State Watch

Wellesley College students vote to admit trans men and nonbinary applicants

Students at Wellesley College voted in a nonbinding election on Tuesday to approve expanding eligibility for admission to all nonbinary and transgender applicants. 

The student body approved the referendum, which asked whether the school should shift its admission policy to allow nonbinary people who were assigned male at birth and trans men to apply to the school, a Wellesley College spokesperson confirmed to The Hill. The referendum also called for the college to use more gender inclusive language in its communications. 

The spokesperson said in an emailed statement that there are no plans to change the admissions policy as a result of the elections.

“Wellesley College acknowledges the result of the non-binding student ballot initiative,” the spokesperson said. “Although there is no plan to revisit its mission as a women’s college or its admissions policy, the College will continue to engage all students, including transgender male and nonbinary students, in the important work of building an inclusive academic community where everyone feels they belong.”

Wellesley College is an all-women higher education institution that has produced notable alumni, including former Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright. Its current application policy states that trans men cannot apply to the school, but trans women and those who were born female and identify as non-binary are eligible for admission, according to the website.

“Wellesley is deeply committed to our mission to educate women and the College is proud of its history of graduating women who demonstrate the value of women’s leadership,” the website reads. “Wellesley does not accept applications from men. Those assigned female at birth who identify as men are not eligible for admission.”

In 2015, the college changed its admission policy to consider “any applicant who lives as a woman and consistently identifies as a woman” for admission to the school.

The student-approved referendum will not directly change any admissions policy at the school, which currently allows anyone identifying as a woman to submit an application. Wellesley College President Paula Johnson said in a memo last week that the use of language in the college’s communications and application policies are issues “central to Wellesley’s mission and identity.”

“Wellesley is a women’s college that admits cis, trans, and nonbinary students—all who consistently identify as women,” Johnson wrote in a memo to students. “Wellesley is also an inclusive community that embraces students, alumnae, faculty, and staff of diverse gender identities.”

The independent student newspaper’s editorial board disapproved of Johnson’s message to students, arguing that “transgender and nonbinary students have always belonged and will continue to belong at Wellesley, a historically women’s college.”

Johnson also introduced steps the school has taken to address students’ concerns so far, like increasing the number of all-gender bathrooms on campus and streamlining the application process to clearly explain the eligibility criteria for applying. She also said the school updated its gender policy to be more inclusive of every student. 

“In addition, our gender policy on our website previously stated that students who transition during their time at Wellesley will be supported if they feel a women’s college is no longer the right fit for them,” she wrote. “We have removed this language to make clear that every student who is admitted to Wellesley belongs here.”

Johnson released a statement on Wednesday in response to the ballot results and reiterated that the school will not change its policy.

“For nearly 150 years, Wellesley’s mission has been to provide an excellent liberal arts education to women who will make a difference in the world,” she said.

“Wellesley admits eligible applicants who consistently identify and live as women, including cis, trans and nonbinary students. Wellesley is also an inclusive community that embraces students, faculty, and staff of diverse gender identities,” she added.

—Updated Wednesday at 12:36 p.m.

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