What are you writing about?”
Jessica J. Desvarieux, a Wellesley senior, asks me.
“I’m writing a story about how Wellesley girls...”
“We’re not girls, we’re—” but she’s drowned out by blasting music and drunken hellos.
Jay-Z can be heard rapping that he has “99 problems, but the bitch ain’t one.” Girls in denim minis and black halter tops dance with each other, or with boys wearing poorly-fitting polo shirts, or with other girls donning fake mustaches and biker duds. Two male deejays cue to the next song: Jay-Z’s bitches are replaced with Kanye’s golddiggers.
“What?” I ask.
“We’re not girls,” Jessica finishes, “we’re women.”
“My friend at Babson says he’s gone to these nude parties at Wellesley,” says Daniel C. Burke ’08. “He says that the girls there just throw themselves at him.”
Rumors—and a scathing 2001 Rolling Stone article entitled “The Highly Charged Erotic Life of a Wellesley Girl”—paint Wellesley as a school populated by hyper-sexualized, lonely nymphets. Or maybe it’s a school filled with aspiring desperate housewives in search of their Harvard hubbies. Or maybe it’s a school of bookworms who would rather focus on academics than waste their time on guys. Or maybe they’re all just lesbians.
But Wellesley students are not all Rapunzels or Gertrude Steins. Wellesley College’s admissions office materials describe its students as having “many backgrounds and experiences” who are “serious, accomplished women who have a strong desire to grow personally.”
In the sense that its student body is motivated and diverse, the glossy pamphlet is right. While Wellesley students are by no means average, they are, for the most part, normal. Perhaps the only over-arching generalization that can be made is that they all worked hard enough in high school to get into a liberal arts college consistently ranked by US News and World Report as one of the best in the nation. For a one of a kind institution, Wellesley does not seem to be a magnet for only extreme types.
Rather, Wellesley is a place that allows for extreme circumstances. The absence of males allows for the effects of gender politics to be felt acutely, but more importantly, it allows for the non-traditional development of its students. The “desire to grow personally” may be fulfilled, but the transition from girlhood to womanhood might not be typical or linear for the Wellesleystudent.
“Toxic” played at the party, but perhaps Britney Spears “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” would have been a more fitting choice.
Riding the Cuddle Shuttle
Two dollars buys a seat on the Senate coach bus that shuttles students between Wellesley, Harvard, and MIT on weekends. After buying a ticket at Out of Town News, I get on board on a Saturday night to go to my first Wellesley party.
There are only two males in the packed bus—three if you include the driver, four if you include Vin Diesel on the tiny TV screens. For the most part, the girls on the bus are conservatively dressed, hair prim and shoulder-length or tied up in ponytails. The accessories of choice are gossip rags, shopping bags, and Starbucks cups. The girls in the very back giggle over the child actors in the “The Pacifier.” Other riders chat softly or fiddle with their iPods. The scene could be mistaken for a ride back from a middle school field trip, if the girls on the bus were not clearly college-age women. Welcome to the “Fuck Truck.”
“Ugh, I hate that term,” says a drunk Wellesley girl at the party. “My friends and I joke about how it should be called the ‘cuddle shuttle.’”
While many girls get off at Johnston Gate, no obvious Jezebels are among them. When the bus reaches its Beacon Street stop, a mass exodus occurs and Wellesley girls are partially replaced by MIT boys. A junior from MIT slides into the empty seat next to me and strikes up a conversation. We talk about his fraternity, his Wellesley ex, and our mediocre musical ability. Robert Toscano initially seems surprised to find out that I do not go to Wellesley, but aside from comparing workloads, the tone of the conversation remains the same, changing neither for the better nor for the worse.
After about forty minutes, the bus pulls onto Wellesley’s campus. The bus drives past a wooded lake and castle-like structures—maybe the Rapunzel comparison is not totally unwarranted. The bus stops and unloads, and we set out to find the Hell’s Angels party.
Hell or Heaven?
The party is at the house of Society Zeta Alpha, one of Wellesley’s four literary and theatrical societies. The first half hour feels distinctly like a thirteenth birthday dance. While boys are present, they are outnumbered almost three to one. As the girls danced and let loose in a manner fitting for a slumber party, the boys lingered on the wings, hands in pockets.
