We Met at Wellesley

Longtime alum couples provide a window on changes on campus—and in the world—for the College’s LGBTQ community.

Colorful illustration of a queer couple gazing into each others eyes romantically on a blanket outside on campus

Falling in love on an idyllic New England college campus has storybook qualities. But for generations, the narrative at Wellesley was a certain spin on the fairy tale: Students would find their mates off campus. Even though LGBTQ relationships likely stretch back far in the College’s history, students remained largely quiet about coupling up for probably close to a century. Today, the alumnae community includes many couples who were both Wellesley students, are comfortable being public about it, and represent a broad spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities.

Wellesley got in touch with a handful of these double-alum couples to hear about their on-campus experiences, their lives in a rapidly changing post-college world, and what the College still means to them. Of course, this group cannot be inclusive of all experiences. But these stories illustrate some of what has changed for the College’s LGBTQ community in recent decades—and the timeless power of the Wellesley network.

Class Attraction

In a women’s studies seminar, a student across the room from Anne Ferrard-Zeiders ’90 caught her eye. When she returned to class, Ferrard-Zeiders remembered where that woman was sitting.

“I went early so that I could sit next to where she had sat the first time,” Ferrard-Zeiders recalled. That’s how she met Anna Ferrard-Zeiders ’91, and they have been together pretty much ever since. They’ve lived in Brussels, Anne’s hometown, since 1992.

When they started dating, Anne lived in the feminist co-op, Instead, and was an activist. “I was blatantly lesbian, feminist, whatever you want,” she says. “I had the label, and I was proud of it.”

Less than a decade earlier, when Janice Molloy ’84 and Susan Weinstein ’84 enrolled at Wellesley, lesbian relationships remained mostly clandestine. When Weinstein recognized that “maybe I wasn’t entirely attracted to men,” she joined a group at the Stone Center for students exploring their sexuality. “It was semi-secretive,” she says.

Molloy remembers a couple in her dorm who were seniors when she was a first-year. That relationship helped put the idea of same-sex couples on her radar. But she says only a few lesbians were truly out on campus.

“People who were brave and out were not necessarily liked for it,” Weinstein says, noting that she came from South Florida where “lesbian” was then “somewhat of a slur.” Molloy remembers one professor suggesting to her that being a lesbian would be a hurdle to certain academic or professional achievements. But on at least one occasion, faculty members joined students at the Marquee, a lesbian bar in Central Square in Cambridge, Mass. “It was a big deal” for faculty to show the students that kind of support, says Molloy. “To this day, I feel just very moved by that.”

The transition from secrecy to support was shifting on their watch. The 1980s had ushered in an evolution on campus.

“Over the course of our four years, things felt like they changed a lot,” Molloy says. She remembers that by junior year, there was an area in the Schneider Center where lesbians would openly socialize.

In the early 1990s, some students arrived at Wellesley already comfortable stating their identities as lesbian or bisexual.

“I knew of Sarah [Bay-Cheng ’96] before I met her,” says Laina Bay-Cheng ’95. Sarah and a few classmates “came to Wellesley already out,” Laina says. “It caused quite a stir.”

Sarah and Laina didn’t get together until after Laina graduated, but “we’ve been together since our first date, without any interruption,” she says.

When Melissa de la Rama ’01 and Heather Miller ’01 met in a class their senior year, they had few concerns about being out on campus. And de la Rama knew right away that Miller was “the one.”

“I was just infatuated,” de la Rama says. “I fell in love with her way before she felt anything for me.” They didn’t start dating until two years after they graduated.

As many Wellesley students became more open, attitudes toward LGBTQ people also began shifting in broader society. In recent years, student—and faculty and staff—identities include lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, nonbinary, and more. Still, emerging from the safety many student couples felt on campus didn’t always go smoothly.


Queer Wellesley in the World

The Bay-Chengs moved to West Lafayette, Ind., when Sarah began graduate school.

“It was explicitly unwelcoming,” Laina says. After about half a year, Sarah remembers Laina saying, “I am leaving. I would like you to come with me, but if you don’t, I am still leaving.”

