Where Hillary called home: Wellesleys 2020 class on its most famous alumnus

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Incoming first-year students flock to the womens college for a supportive environment where the potentially first female president once lived and learned

Hillary Clinton may have graduated from the all-womens Wellesley College in 1969, but her presence was still felt on campus even as the class of 2020 settled in for their first day of class on the cozy, tree-lined campus outside of Boston.

In the summer of 2015, I had the opportunity to speak with Hillary Clinton at a fundraising event, and I was just telling her I wasnt sure of my college decision. I was like, Oh, Im thinking about Wellesley, explainedLauren Dines, a first-year student from northern New Jersey. She said, You know, the one thing about college is that its really important for your development, but the main thing is that you have to be able to call that place your home, and I was able to call Wellesley my home.

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Hillary Clinton as a student at Wellesley College. Photograph: Lee Balterman/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

It might not have been the only reason that the newly minted first-year basketball player chose to attend Wellesley, but it helped. Out of all the other schools I was doing tours of, whether it was for basketball or just academics, no one really said, it has to be your home and Im able to call it my home, she explained.

The college was founded in 1870, when most universities didnt accept women as students and today, its mission to serve them hasnt changed, even as the university landscape in America has. There are only four remaining all-male colleges in the United States in 2016, and women account for around 55% of all university enrollees.

What, then, is the role of womens colleges in this day and age even as Wellesleys arguably most famous alumnus is poised to become Americas first female president?

For some members of the Red Hot Class of 2020 each class gets its own color the supportive nature of an all-female institution is paramount. I didnt consider myself the type of person to exclude myself in women-only spaces, said Palo Alto native and first-generation American Christie Li. But then during high school, I was working on my Girl Scout Gold award and I really wanted to work with a team of just women. So I had women coders and women film-makers, women web developers, and I really liked that dynamic because I saw women taking so many leadership roles just in a small group. I liked the support that they gave me.

Dines, who attended an all-womens high school after the ninth grade, explained her experience with single-sex education in similar terms. Going to a womans high school, I was never put in a place where I was like, Oh, because Im a girl, I have to do this, I have to do that. Im never put into another category. Its that everyone around me is really encouraging me and hoping that I do just as well as they do.

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Christine Li. Photograph: Mark Lorenz for the Guardian

For other students, the ability of a womens college to mint female leaders like Clinton (and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, news anchor Diane Sawyer and writer and producer Nora Ephron, among others) is part of the allure.

Wellesley gives a taste of what life would be like if there was a more prominent balance between genders in areas that are more important, said Arlington, Virginia native Anna Vargas. [In] the Wellesley bubble, women are leaders theyre presidents of clubs, vice-presidents of clubs, fill almost every single position in athletics, in recreational activities.

Its not supposed to be a small ratio of women to men in fields, she said. It just shouldnt be like that. It should be more balanced.

Despite their enthusiasm, the new students say they regularly face questions about the elephant in the room or rather, the lack of men in the room and they think its a bit naive. There are men on campus, said Li. Its definitely not like an isolated bubble so far, even in my first week. There are male professors, male staff members, people go out on weekends.

Its not like were in the 1800s when communications are so limited. I talk to male friends, I talk to my father. I see whats going on in the rest of the world.

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Incoming first-year students at Wellesley orientation. Photograph: Courtesy of Wellesley College

And when it comes to that most famous alumnus Hillary Clinton the Wellesley class of 2020 isnt exactly filled with disappointed millennial Sanders supporters.

Ive supported Hillary all along, even before I committed to Wellesley, said Li, who has already applied for her absentee ballot to vote for Clinton, attorney general Kamala Harris (who is running for US Senate) and some state and local Asian American candidates.

I think that it surprises me to have so many female candidates on the ballot, she said, but then I realize that it shouldnt surprise me because it should be natural.

We shouldnt have to think about gender or race when we vote but we do, unfortunately, because its something that has been ignored, so it seems surprising to us she added.

Dines suggested that even though it would be great to just consider Clintons candidacy on the merits, pundits and the media push sexist narratives. Theres just a lot of double standards that women face. Theres just a lot of headlines like about what Hillarys wearing: Oh, her highlights look good, she has a better chance in the polls. she explained. Things like that, that shouldnt be the reason why were electing a president. We should be looking at everything that shes done, all the different things shes been involved in in government, see how qualified she is for the candidacy.

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Izzy Gelfand poses with Hillary Clinton and her Wellesley pennant. Photograph: Courtesy of Izzy Gelfand

She knows the different struggles that women have gone through and the setbacks that women have had, Dines added. And in this campaign, theres a lot of talk about her opponent denigrating women, minorities, people of color.

Vargas was equally unimpressed with the Republican field during the primary season. Honestly, Bernie or Hillary, either was better than the current Republican candidates that the GOP had to offer, she said. I personally voted for Bernie in the primaries, not because I thought so much more highly of him than Hillary, but because I liked that sense that, at a very, very young age, he had the exact same views that he holds today and that he was able to stay solid in his core values.

But Hillary also has qualities like that she said, and Ill be voting for her in the fall.

Maryem Neberei, a northern Virginia native who currently identifies as a Clinton supporter, said: I supported both Bernie and Hillary [during the primary], but I did appreciate the fact that Hillary Clinton would be the first woman president. She added, I think it is symbolic for the United States to have our first female president.

Gelfand, who came to study political science, is a long-time Clinton fan and understands rather specifically the symbolic power of women in leadership roles. In fourth grade, that was when [Hillary Clinton] was running for president in 2008, for Halloween, I decided to dress up like the president of the United State, she explained. So I got a little jacket, and my mom made me these really big laminated buttons that said IZZY FOR PRESIDENT IN 2040!

Recently, her mom took her to a Clinton fundraiser, and Gelfand was keen to get a picture with Clinton and to explain what her first run had meant to her. I got one of those pictures [from Halloween] and I wrote her a note on the back: If you hadnt been running for president in 2008, I dont think I even wouldve known what a female president would look like to dress up as president for Halloween.

I gave it to her and, when I told her the story, she was holding my hand, Gelfand said. In the picture her mom took of the two of them, Gelfand is holding a Wellesley flag, having decided to attend her first all-womens institution. That was a really great moment.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/02/hillary-clinton-wellesley-college-freshmen-women