The soiree was hardly the “Wellesley Girls”—excuse me—“Wellesley Women Gone Wild” sort of intoxicated, orgiastic frenzy that Harvard boys might dream about. Wellesley has never been compared to Florida State University, but its social life became even more regulated following a flurry of negative press.
Area newspapers, such as the Boston Herald, criticized Wellesley for the 11 hospitalizations that took place after the Dyke Ball, an infamous annual event that is known for its “anything goes” spirit. Rolling Stone reported that the students “routinely arrive nearly topless, or wearing only Saran Wrap or body paint (which inevitably sweats off by the end of the night).” It was what Winthrop’s Debauchery dance aspires to be. While most students would argue that 11 hospitalizations out of 3,000 guests is actually a fairly low number, the Wellesley administration disagreed, canceling this year’s official Dyke Ball and cracking down on on-campus parties. Coincidentally, Debauchery took place on the same night as the Hell’s Angel party and the same night that the Dyke Ball should have taken place.
Three male officers from campus security guard the entrance at all times and watch the dance floor closely. Their vigilance ensures the women’s safety, both from unwelcome advances and alcohol.
A Beverage Authorization Team hands out orange wristbands to the twenty-one-and-up crowd. As people line up for their beer, they are offered slices of pizza in an attempt to curb binge drinking. Even the house itself is protected from the hazards of hard partying, its hardwood floors covered in butcher paper and its bookshelves wrapped in plastic.
All possible precautions are made to ensure that the girls can only go wild if they do so safely and responsibly.
“Yeah, parties here are, like, pretty safe. No one’s, like, puking or anything. I mean, they have, like, the campus po’ and everything,” says Wellesley junior Christina S. Yang, a leggy girl in fishnets and a short skirt.
While it is noteworthy that the girls are all being kept safe, the ones ensuring their safety are male bartenders and security guards. With all of these restrictions, are the girls just being allowed to play in a very pretty but very sheltered dollhouse?
At around 11:30, the party graduates from middle school to high school. The male to female ratio evens out, and the boys partially integrate themselves with the dance floor population. Boys from MIT, Babson, and Harvard filter in throughout the night.
“I come here all the time. It’s a great place to meet women,” says Akshay G. Lohitsa ’07, who came to the party with three other Harvard boys.
As the party is open to all, Society Zeta Alpha publicizes the event at various colleges in Boston. Outside of the Eliot dining hall, an orange flier is posted, advertising “FREE BEER” and featuring a male motorcycle rider and his androgynous passenger. Even though the party is advertised to all Boston students, it is the males who respond to it most enthusiastically.
“If Wellesley publicizes a party, it has the potential to turn into a sausage fest,” says William Shaw, a junior at Babson. “Every guy comes thinking that he’ll be the only one here.”
William comes with his Babson fraternity brothers. An attractive boy with a baby-face, he dances with girls, throws back a couple of beers, and engages in some harmless flirting. While he does not seem to be looking for an easy hook up, he says that most of the males in attendance are.
“Guys in college are always looking to meet the same goal. They just have different ways of accomplishing that goal,” says Shaw.
The females at the party are some of the most interesting and accomplished in the nation, but their male guests aren’t interesting in hearing their SAT scores or their term papers on Simone de Beauvoir. For these four hours, the party hostesses are not viewed as women or girls, but rather as objects. The students know it, too.
One Wellesley freshman sums it up in her impersonation of a male visitor.
“We just go to the Wellesley girls for ass,” says Kristin A. Jaronczyk. “When the guys come to Wellesley, most of the time, they are looking for somewhere to sleep that night.”
This may simply be the nature of any gathering in a semi-dark place where booze, boys, and broads combine. But this may be all the more striking in a place where women are supposed to feel empowered.
Leaving the Ivory Tower
While males do come to Wellesley to party, Wellesley students log most of their partying hours off campus.
“Oh, I’ll hang out on campus once in a while, like when there’s a fucking blizzard,” says Wellesley junior Elian Rosenfeld.
The traditional college party scene is fairly restricted at Wellesley, so the weekends there are relatively subdued. The usual Friday might involve hanging out with the girls, catching a play, or going to the occasional party thrown at a society house. The students more frequently party hearty at neighboring colleges or in Boston. Rosenfeld, for example, spends most of her weekend hours at bars in Allston and Cambridge.
