Wellesley should admit trans students. Now. Here’s why.

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Photo: empty chairs in Houghton Chapel, Wellesley. Reunion 2013. 

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Early one spring morning in my sophomore year at Wellesley, before dawn, I was on the roof of Cazenove dormitory with my friend Ashley. We were continuing a conversation that had begun in the dining hall the previous night. We hadn’t slept.

We were arguing about gender. On this point, she was far more critical of Wellesley than I. She paced the roof, expressing her frustration the limits of our college’s touted “tolerance.”

I didn’t understand. I said, “So…you’re saying any man who gets sex reassignment surgery should also be admitted to Wellesley?”

“No,” she said firmly. “I’m saying anyone who thinks of themselves as a woman should be admitted to Wellesley.”

And with that one sentence, sex and gender unhooked in my mind as neatly as a necklace clasp.

Which is why it’s frustrating to me that, fifteen years later, my alma mater is still debating the admission of trans students. Even as other women’s colleges—Simmons, Mills, Mount Holyoke—have thrown open the doors.

Wellesley was founded in 1875 by Pauline and Henry Fowle Durant for the purpose of educating women. But “woman” is a social construction, created for the purpose of allowing one acceptable way to be not-a-man. That’s why, to male supremacy, transgender people are such a threat: their existence threatens not only cis male supremacy, but the system that allows for people to be one and only one kind of controllable Other.

Continuing to admit only cis women to Wellesley is tantamount to conceding that that system is valid.

Wellesley shouldn’t just be a space for cis women, but for the entire diaspora of womanhood—women who were born female, women who were born male, men who were born female, and genderqueer persons. Membership is not compulsory, but available, to anyone who claims membership.

Who gets to decide the appropriateness of membership? They do. On an individual basis. And we get to honor it.

Because this is not an abstract question. This is a matter of life and death, about which trans people are best positioned to make decisions. The current rates of violence and discrimination against trans people are staggering. Ninety percent of trans youth are harassed or assaulted in high school; they are six times more likely to consider suicide.

I adore my alma mater. And I’ve defended the necessity of women’s institutions for years. But now—and partly because of the education I got at Wellesley—I recognize it as only the first step. In welcoming openly trans students, Wellesley would not be changing its mission; it would be honoring its mission far more directly than its founders were able to—by not just reacting to the system, but by changing the system itself.

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5 Comments on “Wellesley should admit trans students. Now. Here’s why.”

  1. Buck says:

    The board of Bryn Mawr (my first alma mater) announced yesterday the new official policy: that cis women, trans women, and intersex people are allowed to be admitted. Trans men are not. There is no mention of the non-binary. While I am happy for the trans women, I’m devastated for the trans men and non-binary who are being denied and ignored.

    Hopefully Wellesley does better.

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