But opponents of the referendum say that Wellesley would be effectively coed if trans men were allowed to apply for admission. And they worry about the erosion of the institution’s mission at a time when women’s colleges are dwindling. There are roughly 30 left, from a peak of nearly 300 in the mid-1960s.
Elizabeth Um, a senior and president of the campus’s anti-abortion group, Wellesley For Life, said she chose to attend Wellesley because she is from Boston and wanted to stay close to home but also because of its identity as a women’s college.
“If you don’t think you can fit in here, then you have your pick of thousands of other coed colleges in the country or the world,” she said, adding, “We’re a women’s college. That’s the core identity of the school, and we can’t start watering that down.”
But Ms. Um has not been actively opposing the referendum, partly because it is destined to pass, she said, adding that pushing against it on campus is akin to “social suicide.”
With emotions high and division deep, Dr. Johnson thinks the debate so far has been unhealthy. There is enormous social pressure for students to support the referendum, she said, adding that she has received messages from students, faculty and staff saying that they could not voice their opposition for fear of being ostracized.
“I’ve been personally booed at public gatherings where I’ve referred to Wellesley as a women’s college, which it is,” Dr. Johnson said.
Still, even if students vote overwhelmingly for the referendum, she said she will not rethink her opposition.
At the same time, Dr. Johnson says the college has been paying more attention to the needs of its trans students, noting that administrators are working to reduce instances of students being misgendered. Students should soon have the option to upload their pronouns into the college’s information management system to be included in class lists and the directory.
She also said that the college removed language on its website that stated students who transition would be supported if they no longer felt a women’s college was the right fit for them. She said that no students had ever been kicked off campus because they were transitioning but that the previous language created that misperception.
“There’s been an evolution in our country, and we’re a microcosm of that,” she said. “Yes, it is representative of a changing world and a changing conception of gender. It does not mean that Wellesley isn’t a women’s college and an inclusive community. Those two can live together.”
Kaleb Goldschmitt is a music professor who transitioned while at Wellesley. The college culture is becoming more welcoming to gender diversity, but not as quickly as many students would like, said Professor Goldschmitt, who identifies as transmasculine.