The vote, of which the results were reported on Wednesday by CNN, was prompted by school President Paula A. Johnson, who on March 6 published a statement to students to let them know they would have the "opportunity to vote on a ballot question approved by College Government regarding the College's admission policy and our use of gendered language in all official communication."
On Wellesley's website, it states that they currently accept applications from those who "live as women and consistently identify as women," a definition that includes biological males who identify as transgender women, as well as those who identify as nonbinary but "were assigned female at birth and who feel they belong in our community of women."
Johnson made clear that the results of the vote are "nonbinding and will not impact any of the policies or practices of the College or of student organizations at Wellesley," but aims to gauge students' "views" on the school's gender policy.
"In accordance with our admission policy, Wellesley admits applicants who identify and live consistently as women, regardless of the gender they were assigned at birth… Some transgender male and nonbinary students whose identities have evolved during their time here say they feel excluded by the College's use of the words 'women' and 'alumnae'—and feel that their individual identities are not embraced," the administrator wrote.
The memo went on to list out commitments Wellesley will be made to accommodate transgender and nonbinary students regardless of the vote, including a "plan to appoint a new director for the Office of LGBTQ+ Programs and Services," offer "gender- and sexual orientation-affirming therapy," on campus, and "expanding the number of all-gender bathrooms" as well as "changing/locker rooms."
Additionally, Johnson announced that the "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. We have removed this language to make clear that every student who is admitted to Wellesley belongs here."
As reported by CNN, the women's college of about 2,300 students declined to "release vote counts or a percentage of how many students voted in favor of the referendum," but the proposal to accept trans men — biological females who identify as men — as well as nonbinary people of any sex, won the referendum.
The student body also voted to replace all "gender-specific language … in reference to its student body," including making faculty say "students" instead of women and using "they/them" pronouns in place of "she/her."
Despite the results, Johnson has maintained that the vote was "nonbinding."
In a statement to The New York Post, Wellesley spokesperson Stacey Schmeidel said there was currently "no plan" for immediate change to the school's gender or language policies.
"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," Schmeidel said.
The vote took place just a week after Johnson's "nonbinding" statement prompted student activists to stage a sit-in protest outside of her office, the outlet reported. Students were seen taping up signs with phrases such as "Trans Students Belong."
Wellesley News, the campus newspaper, also pushed back on Johnson's statement, with the editorial board writing "We disapprove of and entirely disagree with President Johnson's email."
"We want to end with our unequivocal support for transgender, nonbinary and gender non-conforming people — at Wellesley and everywhere — who enrich all communities they are part of," the article concluded.
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