Dear President Bottomly, Provost Shennan, Assistant Provost Chapman, and Deans Lynch and French,
On its website, Wellesley College boasts of our academic program as “discovery and creation…and the shared experience of intellectual and personal growth.” It is safe to say that Wellesley’s academic program distinguishes our school from our peers, and attracts talented youth across the world. In order to thrive in such a rigorous and stimulating academic program, students must have access to resources that support us in our pursuit of academic achievement and personal growth. Although Wellesley prides itself on its diverse student body, and diverse curriculum, marginalized students struggle to engage with an academic program that is not reflective of us or our communities. As much as we would like to think of Wellesley as a “bubble” as it is affectionately called, it is not immune to the systems of oppression and discrimination that marginalized populations encounter daily. The classroom itself can be a hostile environment for underrepresented students who often find themselves in the precarious position of being the only student of their race, ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation in the class. Being part of an underrepresented and marginalized population at Wellesley means constantly being subject to attacks of your identity, and often attempting to engage with a professor, subject matter, and course materials that do not reflect your lived experience, do not acknowledge your existence, or even attack and diminish your identity and experience. It is no wonder then that an opportunity gap, often referred to as an achievement gap, persists at Wellesley, and peer institutions.
Wellesley is not a bubble, but is rather part of a national discourse on Ethnic Studies and the importance of learning about systems of oppression, power, privilege, and marginalization. These words and concepts make people uncomfortable, but they are significant forces in our history and they can not be ignored. Wellesley’s curriculum is severely lacking with respect to Ethnic Studies, which I am here defining as the study of marginalized populations in the U.S., including but not limited to African-American Studies, Asian American Studies, and Chicana/Latina Studies. The success of students enrolled in Tuscon Unified School District’s Mexican-American Studies program before the Ethnic Studies ban demonstrates the meaningful, and often life-changing, impact of having access to learning about one’s history. At Wellesley, it is difficult for marginalized students to engage with material that neglects our contributions to the world and that attempts to ignore the cost that marginalized peoples have suffered at the mantle of Western “progress.” With more fully developed and robust Ethnic Studies programs, Wellesley would not only be a leader amongst its peers, but would also be demonstrating a commitment to telling the stories that history attempts to leave out. Furthermore, developing Ethnic Studies at Wellesley would provide spaces for all students to learn the theoretical skills required for the critical analysis of identity formation and one’s place in the world. If Wellesley wants to graduate leaders and innovators, such training is essential.
The current state of Ethnic Studies at Wellesley leaves much to be desired. It is critical to make the distinction between Ethnic Studies and departments such as Latin American Studies and East Asian Languages and Literatures. These departments do not address the experiences, cultures, and histories of descendants from those regions in the U.S. Furthermore, departments such as Africana Studies, American Studies, and Women’s & Gender Studies that provide some of the only courses approximating Ethnic Studies are small, underfunded, uncelebrated, and under-resourced. As of now, there is little space to study African-American Studies, Chicana/Latina Studies is almost nonexistent, Queer Studies is largely absent from our curriculum, and Asian American Studies has a brand new minor after more than seventeen years of fighting for a presence in the curriculum. Significantly, the few classes to which we do have access have been fought for and won by students who demanded them. Furthermore, the Ethnic Studies courses we do have at Wellesley are tremendously popular. They fill up quickly and often have long and competitive waitlists. Wellesley’s paltry Ethnic Studies curriculum is not enough. If we are to succeed as leaders and intellectuals with a commitment to the world, we need Wellesley to have a commitment to us and to our communities that continue to be so underrepresented, and under-resourced. Ethnic Studies should be a core part of our curriculum if we are to maintain that Wellesley’s academic program inspires “discovery and creation…and the shared experience of intellectual and personal growth.”
In comparison with Ethnic Studies programs and resources for marginalized students at peer institutions, Wellesley is behind. Institutions like Mount Holyoke and Smith have Latina/o Studies. Considering the changing demographics of the U.S. and the national discourse on Latino politics and immigration, a Chicana/Latina Studies program at Wellesley is desperately needed. Queer students at peer institutions also have more resources, such as safe spaces, a full-time advisor, and Queer Studies courses. Last year, Wellesley invited a team of external researchers to campus to investigate the LGBTQ resources at Wellesley. They wrote a report that discusses the presence or absence of particular resources and included recommendations about how to better support LGBTQ students at Wellesley. Students were promised access to the report and we are tired of waiting for it to be released.
Wellesley has a rich and vibrant tradition of student activism and participation in shaping Wellesley’s history. We now have the opportunity to be a leader and demonstrate the importance of Ethnic Studies. We demand a curriculum that is reflective of ourselves and our communities. Ethnic Studies programs are a resource from which all students could benefit, especially marginalized students. We need to take these steps towards closing the opportunity gap. We demand to be reflected in Wellesley’s academic program. We are committed to making this difference in the world. We need and demand a Chicana/Latina Studies program, and we need and demand further development of the other Ethnic Studies programs that already exist so that students can choose to major or minor in any of these concentrations. We demand greater retention of Latina/o faculty and all faculty of color.
Silvia Galis-Menendez, 2013, Mezcla Co-President
Laura Espinoza, 2013, Mezcla Co-President
Meredyth Grange, 2014, Multicultural Affairs Coordinator
Lyndsay Coleman, 2014, Ethos Co-President
Rita Marquez, 2016, Cielito Lindo President
Yesenia Trujillo, 2014, Familia President
Monica Rodriguez, 2014, Alianza President
Rebecca Leo, 2013, Wellesley Asian Alliance Co-Coordinator
Amanda Zhang, 2013, Wellesley Asian Alliance Co-Coordinator
Q-CAB (Queer Council Advisory Board)
Leah Way, 2013, Spectrum President
Rose Layton, 2015, Spectrum Vice-President
Em Gamber, 2014, Siblings
Blake Desormeaux, 2013, Siblings
Erika Turner, 2013, BlackOUT
Dafina Bobo, 2015, BlackOUT
Eman Ma, 2013, Tea Talks