Students at a woman-only private liberal arts college in Massachusetts supported a non-binding referendum on Tuesday that would allow women who identify as men and “non-binary” individuals to apply to the institution.
Student body officials at Wellesley College, which includes alumnae Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright, voted unanimously last month to advance the Gender Inclusivity Ballot, which would allow students to “express their views” on the 150-year-old institution’s admissions policy while making its language more inclusive to such students. However, school officials said the student vote wouldn’t have any impact on the school’s policies or practices.
The college already accepts transgender-identifying students who were born male, but the controversial referendum expands the application process for women who identify as men.
“We’re just asking the administration to put on paper what’s already true of the student body,” Alexandra Brooks, the student body president, told The New York Times. “Trans men go to Wellesley, nonbinary people go to Wellesley, and they kind of always have.”
Elizabeth Um, a senior and president of the campus’ pro-life group, Wellesley For Life, told the Times that she enrolled at the liberal arts college due to its close proximity to home and its identity as a women’s college.
“If you don’t think you can fit in here, then you have your pick of thousands of other coed colleges in the country or the world,” Um said. “We’re a women’s college. That’s the core identity of the school, and we can’t start watering that down.”
Um did not disclose to the outlet whether she opposed the referendum, noting that it would pass and speaking out against the ballot on campus would be “social suicide.”
Wellesley already admits “cis, trans, and nonbinary students—all who consistently identify as women,” the college’s president, Paula Johnson, wrote in a letter last week on the college website.
Johnson opposed the referendum and warned students that the results would not impact its admissions policy.
“We are not a ‘historically women’s college,’ a term that only applies to women’s colleges that have made the decision to enroll men,” Johnson wrote. “We have chosen a different path, one that aligns with peer institutions, including Barnard, Smith, and Bryn Mawr colleges.”
“In accordance with our admission policy, Wellesley admits applicants who identify and live consistently as women, regardless of the gender they were assigned at birth,” she added.
Roughly 2,500 students attend Wellesley college, which is located in the suburbs of Boston. It is not known how many of those students claim to be the opposite sex or “non-binary.”
“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,” Johnson wrote. “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 Wellesley News editorial board disapproved of Johnson’s letter, calling it “the College’s transphobic rhetoric.”
“Transgender and nonbinary students have always belonged and will continue to belong at Wellesley, a historically women’s college,” they wrote in the editorial.