My Take on the State of the College

Wellesley is a remarkable institution. It always has been, and it always will be, thanks to the incredible dedication of the generations of people who care so deeply about it.

It is a pleasure to share my thoughts on what’s new at the College, what we’re focused on, and how Wellesley continues to be the exceptional place you know and love.




Beginning an Important Conversation

As I wrote earlier this month, the broad question What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st Century? will serve as the theme for a number of important conversations this year.

This is an important moment for these conversations and I look forward to engaging students, faculty, staff, and alumnae in this broad theme and the many implications and subtopics that this theme provides—including, initially, the topic of gender fluidity and its implications for a women’s college.

As I wrote to our campus community today: Wellesley College was founded to educate women who will make a difference in the world. Wellesley’s founders recognized that the education of women would confer powerful benefits upon both society and individuals. They also recognized that women faced significant challenges—social, economic, cultural—in attaining an education.

Wellesley remains steadfast in its mission, investing its considerable resources to awaken the potential of individual women and to give them the tools they need to make a meaningful difference. Wellesley is likewise committed to maintaining a community of individuals who embrace the College’s mission of educating women.

That said, there is great diversity today in the ways individuals experience and express their gender identity. Gender fluidity has implications for women’s colleges in general and for Wellesley College in particular.

We recognize that the issues of gender identity and transgender experience are relevant and complex. We must build a better understanding of these issues and determine what current policies and practices might need revision in light of this understanding

To begin this conversation, I will be appointing an advisory committee. Composed of students, faculty, staff, and alumnae, the Committee will have the following charge:

  • First: Inquiry. The Committee will determine and delineate the specific issues raised for a women’s college and our community at a time when gender fluidity is becoming increasingly acknowledged.  To accomplish this goal, they will seek input from all members of the College community.
  • Second: Education. Recognizing that different members of our community have varying levels of knowledge and understanding of this topic, the Committee will coordinate a year-long program of events and activities designed to bring all members of our community to a common baseline level of knowledge and understanding.  The Committee will also facilitate opportunities for many voices to be heard, both on campus and among our alumnae.
  • Third: Evaluation. Throughout the fall semester, the Committee will examine all relevant policies and practices on campus, will solicit input from key Wellesley constituencies and will determine whether and how they continue to serve the mission of the College in the context of new understandings about gender.
  • Fourth: Findings. At the beginning of the spring semester, the committee will present its findings regarding policies or practices that are affected by the College’s evolving understanding of gender and their impact on Wellesley’s mission. These findings, and subsequent discussion of them by the College’s governance bodies/structures, will guide recommendations to be made to the Board of Trustees.

Advisory committee members will be selected in consultation with the appropriate governance structure (i.e., Agenda Committee for faculty, College Government for students, Administrative Council for staff, and the Alumnae Association). I want to thank those of you who have already reached out to me to express your interest in participating in these conversations in some way—I encourage others who are interested to do the same.

I likewise invite all members of the community to be engaged in this dialogue throughout the year, and I welcome your feedback on the charge to the advisory committee.

The Importance of Being a Women’s College: Continuing the Conversation

In my Convocation address this week, I stressed the continued importance of being a women’s college today, and the advantages to our students stemming from Wellesley’s historic investment in women. This investment has paid off in generations of inspiring and dynamic Wellesley graduates making a difference in the world. As I said, this is the Wellesley “magic.”

Being at a women’s college matters. Being at Wellesley matters.

As I wrote to our students, faculty, and staff today—to continue to invest intelligently, and to serve all of our students well, it is important that we ask the question:  What does it mean to be a woman in the 21st century?  It clearly does not mean the same as being a woman in the 19th or even the 20th century – needs have changed, context has changed, expectations have changed, societal practices have changed, even the language has changed.

The broad question has several implications and will serve as the basis this year for a number of important discussions—and as the foundation for meaningful change in several arenas. We as a community will approach these discussions in Wellesley’s usual thoughtful and inclusive way, and in a way that is reflective of our longstanding values, and our mission.

To begin these discussions, the President’s Office will sponsor a range of community events this year (such as lectures, presentations, and panels), to explore what it means to be a women’s college at a time when the definition of gender is becoming more fluid. In addition, recognizing the importance of that fluidity, I will appoint a special advisory group this fall to consider and make specific recommendations to me and to the Board of Trustees on how Wellesley should best move forward on this issue, as an institution and as a community.

Certainly, there are many other implications to the question of what it means to be a woman in the 21st century—such as the one raised by Provost Shennan in his Convocation remarks concerning how to best support today’s liberal arts students in their transition to successful careers, especially in our changing world.

What Does Wellesley Mean to You?

It is August, the last month of summer. In just a few weeks, we will be welcoming students and faculty back to campus, and greeting our newest class—the purple Class of 2018.