Marissa E. Pelliccia, a Wellesley freshman with striking blue eyes and a pretty face, prefers going to college parties when she goes off-campus. She was well aware of the fact that Wellesley would have a very different social scene than the coeducational colleges that she was considering; the college was otherwise the perfect fit. Pelliccia appreciates the quality of education, the sense of sisterhood, and the lack of regular sexual politics on the Wellesley campus.
Yet like any other young woman, she needs a little bit more than that on weekends. While she has been to one party at Harvard, she was frustrated by how crowded the room was and how she had to know someone to be allowed inside. Instead, she spends most of her time at Chi Phi, one of the fraternities at MIT, where she has recently started dating one of the brothers. Instead of staying on campus, she spends this Friday night at Chi Phi’s stately house in Back Bay, built by the same architect who designed the West Wing of the White House.
“I get so sick of the trees and the squirrels. I need a city. I need a male population. It’s like, ‘Oh my god! Men! They do exist!’” she jokes, as Tristan S. Lang, her new boyfriend, tries to get her attention.
At one point, the brothers in the fraternity tease Pelliccia about the various reputations of Wellesley girls. They laugh over a Halloween story written by Victor C. Cabral and Nikhil S. Shenoy, two of the brothers, for MIT’s campus newspaper, Tech, that implies that Wellesley students are about as chaste as Paris Hilton.
“You can also pick from slutty devil, slutty angel, slutty cop, slutty nurse, slutty cat, slutty dog, slutty teacher, Wellesley student,” reads the article published in the paper, describing the various costume options that a girl has.
Yet for all this posturing, the men of Chi Phi never show that they have anything less than complete respect for Pelliccia. The brothers treat her as a friend to all. They seem to recognize that the stereotypes are only stereotypes.
“All of the guys here are always polite and courteous. It’s a safe house,” she says.
As we continue to talk, Lang starts to look annoyed by the fact that I am monopolizing his girlfriend’s time. After she shoos him away so that we can finish talking, he gives her some space and rejoins his brothers for a bit. Once our conversation is finished, he again assumes the role of the attentive boyfriend, holding her hand and laughing with her.
Though she is not on her own turf, Pelliccia is clearly acting like a woman and being treated like a woman.
Notches on the Belt
Like Harvard students, Wellesley students are briefed on sexual assault and the dangers of alcohol. However, the information that Wellesley provides is specially tailored to meet its students needs. They are educated on how MIT’s Greek scene operates and even provided with specific pick-up lines that could be used on too-trusting freshmen.
“They warn us that guys will ask girls to go up to the roofdeck to look at the moon if they want to hook up with them. Guys actually use this line. I mean, seriously, you’ve got to be kidding,” says Pelliccia, who mentions that she has had negative experiences at some of the other frats.
The brothers of Chi Phi may give Pelliccia complete respect, but other fraternities may treat their Wellesley guests as less than ladies.
“Sometimes I do feel like guys objectify Wellesley girls. There is a race in some frats at MIT to see who can hook up with the most,” says Jaronczyk.
This treatment of Wellesley students as prizes rather than women extends beyond MIT. Austin M. Soto ’07, who dated a Wellesley student, recalls that some guys would go to the college with the sole intent of hooking up. If they failed to spend the night with someone, they faced a lonely drive home
While this tendency to treat Wellesley students as less than women is common to male college students across Boston, most horror stories or awkward anecdotes concern MIT, prompting the creation of a facebook group called “For Better or Worse...I’ve Hooked Up With an MIT Frat Boy.” Wellesley’s close ties with MIT, ties which traditionally had been with Harvard, may be the cause of this.
“It seems like the guys at MIT are worse than the guys at Harvard because the shuttle runs directly to the frats at MIT,” says Jaronczyk.
Breaking the Bubble
Though many think of the Harvard social scene as being relatively insular, it serves as a primary social outlet for many Wellesley students.
“Just go to any Harvard party. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of Wellesley students there,” says Wellesley freshman Angelica W. Nierras.
