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Wellesley College Can’t Please Anyone with Hiring of Lesbian Head of House

October 19, 1991

WELLESLEY, Mass. (AP) _ Sometimes even politically correct isn’t enough.

When administrators at prestigious Wellesley College hired a lesbian to run a dormitory with her live-in partner, they were proud. Not only had the single-sex school found a competent head of house, but they were encouraging acceptance of an alternative lifestyle.

″We certainly thought it would be a very good addition to our staff,″ said Molly Campbell, dean of students for the 2,200 women. ″I was looking at this as a positive move.″

But at the last minute the school assigned Michele Porche to a dorm for upperclasswomen, instead of the first-year student dorm she expected.

That was a cop out, many complained. Why bother hiring an openly lesbian couple if you hide them from the younger women?

″We felt it was a betrayal, because it was an acknowledgment that homophobia was OK,″ said Dorothee Harmon, a 22-year-old member of Wellesley Lesbians, Bisexuals and Friends. ″Not only was Michele Porche discriminated against, but the whole campus was, in the notion that everybody had to participate in this protection from homophobia.″

When Porche was interviewed for the job at the sprawling campus 17 miles west of Boston, she was told one dorm - Dower - had an opening. In August she was assigned to Lake House, a dormitory with no first-year students. At the time, Porche thought it odd the woman running Lake House was moving to Dower, but she was glad to have a job.

″I didn’t know until I got here, but that was the first time they had said a head of house couldn’t work with a particular group of students,″ said the 32-year-old Porche. ″The greeting from the staff was quite welcoming, but the person who had to move was very upset about it.″

In fact, that woman quit and could not be reached for comment.

Wellesley President Nan Keohane said she expected some parents and students to be uncomfortable with an openly lesbian couple serving as caretakers for younger women.

″I thought it was a complicated decision,″ she said, noting she braced herself for anti-gay criticism.

And she got it.

Some students wrote letters to the campus weekly.

Elizabeth Harmer, a Mormon, told the board of trustees last week that homosexuality should not be included in the school’s definition of multiculturalism.

″We don’t want to see the college celebrate this,″ she said, basing her objections on religious beliefs. ″We prefer a situation of mutual respect and tolerance, but not going beyond that.″

More startling was the outcry from the other end of the spectrum.

Harmon pointedly observed the administration’s decision assumed there were no homosexuals among first-year students.

″And it assumed it is more frightening for them to live in a house where there is a lesbian with a partner rather than some anonymous figure on the other side of campus,″ she said.

″It’s not like we’re making out in the hallways,″ said Stacy Homan, the 28-year-old graduate student living with Porche.

″I can understand their need to want to protect″ first-year students, Homan said. ″But it goes along with the fear, ’If they’re around lesbians they might catch it.‴

Dean Campbell said administrators wanted to give first-year students time to adjust to college life before they were confronted with potentially new ideas on sexuality.

But the outcry over Porche’s assignment has triggered new thinking at Wellesley.

In a petition and subsequent meetings, students have requested a campus liaison for lesbians, more educational materials and classes on homosexual issues.

In her four years at Wellesley, Jill Keegan can’t recall an issue being debated as much as this one.

″The fact Michele was hired and was put in a setting where she is working directly with students is a strong indication of Wellesley’s commitment to multiculturalism,″ said Keegan, student president at Lake House.

″People come to overlook this stigma of lesbianism and just see (Michele) as a person,″ she said.