In anticipation of this, I am starting to prepare my remarks for Convocation, the ceremony that marks the start of our new academic year. And I need your help!  My talk this year will concern the relevance of a women’s college today.  I would love to hear from students and alumnae: What does Wellesley mean to you?

I invite you to include your thoughts in the comments section below, or via Twitter: @hkbottomly.

A Wellesley Kind of Election

The Pendleton East Atrium during election night.

Last Tuesday, on election night, students and faculty of diverse political beliefs came together to watch the returns in Pendleton East, sharing opinions and pizza. Sponsored by the Committee for Political and Legislative Action—the student-run organization that presents issues of local, national, and international importance to the student body in a nonpartisan manner—the Pendleton East Atrium was transformed into a “partisan-free zone,” and banners everywhere proclaimed the transformation.

This fall, CPLA, the Wellesley College Democrats, and the Wellesley College Republicans encouraged and helped eligible students register to vote. These three groups also co-sponsored events this fall for students to watch the presidential debates.

Throughout the fall, I was delighted to see, time and again, how Wellesley came together in nonpartisan ways—to learn about the candidates, to explore the issues at hand, and to get out the vote. Our students showed us how Wellesley continues to be an open, welcoming, and thoughtful community.

It makes me proud to be part of Wellesley.

Trick-or-Treat at the President’s House

I spent a delightful Sunday evening with hundreds of Wellesley students.  They came to the President’s House for Halloween, dressed in costumes of every imaginable type—I saw Cat in the Hat (along with Thing One and Thing Two), Princess Leia, characters from Harry Potter, a Starbucks logo, and even a group that came as a Scrabble game.   The inventiveness of Wellesley students never ceases to amaze me.

As for me, I greeted students dressed as Marie Curie, complete with glowing radioactive test tubes in my pockets.

The house was decorated with cobwebs, skeletons, spiders, flickering lights and many other creepy things, thanks to the help of the College Student Government leaders who not only conceived of the idea but assisted with the decorating.

There were cauldrons of candy, cisterns of hot apple cider, and hundreds of cupcakes.  Everyone had a great time!


As Wayne and I walked back to the President’s House from the Chapel last night, each of us carrying a candle, I was struck by the ability of even two small candles to vanquish the darkness. Dispelling this darkness was a theme of the September 11 service that we had just attended in Houghton Chapel.

The service opened with a moving speech by Dean Victor Kazanjian, remembering a Wellesley alum he knew well—one of the many who perished that day. The service was simple and powerful. As I listened to readings and recitations by students—interspersed with selections by the Wellesley College Choir, the Backbay Ringers Handbell Choir, and the Carillon—I recalled, as one does, where I was on September 11, 2001, and all that has happened in the world since then.

I was especially moved by hearing from the many voices of Wellesley last night: the Jewish voice, the Christian voice, the Muslim voice, the Unitarian Universalist voice, the Buddhist voice, the Hindu voice. It is important that all of these voices are heard, and continue to be heard here on campus and in the world.

Then, as the Wellesley College Choir sang “Hope,” all of us in the audience picked up a small candle and formed a large circle inside the Chapel. We held onto those candles as we left.  Walking home, as I looked behind me, I took comfort in seeing the small points of light illuminating the darkness, dispersing all over campus.

A Wellesley Welcome

In about a month, we will welcome our incoming class of 2015 to campus. We already know quite a bit about them—where they are from, what their interests are, why they want to come to Wellesley.  We are looking forward to meeting them in person in August.

In the meantime, the Wellesley community has been sending this incoming class a fabulous Wellesley welcome.  I thought you might enjoy seeing what a number of our students, faculty, and staff have been saying to this new yellow class.

Thinking of Japan

My thoughts this morning continue to be with the members of our broad Wellesley College community who may have been affected in some way by the devastating earthquake and tsunami in the Pacific.

Andy Shennan and I joined the Wellesley College Alumnae Association yesterday in reaching out by email (currently the only reliable means of communication, as one alumna told us) to our alumnae in Japan. As we continue to monitor the news reports, we know that more details and information will emerge in the coming days and weeks. Certainly, events such as this one remind us just how small and interconnected our world is, and how fragile our lives are in it.

Please join me in keeping in your thoughts all those affected by Friday’s events, including our Wellesley students, faculty, staff, and alumnae who have friends or relatives in Japan.

Building Dialogue, Continued

In my first post, I talked about how this blog could help me communicate with faculty, staff, and students. But the fact is, those aren’t the only people who are reading The HKBlog! I found this out recently when an alumna told me she was reading it, too.

What I should have said is that this blog will help me stay connected to the entire Wellesley community—including faculty, staff, and students, of course, but also alumnae, Trustees, parents, and friends.

After all, the Wellesley community extends far beyond the boundaries of the campus.

When I first thought of this blog, I envisioned it as a form of local communication. Not realizing at a visceral level that this blog could be global—and not just local—is, alas, characteristic of generations of a certain age.