Even as students at Wellesley College voted this week to allow transgender men and nonbinary students to attend the longtime women’s college, Wellesley’s president said the school would not be changing its admissions policy.
“We acknowledge the result of the non-binding student ballot initiative. Although there is no plan to revisit our mission as a women’s college or our admissions policy, we will continue to engage all students in the important work of building an inclusive academic community where everyone feels they belong,” Wellesley College President Paula Johnson said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Massachusetts private school’s gender policy states that it admits students who “live as women and consistently identify as women.” Wellesley’s website states that it accepts trans women and nonbinary people who were assigned female at birth, but not trans men.
Wellesley declined HuffPost’s request for comment on its refusal to change its policy.
In February, Wellesley’s student government passed a ballot question that, according to the student newspaper The Wellesley News, called for the use of more gender-inclusive language at Wellesley and a new admissions policy change that would allow transgender men and nonbinary people who were assigned male at birth to study at the school.
An exit poll collected after the student body voted on Tuesday’s nonbinding referendum showed that 90% of Wellesley students supported the move for gender inclusivity, according to the Committee For Political Engagement, a nonpartisan student government committee.
Some have criticized moves to allow transgender men into historically women’s colleges, claiming that if transgender men are “real men,” they shouldn’t be allowed into a women’s college. Others worry that this would lead to such schools becoming co-ed, The New York Times reported.
Ailie Wood, a Wellesley student who helped write the ballot question that students voted on, said last week that Wellesley is not currently a women’s college, noting that students of all genders are present around campus.
“If the administration were to create policy to support this ballot question, this fact would not change,” Wood told The Wellesley News.
Wood continued that Wellesley was founded as a women’s college to create a safe and supportive learning environment for people who were marginalized based on gender — much like other women’s colleges in the U.S. According to Wellesley’s mission statement, the college is “committed to gender equality as foundational to societal progress.”
“Such a place should welcome and support trans women, trans men and nonbinary people as well,” Wood said.
There are about 30 women’s colleges in the U.S., several of which have adopted gender-inclusive admissions policies. The oldest, Mount Holyoke College, lauds itself as “a women’s college that is gender diverse” and welcoming of female, transgender and nonbinary applicants.
Bryn Mawr College, another historically women’s college, points out in its updated admissions gender policy that gender is fluid and complex, and that “traditional notions of gender identity and expression can be limiting.”
Hannah Chinn, a Bryn Mawr College alum, pointed out in a Twitter thread that historically women’s colleges haven’t been “just for female students” for a long time, and that it’s important for everyone, regardless of gender, to go to school in an environment where they’re given the space to succeed.
“Gender-based inequity isn’t limited to cis or trans women, so why should the spaces meant to counter that inequity be?” Chinn tweeted.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there are currently 420 pieces of legislation targeting LGBTQ people nationwide, including banning drag shows and gender-affirming medical care.
“Historically women’s colleges continue to play an important role in our country’s higher education – educating those who may historically, or presently, face discrimination in education because of their gender. Being gender inclusive only helps them further meet that mandate,” Ruth Mensch, a Mount Holyoke alum, wrote in a Twitter thread.
“At a time when genocidal anti-trans rhetoric is escalating, any self-professed progressive institution should be taking every step possible to protect and support their trans students,” Mensch said.