By COLEMAN HOPKINS
Last week, the New York Times published an article that chronicled the lives of students at Wellesley College, a Massachusetts based liberal arts college, that have changed their gender during and before their time at the college.
As one of the oldest women’s colleges, founded in 1870, Wellesley’s decision to exclude transgender students at the college has spurred a debate on the university’s liberal roots and has raised the question of whether or not transgender students have a right to attend an already gender restrictive school.
There are certainly those who feel that the acceptance of transgender students could only help to diversify the campus and provide valuable insight on gender studies. Moreover, an accepting liberal arts school such as Wellesley should be a safe haven for students thinking about and in the process of changing their gender.
The New York Times article specifically focused on a Wellesley student named Timothy Boatwright.
Born a female, Boatwright applied as “female” to the all-women’s school, but entered campus a male. However, it was not until Boatwright decided to run for the office of the school’s multicultural coordinator that things started to turn sour.
The role of the multicultural coordinator is to promote cultural diversity on campus. As it so happened, the three other candidates, all women of color, dropped out, leaving Timothy the lone contender.
Yet, many of Boatwright’s classmates felt that having a white male representing diverse females at an all women’s college might somehow misalign with the school’s larger message, prompting students to adopt a social “Campaign to Abstain,” which would deny Timothy the position, deeming him an unfit symbol for the school.
An unnamed source of the “Campaign to Abstain” told the New York Times that, “I thought he’d do a perfectly fine job, but it just felt inappropriate to have a white man there.”
As a school that is meant to have females as leaders, it is plain to see that there is a level of incompatibility here because having a male as an elected leader clearly undermines Wellesley’s goal to support the education of women.
This brings up some of the points that critics have been making about the exclusive nature of the college, that perhaps there ought to be restrictions on transgender-males, and maybe even transgender-females.
Critics have asked how trans-male students have any right to the space of an all-women’s college, going as far as to assert that they are simply trying to get the best of both worlds; is it fair to take the best of the patriarchy while infringing on women’s spaces?
A family friend’s son just graduated from Wellesley, and over his time there he transitioned into a man, found a girlfriend and earnerd his degree. Would all of this have been possible at another school, even a New England one, such as Tufts or Amherst?
Maybe, but it is hard to say because Wellesley is known to have a significant level of tolerance for situations such as gender transitions, whereas at other colleges there would be less support.
Wellesley certainly has a historical tradition as an all-women’s college, but it also has a unique culture of acceptance that also should be taken into consideration when assessing the school’s policies.
The debate of allowing transgender students is a very tricky one, particularly when taking into account that some view gender as a fluid, non-binary characteristic, which clashes with the Wellesley’s own defining principles, which are based on gender identity.
Moving forward, this is definitely a question to keep an eye on, as there is legitimacy and deep feelings on either side of the argument.