And, of course, the sexual mores have changed drastically from the days when men were allowed in dorm rooms only if the door was left open and the caller’s feet remained on the floor. While other women’s colleges in Massachusetts, such as Smith and Mount Holyoke, have come to be known for large lesbian populations, Wellesley has managed to avoid that image. “In the admissions tour, parents ask — and I know tour guides have said before that Wellesley doesn’t have an exorbitantly high amount of people who are gay,” says ’99 grad Betsy Hanna, “it’s just that people who are feel more comfortable [being out].”
Still, Wellesley’s sexual culture has more in common with that of its sisters than it would like to admit. “One of our slogans at Wellesley is ‘Independent women, amazing women,’ ” says sophomore Alyssa Robinson. “Part of that independence is liberation from boxes that women might have been placed in. A lot of Wellesley is about breaking out of those boxes. That encourages a more liberated, a more independent attitude among the students.” The result is a climate of sexual experimentation where no woman, or man — including professors, kitchen staff and campus police officers — is off-limits.
“It was a challenge to be straight at a school like that,” says Melanie Herman, a 1999 graduate who now works on Wall Street. So women at Wellesley who do choose to date men but have given up on the “Fuck Truck” — the bus that runs to Harvard and MIT, both about forty-five minutes away — have to find whoever is available. The most alluring candidates are the professors. Different academic departments have different reputations. “Some of the departments are a little racy and some are a little more tame,” says senior Sandra North. “Some professors are notorious for having sex with their students. Everyone knows who they are.”
Understandably, professors are not cheered by the sometimes unkind stories that are spread about them. “I knew a guy who used to pick up a baby sitter on campus, and people said he was picking her up for a date,” says professor Aaron Girard, “and it wasn’t anything like that. So you can get injustice done pretty easily.” Many of the rumors are completely untrue, he points out — although he admits he has had relationships with students. “I’ve heard rumors about me and several students that had no basis in fact whatsoever,” Girard says. “And the one that was true, no one knew about.”
For a straight male professor, a women’s college offers obvious temptations. In every class, there are at least a few admirers, especially if he has that “professor sex appeal.” And having that appeal doesn’t necessarily mean he’s good-looking — indeed, says a student, many of the most sought-after professors “definitely do not fall into the good-looking category.”
Former Wellesley professor Ian Randolph admits that he had relationships with students (he’s since left the college for unrelated reasons). He says his students would come in during his office hours and talk to him openly about sex. “It wasn’t uncommon to get a lot of students coming to my office hours only to talk about who they slept with recently and what had been going on in their lives, how many drugs they did the night before, or how much homework they had that they hadn’t been doing,” he says.
In his case, he maintains, it was always the students who signaled their interest. Women would come into his office and talk to him about the details of their sexual experiences, about “sexual positions and the number of orgasms.” One student would show him pictures of herself, he says, “naked, with pierced nipples and bondage equipment.” Soon, says Randolph, “one student became more directly flirtatious, telling me she was attracted to older men all the time and asking me questions about what I thought about students and professors sleeping together.” Eventually, says Randolph, their intentions became obvious. “These people essentially came out and said, ‘I would like to have sex with you.’ ”
Randolph had three sexual relation ships with students in one year. Two of these began the same night, in the middle of final exams. He’d gone out for coffee with two of his students who were dating each other. As they drove back to Wellesley, the women said, “Oh, we want to stay up. We don’t want to go to bed.” Randolph had liquor left over from a party he’d thrown for a bunch, of students the previous week. “We can go back to my office, and make drinks and hang out there,” he said. So they did. Back in the office, says Randolph, “they started sort of making out, and one thing led to another, and there I was joining in, and many hours passed.” By the end, he’d had sex with both of them. “And then everything became very confusing, because one was my thesis student and the other was in another of my classes.”
In fact, Randolph was actually dating another student at the same time — in addition to being married — but soon he broke up with her and started dating one of the two women from finals week. Later, he broke up with her and started dating the other. How often does this kind of thing go on? Nobody really knows. Presumably, the vast majority of student-professor relationships are kept secret. “There are rumors about every young faculty member on the campus, and I think about one in ten are true,” says professor Girard. “It’s not something that’s rampant. But there certainly are relationships between young faculty members — both men and women — and students.”
The Wellesley College administration discourages intimacy between professors and students. “Relationships between students and faculty and between students and staff are discouraged, but they’re not banned. And we don’t police or monitor that,” says Mary Ann Hill, director of public information and government relations for Wellesley.
Professors are breaking the rules, however, if they have relationships with students in their own department or classes. The policy also explicitly prohibits a pattern of promiscuity among professors with regard to intimacy with students. Finally, a tenured professor can be fired for “moral turpitude.” Says Hill, “When supervisory relations are present between a student and faculty or staff member, sexual relations are unconditionally unacceptable.”
“It’s got to be very discreet,” says Girard. “Once it’s known, one of the things that works against it is 2,000 women – lots of talk. A junior faculty member wants more than anything to get tenure. You get caught with your hand in the cookie jar, and it’s over real fast.”
So professors who sleep with students take precautions. “It had to be conducted secretly,” says professor Randolph of his first affair with a Wellesley student.