I'm A Wellesley Grad, And I Am So Excited About The Inclusive Incoming Class
A few months ago, at my graduation from Wellesley College, our president referred to the graduating class as “the ruby red class of 2016.” You see, we have this tradition where each year of students has a different class color; mine was the red class, the juniors the green, sophomores purple, and first-years yellow. Today, I am watching with baited breath (and more than a little envy) as the new first-years, the new red class, move into Wellesley College to begin their four years there.
The photos I’ve seen on Facebook haven’t looked all that different from the photos posted four years ago. The campus is decorated in bright red décor and looks just as humid as the day I moved in; RAs are eagerly greeting their new residents, and the incoming students look just as nervous and excited as every college student leaving home. But while it’s not obvious from the photographs and Facebook statuses, there is something radically different about this incoming class, something that makes me think of them as the "radical red class of 2020": They’re the first class at Wellesley where all women, regardless of designated sex at birth, will be able to attend.
If you’re a student at Wellesley or another historical women’s college, you already know what this means; but if not, let’s break it down.
Until very recently, women’s colleges only admitted people who were designated female at birth; that’s to say, whose birth certificate read "female." It meant, though, that anyone whose birth certificate did not read "female" had an incredibly difficult time appealing to the college for admission. If, for example, you were a young trans woman who wanted to attend Wellesley—you were SOL. Until now.
Thanks to the hard work of current and past students who organized together in a community called Wellesley 20/20, all women, regardless of designated sex at birth, who applied and were accepted into Wellesley, will be moving onto campus today.
Though there are a lot more details about the admissions policy that I’m not including here for the sake of space and simplicity, I encourage anyone who’s curious about the topic to read more. Wellesley’s official statement gives a nice outline of the admissions change and answers a lot of questions and Wellesley 20/20’s Facebook and Tumblr get into a lot of detail about the changes students are hoping for in the future. Long story short, there’s still a ways to go — especially with accepting non-binary students and creating a campus community that will be welcoming to all students.
I don’t refer to the class of 2020 as the "radical red" class because what I think they’re doing is so politically wild. I know that for many it is, but gender-inclusive women’s colleges have been a long time coming for those involved with them. Rather, I call the class of 2020 "radical" because I want them to remember something, much as I’m sure administrators, alumnae, and students do too. I want them to remember to practice radical kindness. That’s not to say that I want each and every one of them to be the best of friends. What it is meant to say is that I want them to treat each other with immense respect, support, and love.
This past week, I’ve read far too much in the news about college’s deciding against radical kindness. I’ve seen Stanford University present a new policy to ban hard liquor, without presenting a policy to offer greater support for rape survivors and discipline for rapists. I’ve seen the University of Chicago send out emails to the incoming class noting that it is not a safe space and will not use trigger warnings. I say: Where’s the kindness in that?
I think many might argue that it’s not a college’s business to “shelter” its students. But I don’t see how being kind and supportive is in any way sheltering. Rather, I think that in protecting students from sexual assault, using language that won’t trigger traumatic memories, and including more students who deserve to be welcomed into a community, colleges are opening themselves up to more diverse, sometimes difficult, but always real conversations. If colleges refuse to support rape survivors, students with PTSD, and all women — along with other minority groups — then I think that they’re only sheltering privileged students, who don't have to deal with these issues; they’re straight-up ignoring the rest.
I’m going to be watching the class of 2020’s move-in closely today. I’m incredibly excited for them to begin their own journey through Wellesley; I feel like now I’ve been through it myself, it’s all the more meaningful to watch. I know that campus administrators and older students have been eagerly waiting for them to arrive, and I just hope that they realize the kindness that’s waiting for them. And that they practice that kindness themselves.
From one red class to another: Stay radical.
Images: Cecilia Nowell