They moved on, together, to the University of Michigan. Today, they live in Toronto, but they spent 10 happy years in Buffalo, N.Y., where they raised two sons.

Even the language has changed, with younger alums comfortably using the word “queer” and older alums sometimes embracing but other times eschewing the word “wife,” even in reference to a woman to whom they are legally married.

Catalina Cherny-Santos ’13 considers herself a hopeless romantic and jokes about pursuing an M.R.S. degree when she arrived at Wellesley from San Diego. When she and her wife, Rachel Cherny-Santos ’13, first started visiting Rachel’s family in Idaho, though, things felt different.

“We didn’t hold hands for the first few visits, out in public,” Catalina says. But in time, something different emerged. “I have felt more uncomfortable being Latina than I have being queer in Boise.”

They live in Southern California, and Rachel, who is a lawyer, says she makes a point to be clear about being married to a woman when the subject comes up. In the workplace, she is explicit that her marriage needs to be respected the same as any heterosexual one.

“I find that very empowering,” she says. It also sets an example that invites LGBTQ colleagues to come out. An added bonus for her, Rachel says, has been gaining more queer friends.

That’s very different from the law firm where Weinstein worked as a paralegal fresh out of Wellesley. She was closeted when, in 1986, the Supreme Court decided Bowers v. Hardwick, which upheld the right of states to have anti-sodomy laws effectively criminalizing consensual same-sex relationships. (That decision was overturned in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas case.)

“One of the attorneys said to me, ‘Why are you so upset about this?’ and so I said to him, ‘Because I’m gay.’” She says he was completely taken aback. “It was a surprise to me that it was such a surprise to him.”

In fact, Molloy and Weinstein say to be gay in D.C. in the mid-1980s as the AIDS crisis and related activism were on the rise, “was really a wild time.” Closeted all day at work, gay men and lesbians flooded Dupont Circle at night, they say.

Marion Johnson ’09 and Veronica Cole ’09 also moved to D.C. together after graduation, but their experience was quite different.

“We went right from one super queer-friendly bubble to another,” Johnson says. Older, out LGBTQ professionals helped them navigate the post-collegiate landscape. Once Cole decided to enroll at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for graduate school and the two contemplated a permanent return to Johnson’s home state, they had to confront popping that bubble.

“We would joke a lot when we were moving back, like, ‘Oh, we’re an interracial, interfaith, same-sex couple in North Carolina, we should be in a sitcom!’” Johnson says.

But while they both do work that allows them to be comfortable being out—Johnson consults on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and Cole is an assistant professor of psychology at Wake Forest University—the reality of how many people truly see them as different became clear when Johnson ran for Durham City Council in 2021.

“I came into it a little naively,” says Johnson, who lost her bid, “considering how surprised I was at how our relationship was kind of weaponized by the opposition.” Johnson never shied away from her identity, stating it clearly on her website and recognizing that their marriage license was as public as every other one.

But Anna Ferrard-Zeiders, who is an international-school principal, has always been a very private person. Although she doesn’t talk a lot about her personal life at work, she has seen, over the past two decades, the value that “out” role models can provide. “One has a responsibility to be out there showing that this is a positive thing,” she says. The climate in Brussels, she and her wife say, is not as divisive as in some U.S. communities, though they haven’t been able to connect as much with other LGBTQ families as they’ve seen some of their friends do in American cities.

It was such a meaningful place for both of us, but in completely different ways. Wellesley can be special to all of the people who are there.

—Laina Bay-Cheng ’95

Relationship Formalities and Legalities

Years after those dichotomous days in D.C., Molloy and Weinstein were invited to be plaintiffs in the landmark Massachusetts case that legalized same-sex marriage. (Jennifer Hertz Levi ’85 of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders was co-counsel on the case at the trial court level, and Judith Arnold Cowin ’63 was one of the judges on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that made the ruling.) They declined, but actively supported the process. Like many long-standing couples, they got legally married when they could.

“It’s funny, that wedding really didn’t mean that much to us,” Molloy says, even though the fact that it was possible did. “We had already had so many years in our relationship, that was what really mattered.”

