communication gap over gender inclusive language between administration and the student body.
“I will say, from my experience, there is a disconnect between the student body and the administration over what students want, particularly the board, because a lot of them are older and it’s not a very diverse board. [The Board of Trustees] represents a Wellesley from 50 years ago, which is very much not the Wellesley of today, even Wellelsey five years ago is very different from the Wellesley of today,” said Brooks. “There are definitely some members on the board that think this is an issue that maybe just a few strong student advocates care about as opposed to something that a lot of the student body cares about. I think the goal of this ballot initiative is to show the Board of Trustees and the College administration that this isn’t just something that a few people care about or something that only the trans students care about, but it’s something that is a large opinion of the student body.”
On March 6, President Paula Johnson replied to the ballot question through an announcement sent to the entire College community titled, “Affirming our mission and embracing our community.” In her statement, Johnson addressed Wellesley’s gender policy, mission statement and gender identity.
“It’s important that all members of this community feel seen. Some transgender male and nonbinary students whose identities have evolved during their time here say they feel excluded by the College’s use of the words “women” and “alumnae” — and feel that their individual identities are not embraced,” said Johnson. “At the same time, many students who are committed to Wellesley’s mission as a women’s college and who identify as women have been publicly criticized for their view and have felt pressured to describe Wellesley as a historically women’s college.”
The Ballot Question will be treated like a person running for a College Government position. The representatives of the Ballot Question will participate in the candidate crawl, an election event where Cabinet candidates visit all House Council meetings to meet and greet students, and debates to inform students about how it will affect the College community.
Ailie Wood ’24 is a Senator from Claflin Hall who also helped author and present the original proposal and is currently a representative for the Ballot Question. Wood said she believes that this Ballot Question will strengthen Wellesley’s inclusive environment.
“Wellesley is not currently a women’s college. You interact with students of all genders every day. Your classmates are trans and nonbinary, your favorite events are run by trans and nonbinary students, and the people you pass in the dining hall or on the sidewalk every day are trans and nonbinary students. If the administration were to create policy to support this ballot question, this fact would not change,” said Wood. “Wellesley was founded as a women’s college because they wanted to create a safe and supportive learning environment for people who were marginalized based on gender. Such a place should welcome and support trans women, trans men and nonbinary people as well. Past, present and future trans and nonbinary students at Wellesley should feel like the College has their back, acknowledges their identity, and supports their access to a Wellesley education.”
Students will vote on the Ballot Initiative on March 14.
“Students are allowed to vote however they want, everyone has their own opinions, but I think one thing that I do really encourage, and I think this past Senate embodied, is for students to be mindful of how they talk about it, because it’s not concepts or ideas that they’re talking about, it’s actual trans students on campus,” said Brooks. “[I want students to] remember that there are trans [and nonbinary students] on campus and to not invalidate the identities of our sibs.”
How would a future gender inclusive Wellesley look? Would cis males be part of the student body? (I would think yes, if we are inclusive.). How would Wellesley be different than Bard? Or Vasser?
I, a transgender man, do not support this policy. I am far from alone in this sentiment within the trans community. So, arguing that this is a debate between the administration and trans allies is reductive at best.
A diverse set of voices from trans men is deeply lacking in most LGBT discourse and communities. This event is truly a great example of how trans men’s actual voices and opinions are ignored. Admission of trans men into a historically women’s colleges is, at best, a divisive topic in the trans community.
The best argument I have heard for a policy that allows trans men to apply is that women’s colleges have always been a haven for “gender minorities”. I can admit this argument has some merit. However, there is something to be said about the language of our policies. Explicitly including trans men and not cis men is misgendering. If trans men are allowed to apply, then GNC cis men need to be allowed as well. And furthermore, not just “allowed”, but actively recruited like any other student. It’s really a matter of principle for me. Otherwise, the language of these policies opens the door to the development and enablement of TERF ideology (i.e. viewing people based on the assigned gender at birth, not the gender they are).
This policy is invalidating to many trans men by its mere existence. I’m tired of allowing my erasure for the convenience of others. This move would have created an uncomfortable precedence with larger implications to trans men that cannot be ignored.
I find the general political climate at your university concerning. If you want to write good policy, you should invite a diversity of opinion and welcome dissent. A quote from the following NPR article summarizes it nicely. https://www.npr.org/2023/03/15/1163733442/wellesley-students-vote-for-the-school-to-accept-trans-and-nonbinary-applicants
SMITH: I spoke to one who had qualms about changing the character of Wellesley as an all-women’s college. She also felt it’s wrong to be drawing a line between cis men and trans men in admissions. She says that doesn’t help the cause of equity and inclusion. But she didn’t want her name or her voice being used on the air because she didn’t want to be accused of being transphobic. And even though students in favor of admitting trans men acknowledged the risk of that, here’s how one student I spoke to, Gabrielle Shell, put it.
GABRIELLE SHELL: We don’t have a lot of dissent. We don’t really allow it. People that are out of the majority are ostracized. So I wouldn’t expect someone, even if they truly feel that way, to even want to talk.