wellesley-college

Don’t underestimate how much antagonism there is toward women and how many people wish we could turn the clock back. One of the things people always say to you if you get upset is, don’t take it personally, but listen hard to what’s going on and, please, I beg you, take it personally. Understand: Every attack on Hillary Clinton for not knowing her place is an attack on you. Underneath almost all those attacks are the words: Get back, get back to where you once belonged. When Elizabeth Dole pretends that she isn’t serious about her career, that is an attack on you. The acquittal of O.J. Simpson is an attack on you. Any move to limit abortion rights is an attack on you—whether or not you believe in abortion. The fact that Clarence Thomas is sitting on the Supreme Court today is an attack on you.


Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim. Because you don’t have the alibi my class had—this is one of the great achievements and mixed blessings you inherit: Unlike us, you can’t say nobody told you there were other options. Your education is a dress rehearsal for a life that is yours to lead. Twenty-five years from now, you won’t have as easy a time making excuses as my class did. You won’t be able to blame the deans, or the culture, or anyone else: you will have no one to blame but yourselves. Whoa.

—  From Nora Ephron’s epic commencement speech to Wellesley College’s Class of 1996
If the purpose of a women’s college is to provide a place free of gender discrimination where women can flourish academically and socially, and to create lifelong networks that will help women overcome sexist roadblocks once they graduate, what argument can be made for excluding women in especially dire need of these advantages, on the basis of what makes them vulnerable in the first place?
— 

“Smith’s Unsisterly Move” - Jaclyn Friedman for The American Prospect

A controversial admissions decision at the all-women’s college shows how far some feminist institutions have yet to go in recognizing the fight for transgender rights as their own.

…Wellesley College alumnae records reported in 1964 that the number of African-American alumnae who had earned graduate and professional degrees was ‘especially striking’ and far exceeded that of the college population as a whole. In contrast to many of their white classmates, who often married and stopped working outside the home, the early Seven Sisters’ black graduates overwhelmingly both married and maintained careers.
—  Linda M. Perkins, from “The African American Female Elite: The Early History of African American Women in the Seven Sister Colleges, 1880-1960.”
I didn’t belong at Wellesley: On being a man in a women’s space

Admitting that I didn’t belong at Wellesley was perhaps the hardest part of my transition from female to male. After all, Wellesley was my home. I practically grew up on campus: being walked through the greenhouses as an infant, exploring the Science Center’s maze of stairs and labs, sledding on Severance Green, reading under the trees in the arboretum. And then it became where I lived, where I studied, where I fell in love, where I made my best friends. And suddenly it wasn’t.

Being thrust into life as a man was liberating yet confusing, validating yet alienating. But there I was – a man in a women’s space. And as a male ally and feminist, I could not in good conscience remain in one of the few spaces that are carved out specifically for women. I was an invader, and while it was difficult – emotionally, physically, and socially – to distance myself from the very place I had once considered home, it was what I had to do. I, as a man, did not belong at a women’s college.

There has been much talk lately about women’s colleges and trans* individuals. Committees are being formed, policies are being written, articles are being published. We’re being asked what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a women’s college. I’m slightly confused by the questions. What it means to be a woman is as much an issue as what it means to be a man (which no one is asking). A woman might be Black, Asian, or Latina, she might be short or tall, skinny or fat, she might have long hair or a buzz cut, she might wear a dress one day and pants the next, she might be rich or poor, she might have been assigned male or female at birth, she might be a Democrat or a Republican, she might love to read or solve math problems or both – but she’s a woman, and as such, she belongs at a women’s college. I want women’s colleges to be defined in the positive – who they are for (women) rather than who they are not for. I’ve seen many people propose an “all but cis men” admissions policy for Wellesley. Such a policy allows men to attend a women’s college, which undermines it as a women’s space. If a prospective student cannot check a box identifying themselves as a woman, they don’t belong at a women’s college. There are approximately 4,000 other colleges and universities in the United States that men can attend. There’s no need to invade a women’s space.

Many people are also calling for explicit policies regarding trans* women. As Wellesley is a women’s college, it admits women, and therefore trans* women are – theoretically – invited to apply and attend. However, we would be naïve to assume there would be no issues with a trans* woman’s application. If her recommendation letters use a different pronoun or her FAFSA is rejected because her record with the Social Security Administration does not match, she may be flagged. To open Wellesley’s doors to all women, such issues must be explicitly dealt with. While most applicants will simply be able to say “I am a woman”, there are those who need to qualify the statement with a “but”. I am a woman, but my teachers don’t recognize me as one. I am a woman, but I don’t have the financial means to change my documentation. And the message needs to be loud and clear – Wellesley recognizes you as a woman, and we will help you sort out the “buts”.

There are, of course, things Wellesley could do to support the men who end up there for whatever reason. As a man, my experience at Wellesley could have been improved with access to medical care specific to trans* people, more alternative housing, and a program to help men transfer and finish on time at a coed college. But supporting men is not Wellesley’s mission, and the male students and alumni of Wellesley need to recognize our place. It’s fundamentally a conflicted place. But learning to be a good man means being an ally to our sisters, letting them have their women’s spaces, not interrupting their conversations, and listening to their words. Being a man is easy – but being a good man means bowing out when it’s not about you. And Wellesley is not about me.    

Caleb W., ‘08