Students at Wellesley College in Massachusetts approved a referendum Tuesday that called for accepting admissions applications from all nonbinary and transgender prospective students, a college spokesperson said.
The women’s college of about 2,300 students currently accepts those who “live as women and consistently identify as women,” including transgender women, according to the gender policy on Wellesley’s website. It also says it accepts nonbinary students who “were assigned female at birth and who feel they belong in our community of women.”
The student referendum, which is non-binding and does not change the college’s current policy, asked students if they supported a proposal to be presented to the Board of Trustees that would expand the college’s admissions to include transgender men and all nonbinary people regardless of their assigned gender at birth, according to a copy of the ballot shared with CNN.
The ballot measure also proposed that the college’s communications “replace all gender-specific language with gender-neutral language in reference to its student body.” That would include saying “students” instead of “women” or using “they/them” instead of “she/her” pronouns.
The college did not release vote counts or a percentage of how many students voted in favor of the referendum.
“Although there is no plan to revisit its mission as a women’s college or its admissions policy, 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,” Wellesley’s Director of Media Relations Stacey Schmeidel said in a statement following the vote, referring to the college’s policy of supporting students who transition as trans men after they are admitted.
The referendum has been the topic of tense debate between students and top administrators at the college.
Last week, Wellesley College President Paula Johnson addressed the ballot measure in an open message titled “Affirming our mission and embracing our community,” in which she reiterated that the college “admits (cisgender), trans, and nonbinary students—all who consistently identify as women.”
“Wellesley is also an inclusive community that embraces students, alumnae, faculty, and staff of diverse gender identities. I believe the two ways of seeing Wellesley are not mutually exclusive,” Johnson continued.
In response, the editorial board of the campus newspaper, The Wellesley News, published a statement dismissing Johnson’s message as an inappropriate intervention in student discourse and affirming that “transgender and nonbinary students have always belonged and will continue to belong at Wellesley, a historically women’s college.”
“We disapprove of and entirely disagree with President Johnson’s email,” the editorial board wrote. “As journalists, we understand the power of rhetoric to do good or harm.”
The statement concluded, “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.”