*Some individuals in this article have been given pseudonyms to protect their identities as QTBIPOC
On March 7, students organized a sit-in for solidarity with transgender students in the Science Center data lounge from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. The sit-in comes after an email sent out by College President Paula Johnson, where she responded to the gender ballot question by affirming Wellesley as a women’s college that admits cisgender, transgender and nonbinary people who “consistently identify as women.” Emma Sullivan ’24, one of the coordinators of the sit-in, said the sit-in was held in response to Johnson’s email, and to reinforce support for the gender ballot question.
“I would say I’ve [organized this event] with a lot of support from the Siblings organization, unofficially, and other trans activists on campus,” said Sullivan. “Wellesley is my favorite place on Earth. The love is very obvious for trans students on campus, but I really do want [administration] to adhere to the values of its students.”
Students supported the sit-in by making signs, buying food and bringing masks for participants. Neely Joelle Allen ’26 said they came to the sit-in to support trans and nonbinary students trying to send a message to administration.
“I don’t feel as impacted by the language that [administration] uses while talking about Wellelsey,” said Allen. “I chose to come to Wellesley because of the environment, the community and the representation of queer and gender nonconforming people, so to hear that [administration] is not acknowledging that is really painful.”
Faculty demonstrated their support by sending out department-wide statements in support of trans and nonbinary students and excusing people from class to participate in the sit-in. Political science Professor Paul Martorelli held a teach-in at the sit-in, where the class analyzed Johnson’s rhetoric and reasoning in the email. Martorelli also held his office hours at the sit-in that day to make himself accessible to students who were participating.
“I hope administrators recognize that students here are robust. They’re capable. They deserve reasons and the opportunity to interrogate those claims. That’s at least five out of six of ‘the College’s’ values after all,” said Martorelli. “So, I’d hope for an end to the arguments rooted in keeping students ‘safe’ — whether that be from the imagined hordes of cis men who will ‘invade’ this space if given the opportunity or from the harm of ostracization that might occur from publicly proclaiming ‘Wellesley is a women’s college’ at a time when trans and nonbinary people as well as cis women are suffering serious legislative and extrajudicial violence based on their gender identities in a patriarchal society.”
Organizers of the sit-in compiled a list of demands and resources, with an emphasis on queer, trans, Black and Indigenous people of color, which aims to make Wellesley more inclusive and supportive of trans and nonbinary students.
Greysea McCooe ’24 said the sit-in served as a message to administrators that not all Wellesley students identify as women, but also as trans and non-binary.
“I think [administration] is trying to love its trans students,” said McCooe. “It’s in the process of working against some really complicated and difficult cis-hetero-patriarchal norms that are very challenging to unpack. I hope that the administration does not see this as an attack, but as a moment to call us in to really spend time and energy questioning their understanding of gender and their understanding of how we create a Wellesley College that is for all of its students.”
Since the sit-in at the Science Center, there have been on-going sit-ins run by QTBIPOC around campus that change location daily. The sit-ins have taken place on the third floor of Green Hall, where the President’s Office is, on the steps of Clapp Library and on the second floor of Schneider, where the Class Dean’s offices are located. Frankie* said they organized the daily sit-ins to increase visibility over students’ concerns about Johnson’s email, administration’s stance on inclusive language and the admissions policy.
“As someone who identifies as a queer and trans person of color, I felt an obligation to be visible at these sit-ins so that the students, the faculty, the staff and everyone knows that this isn’t an issue that only pertains to white students,” said Frankie. “I want them to see a diverse representation of the students who care about this issue so that they know that it affects everyone in the community.”
On March 8, the Office of Residential Life hosted Johnson in Stone-Davis. Stone-Davis House President, Jaime Tracewell ’23 said the event was originally pitched as “PJ’s with PJ,” where Johnson would read bedtime stories and answer questions from students. Due to the timing of the event colliding with her recent announcement, the event shifted to a question and answer session with Johnson regarding the email.
“[Johnson] sent that email [two] days before that event was supposed to happen,” said Tracewell. “I felt that it would’ve been in poor taste to just have that event and not address the email that she had sent. I asked if it would be okay if we shifted the event, and [Johnson] was receptive to that.”
Before taking questions and comments from students, Johnson apologized for the harm her email caused, stating that her email was an attempt to define Wellesley as a gender diverse community. She reiterated that while the administration supports trans and nonbinary students, she does not see the admissions policy changing. After her brief statement, Johnson was met with questions and concerns about the content in her email, inclusive language at the College and creating safe spaces for trans and nonbinary students on campus.
Melina Rowin ’23, who has been a residential assistant in Tower for two years, was one of the students who asked a question at the event. Rowin expressed concern over the increased transphobia they have experienced ever since Johnson’s email came out.
“After this email I felt betrayed because I wasn’t being seen or respected as a trans student who’s very active on this campus,” said Rowin. “Since this email was sent out I’ve gotten a lot of stares, a lot of whispers, more people misgendering me and a lot of blatant transphobia thrown at me.”
On March 14, Committee for Political Engagement (CPE) Chair Liz Huang ’24 sent an email to all class years stating that the number of people who voted on the Gender Ballot Question would not be released to the student body or Board of Trustees due to a rule instated 15 years ago that prevents College Government from releasing data on elections. To promote transparency, CPE promoted an anonymous exit poll for the Ballot Question separate from the official College Government elections to publish the numbers on the vote.
“The exit poll is something that [the College Government] cabinet has been floating around for a while, and we started making plans for it around the Tuesday sit-in,” said Huang. “Our goals, as a non-partisan College Government committee, is to ensure that the widespread student support for making these results public were heard. As CPE, we are advocating for free and fair elections. That’s why we made it anonymous, to protect all voices. We made sure that everyone voted in the real elections first so as to not confuse it for the actual election results.”
The exit poll received 849 responses. 90% (765) of students voted in favor of the Ballot Question, 7.7% (65) of students voted against the Ballot Question and 2.2% (19) of students voted abstain. In response to the passage of the Ballot Question and continued support for trans students, a walk-out in celebration of trans joy was held in the academic quad from 12 to 4 p.m. The walk-out was primarily organized by QTBIPOC. It included a student band, a drag performance and a Yanvalou performance.
Jess*, one of the organizers of the walk-out, said they are motivated to make Wellesley the safe space that they envisioned when they chose to come here.
“As a trans person of color I’ve faced a lot of misgendering and push back, even from people I respect and trusted, even when I privately came out,” said Jess. “Wellelsey promised inclusive excellence and leadership for the marginalized. In that spirit, I want Wellelsey to keep its promise.”