Trans flag controversy: College power washes down staircase after trans flag painted over Harry Potter spray paint

Over the past 16 years, the College has posted photos of Platform 9 ¾ on its official Facebook account at least seven times. The origin story of the design on the outside staircase of the Academic Quad is unknown, but the first photos that exist were taken in 2006. Similar photos have appeared on the Instagrams of many Wellesley students, either from their first visit to campus, when they graduated.

Soren Rose ’22 has an image like their first half at Wellesley. Now they are one of the students calling for 9 ¾ to be removed due to his association with transphobic ‘Harry Potter’ author JK Rowling.

Rowling’s first instance of transphobia dates back to at least 2014 with a scene involving a trans character in one of her ‘Cormoran Strike’ novels, but it wasn’t until 2020 that one of her tweets gained notoriety. particular. In June that year, she retweeted an op-ed titled “Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate,” complaining that the headline didn’t use the term “women.” After facing backlash for the tweet, Rowling posted a lengthy essay attempting to explain her stance on trans identity in which she perpetuated many harmful stereotypes about trans people.

The area that 9 ¾ occupies is relatively public. The hallway is visible from College Road and many students pass through it when walking from the science center to the academic quad. As a trans person, Rose said it was “strange and uncomfortable” to see 9 ¾ take up such a large space on campus.

“It’s just a symbol [that] this children’s story that came out before people were born matters more than the comfort of trans people,” they said.

For many students, Rowling’s transphobia cannot be separated from the content of her books. At the end of April, a group of students painted a mural of the transgender flag on 9 ¾. About a day later, presumably another group of students redrew 9 ¾ on the flag. The trans flag was later repainted. Then, on April 22, 2022, the mural and all of the paint underneath, including the 9 ¾, were pressure washed by workers associated with the College. In a statement to the Wellesley College community, Dean of Students Sheilah Shaw Horton said the two drawings were removed because “the College considers the paint on our historic buildings to be vandalism”.

If you don’t really care or understand why it needs to change, you probably just have to Google “JKR transphobia”.

For Wallis**, who requested anonymity because he’s not transgender to his family, seeing the trans flag mural was “really cool.” He felt it affirmed the rights of trans people to be in Wellesley and “to claim this space on [Rowling].” At the same time, he felt that the administration’s statement did not go far enough in exposing the transphobia associated with Rowling and 9 ¾ and gave the impression that “trans students were breaking the law and being bullies.” “.

“The 9 ¾ [drawing] is really, at this point, a symbol of hate for me. I do not think so [Rowling] should have some cultural relevance at this point. It’s a TERF… It’s making trans lives worse every day,” said Wallis, who called 9 ¾ “thinly veiled transphobia.” “There’s no reason to celebrate her in the first place, and there’s no reason to celebrate now.”

Rose said they were shocked to see students respond to the trans flag mural by painting it with 9 ¾, especially seeing that some went so far as to put up posters on campus, including one that read “EACH TIME YOU VANDALIZE THE 9 3/4 PLATFORM, WORKING CLASS PEOPLE HAVE TO WORK PHYSICALLY TO CLEAN UP YOUR FELONY.

In his email, Dean Horton urged students to “engage in difficult conversations” outside of painting buildings. She encouraged students to work with the Office of Intercultural Education and College Government to plan lively conversations on the topic and find a different place to celebrate trans students at Wellesley. For Wallis, however, this statement ignored the context of the location of the mural.

“It really ignores the context of why it was that hallway. Sure, we could hang a trans flag somewhere else on campus, and that would be cool, but she’s just acting like [it was just done] in this random hallway… it’s not like that,” he said. “It’s a targeted political statement; it is targeted political art. It’s almost as if she wants to paint it as a coincidence.

Ultimately, Rose and Wallis see the permanent removal of 9 ¾ as a victory, whether or not the transgender flag mural remains.

No matter how you feel, your actions hurt people. It hurts the people of Wellesley, and especially those who are already marginalized.

Other students, like Gabrielle Shlikas ’22, disagree. For Shlikas, 9 ¾ is a now separate symbol from Rowling, and there’s “nothing loathsome about it.”

“I strongly disagree with the feeling that 9 ¾ being spray painted in a hallway was violent or hurt someone. It was a spray painted number, in my opinion,” Shilkas said. “Even though it made people feel uncomfortable, in my opinion, the only place you need comfort is in your own room. We come to college for academic and social challenges. It’s not not because something makes you feel bad that you have to destroy it i mean you can try to change it you can start a dialogue but i don’t think you can take it upon yourself to do something without a vote.”

Not all students agree with this point of view. Van An Trinh ’24 said that while students believe Rowling’s trans rhetoric is insignificant, leaving it up to 9 ¾ is harmful.

“No matter how you feel, your actions hurt people. It hurts the people of Wellesley, and especially those who are already marginalized. It costs you nothing not to do that,” they said, adding that attending a school with such a vibrant transgender and gender-nonconforming student body has helped them feel more comfortable with their own identity as gender. “Their well-being and their sense of safety and community matter far more than painting 9 ¾ for a movie streak that ended 10 years ago.”

Rose added that students who don’t believe Rowling’s transphobia is relevant to 9 ¾ should, in general, think more critically about the show.

“I would just implore [students to] think about what it would mean if the author of her favorite children’s book took a very strong stance, saying, “I don’t think you deserve health care,” Rose said.

Additionally, Wallis said the College needs to do a lot to improve the lives of trans students at Wellesley, including dismantling the use of gendered language by faculty, students and admissions. Wallis added, however, that in the past much of this work has been the work of transgender students, which he says shouldn’t be.

“There is no reason to defend 9 ¾ at this stage. It’s not historical; those books were written in 1997. That doesn’t amount to anything good,” Wallis said. “I don’t really need the trans flag up there forever, I just need the 9 ¾ down. If you don’t really care or understand why this needs to change, you probably just have to google “transphobia JKR”.

For LGBTQ+ students who would like to discuss their experience, please contact AJ Guerrero, Coordinator of LGBTQ+ Programs and Services. She can be contacted [email protected]. Students can also view the LGBTQ+ Resource Guide.

**Name changed to protect anonymity.

Emilie Zhang contributed reporting for this article.

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