Miller and de la Rama celebrated their relationship so many times, they have trouble keeping track of the dates. First, they signed the documents to be legal domestic partners, in 2009. Then they had a spiritual wedding—a big party with family, friends, and tons of Wellesley alums—in 2012.

“Less than a full year later, July 1, 2013, it became legal [in California],” Miller says, so they got a marriage license and had a spontaneous wedding. (Miller, a rabbi, even officiated for a couple ahead of them in line.)

Same-sex marriage became legal in Belgium in 2003, which Anne Ferrard-Zeiders says means couples are now spared the legal complexities she and Anna faced, from visa issues for a noncitizen to needing a second-parent adoption to guarantee both parents have the same legal relationship to their children.

“I have a young colleague at work who got to not only marry [and] have kids,” Anne says, “then they got to divorce.” The legal processes are the same as for straight couples.

But in cases of separation, some generational differences persist. Weinstein and Molloy are no longer a couple, but they have not formalized their divorce. Just as legal marriage was something of an anticlimax, Molloy says divorce “means something different to us than it does to straight people.”

“There’s the relationship,” Weinstein says, “and then there’s the legal stuff.”

Only to Be There

Two alumnae in one relationship can deepen bonds to the College.

Sarah Bay-Cheng says her skills on the basketball court got her into Wellesley, and she is “incredibly grateful” because “it was absolutely the best thing that ever happened to me.” Wellesley teammates and her coach remain part of her personal network.

Laina Bay-Cheng says one thing that feels extra-special to her is how the College can be the right place for students for myriad reasons. Her older sister went to Wellesley when Laina was 6 years old, and while that drove Laina’s choice, she says she’s not much like her sister.

“It was such a meaningful place for both of us, but in completely different ways,” she says. “Wellesley can be special to all of the people who are there.”

Like other couples, the Bay-Chengs have “collected” anniversaries, and one of them was their legal marriage, which Larry Rosenwald, Anne Pierce Rogers Professor of American Literature and professor of English, officiated during Sarah’s 15th reunion weekend at Wellesley in 2011. Rosenwald had been Sarah’s senior thesis advisor and had invited Sarah and Laina to meet his wife. “They were one of our first relationship models and a big influence on our thinking about how we wanted to be as partners, parents, and academics,” Sarah says. They tucked in a small, simple ceremony at the arboretum around other reunion activities. Rosenwald, Sarah says, “was funny and warm as usual, and he talked about how he couldn’t really say as much as he usually would about a couple’s beginning because, after all, we had been together almost 16 years at that point and had two kids.”

As a professor at Wake Forest, Cole treasures how Wellesley faculty helped her become who she is.

“Some of them probably do not remember me, but they changed the way I saw the world,” Cole says. “That’s what I aspire to.”

The Wellesley network has been a boost for Cole and Johnson in ways both personal and professional. Johnson says she talks to Wellesley friends daily. Another alum ran successfully for town council in Chapel Hill, and Johnson says local Wellesley folks embraced her candidacy.

“They’re like, ‘It doesn’t matter, whatever your politics are, you’re a Wellesley alum, and so we’re excited about you,’” Johnson says. “I can’t imagine not having that network.”

Like the other couples, Molloy and Weinstein have both shared friends and different friends from Wellesley. They have no concern that the change in their relationship will affect those friendships.

“We’re welcome separately and together,” Weinstein says. Their daughter is a student at the College, and while her parents say she has had her own unique Wellesley experience, it’s something else that binds mothers and child.

College records indicate that there are at least 60 alum couples, going back to the early 1960s, and likely there are many more. And surely other relationships born of the crisp fall air or a tumble down snowy Severance Green were concealed, snuffed out before they could be nurtured, or simply short-lived. But today, love between Wellesley students can feel pretty much the same as that rite of passage on any campus, and the ranks of alum couples will, doubtless, continue to grow.

Amy Mayer ’94 and her wife also have multiple anniversaries, though they are not an alum couple. More about them is in this issue’s Endnote. Follow Mayer on Twitter @AgAmyinAmes.

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Please make this a running column! There are so many Wellesley love stories left to tell, and we would love to hear them!

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