It would be easy to imagine that coming to Harvard is like being a perpetual freshman for many Wellesley students. The girls knock on the doors of rooms and clubs and are sometimes lucky enough to have a friend from high school on the other side who will let them inside. Even if they do not have someone waiting for them, good looks and the word Wellesley might serve as an avenue to relationships or alcohol. After they leave a party, they may come out with new acquaintances, but no connections that will grow in classrooms or entryways into actual friendships.
Wellesley senior Theresa R. Piasta is no perpetual freshman. She considers herself a fixture of the Harvard social scene. The friendly California blonde is no stranger to Senior Bar at the Kong, beirut tournaments in Leverett, or parties at any of the final clubs that line Mount Auburn Street. With an inbox of party invitations, 86 Harvard facebook friends, and a serious Harvard relationship under her belt, she has found a niche here that is so comfortable that it could even spark envy among actual Harvard students.
One could make the assumption that Piasta comes here every weekend because Wellesley has made her desperate for boys and booze. That assumption would be wrong.
“The ‘desperate Wellesley girl’ stereotype is totally off. We’re not desperate,” she emphasizes. “If a girl were desperate, she would never go to Wellesley. Guys will travel all the way from Maryland to come to a party at Wellesley. Now that’s desperate.”
Piasta initially comes off as your stereotypical college girl: smart but unwise, fun but prone to poor choices. However, beyond first impressions, it is clear that she carries herself as a woman. In a pressed button down shirt, she sits confidently with friends from Wellesley and Harvard. She talks of her family, her accomplishments, and her school with pride. She informs one of her male Harvard friends, whom she met through ROTC, that she has decided to try to run the Boston Marathon in three and a half hours instead of four. She talks about her days playing soccer and how she is learning Aikido. Powerless this woman is not.
“If guys are ever acting sketchy, I’m just like, ‘Uh, I’m in ROTC. I can kick your ass,” and they’re all like, ‘Whoa, hold back a second,” she laughs.
READING GLASSES OR WELLESLEY GOGGLES?
For some women, Wellesley may be the best of both worlds. For five days a week, they are able to focus on their studies and extracurricular activities without worrying about awkward dining hall encounters with past hookups. When they leave campus, these women can pick and choose the elements of the Boston-area college social scene that most appeal to them. For the right kind of student, Wellesley can be a place where one is allowed to define womanhood on her own terms.
“I love my school,” Piasta says over and over again, commenting on how the students there have inspired her and how Wellesley has made her a more confident person.
However, the single-sex environment may be stifling for others and make them more vulnerable to the effects of gender politics. Sexism and objectification seem not only inescapable, but more remarkable when they occur on Wellesley’s own campus. They even have the potential to attract some of the worst elements.
“The guys who would show up at parties were for the most part unattractive and sleazy. They usually couldn’t get girls at other schools,” says Shira R. Brettman ’07, who transferred from Wellesley to Harvard.
While the distance from guys may be healthy for some, it may just cause others to develop “Wellesley goggles” and, worse, end up ill-prepared for co-ed environments.
“You could go five days without seeing a guy. It almost produces a chemical imbalance. A lot of the people in my classes went to an all-girl college because they felt intimidated by [guys]. If you are in a classroom devoid of men, how is that empowerment? When they go into the real world, they will just be unprepared. I don’t think that anyone could benefit from that atmosphere in the end,” says Brettman.
At around 1 AM, the Zeta Alpha party is in full-swing. Women who seem to be dressed for the unofficial Dyke Ball, which was rumored to take place underground this year, stroll through the door. They wear bathrobes and bumper stickers, adding even more character to a party composed of biker babes and women in drag. The odd pair of breasts or pair of women kissing can be spotted at the party, but while some male guests ogle, everyone else is nonplussed. Indeed, more provocative actions were perhaps occurring concurrently in the Winthrop dining hall that night.
In spite of the “sleazy” guys, the women seem aware that this is their turf at all times, and as such, they will act on their own terms. While they may feel objectified at times, it is still their party, the women’s party. In fact, it seems that they would still be having a good time if there were no boys present.
As the party starts to wind down and as the guests grab their coats to brave the blizzard that was just beginning, seven couples dance slowly and tipsily on the dance floor. Two women walk out the door, looking happy and exhausted at once.
“Another good party,” one of them says, as they leave the boys behind.