An online contest to find the “smartest, silliest, and sexiest” male freshmen at campuses across the country has left some Wellesley College students feeling misrepresented, leading the website to revamp the competition to address the concerns of the all-women school.
HerCampus.com, an online lifestyle magazine geared toward college-aged women, started “Mr. Campus Freshman 2013,” with the goal of crowning a male from over 20 colleges represented by the website.
But to the dismay of many on campus, Wellesley College students were advised to nominate a male from outside the school, ignoring students at their campusl who are transgender.
''We ran this contest never intending to offend anyone,'' said Stephanie Kaplan, a Newton native who founded Her Campus with two other Harvard undergraduates. ''Our mission is to serve college women, we never meant to exclude or offend anyone.''
But Galen Danskin, a junior English major at Wellesley, said her girlfriend has gathered more than 300 signatures for a petition to have the women's college taken off of the Her Campus site.
“I thought it was offensive the Wellesley community could not be represented by any of its transgender community or a woman," said Danskin. "I do find it offensive that I need to be represented by a guy. It really just doesn’t make any sense. On face value it's a ridiculous assumption."
Her Campus did not learn of the concerns until after the nomination period was closed, Kaplan said. Once the founders received that feedback, they reopened the contest to any Wellesley student who wanted to be nominated.
The nominee for Wellesley College is Christianne Wolfsen, a biology and Chinese major. In her video submission she said, “Wellesley’s community and I agree you don’t need to be a biological male to compete with the men.”
Wolfsen said she was nominated by a friend and felt strongly enough about Wellesley being misrepresented through the competition that she decided to participate.
“I was really disappointed by the fact that Her Campus wanted other men to represent Wellesley College. I find it absolutely ridiculous to have seemingly random students from other colleges represent our name. There are plenty of male-identifying students at Wellesley, and I think it was very unfair to exclude them,” said Wolfsen in an e-mail.
“I don’t think people are generally very educated about transsexual and transgendered people. I don’t identify as a male, I am not gay, but I very strongly identify as an ally. People should never be excluded from anything, even something as small as an online competition, because of their sexuality or who they are.”
Similar sentiments are echoed in a statement released by Arlie Corday, director of communications at Wellesley College.
“Having male students from other colleges represent Wellesley College feels alien to most of our students, who are proud of attending a women’s college. As Wellesley first-year student Christianne Wolfsen puts it, ‘You don’t have to be a biological male to compete with men,’” said Corday.
For the national competition, Her Campus invites readers to vote for Mr. Campus Freshman, and the winner will be decided April 3.
“I think Christianne is doing a wonderful job. If she wins, high-five to her,” said Danskin. “I do support her, but I do not support Her Campus."
Katie Chen, a Wellesley student who edits and writes for the site, said she was simply following instructions when she publicized the contest.
‘‘As far as I know, the contest was never closed to anyone,’’ she said. ‘‘The only nominations I received were for male candidates. Had a female or a person identifying himself/herself as transgender been nominated, they would not have been rejected.’’
“This is the first year we’ve ever done this contest before. We were trying to figure out what we should do to remedy the situation,” said Kaplan. “What we did was restart the contest for it. We are happy for them to have someone who they chose.”
The contest was inspired by a similar contest run by Harvard lifestyle magazine, called Freeze College Magazine.
Her Campus was launched in September 2009 by three Harvard undergraduates. The site features Style, Health, Love, DormLife, Career, and World sections which include content targeted to the broad audience of college women nationally.
Caitlin Castello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.