At Hillary Clinton's Alma Mater, A Battle For Millennial Women

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Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at her alma mater, Wellesley College, in this 2012 file photo. In 2016, the school is split on supporting Clinton and her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders. (Stephan Savoia/AP)
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at her alma mater, Wellesley College, in this 2012 file photo. In 2016, the school is split on supporting Clinton and her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders. (Stephan Savoia/AP)

These days in Wellesley, it's pretty common to find women from Wellesley College out campaigning.

"This is someone who I've admired for a long time as a women's rights advocate," said Hannah Lindow, who is going door-to-door for Hillary Clinton. "I've also been passionate about making sure that we elect the first female president of the United States. So, as someone who cares about politics, and someone who believes in the politics of the possible, and that pragmatic approach, and that that can make a real difference in the lives of women and girls, I've always thought that Hillary Clinton is that candidate."

Lindow's canvassing partner, Rachel Dodell, holds a voter contact list showing that at the next house, they have to talk to a woman named Wendy.

"Wendy?" Lindow asks, incredulous.

The women laugh.

"The nickname for Wellesley students is Wendy Wellesleys," Lindow explained. "It's sort of pejorative in a way, because a Wendy is that girl in class who just knows everything and raises her hand all the time, but we're all Wendys at heart, and I'd have to say Hillary is a Wendy in the best way. She knows her stuff — very much the Wellesley woman."

Clinton arrived at Wellesley in 1965 as a Republican.

"We actually like that a lot about her," said Lindow. "It shows that she evolves and she changes and she learns. She's a lifelong learner."

By the time Clinton graduated from Wellesley in 1969, she had become a Democrat.

Like the Clinton campaign, Clinton's supporters at Wellesley have been organizing for months.

The Bernie Sanders operation at the college seems like it's still getting organized. This week, the supporters have been anticipating Susan Sarandon's visit to campus.

Junior Hana Bracale grew up during the war in Iraq and the financial crisis. She leads Wellesley Students for Bernie.

"While I was initially very pro-Hillary, and I am pro-Hillary, the more I've looked into policies, I feel like Bernie Sanders reflects what I hope that our government and our country will be moving towards," Bracale said.

For Chloe Garza, politics and its dirty tricks are a turn off, and while she thinks Clinton is great, she said she admires Sanders' campaign style more.

"I don't have any problem with [Clinton] really. I just see better things from Bernie Sanders, with the clean campaign," Garza said. "Especially now that the race is really tight, I see Hillary Clinton coming out with a lot of things like: 'Oh, Bernie Sanders did this ...' I'm so sick of that. It just reflects to me exactly what has been happening in politics for years. I don't want that anymore. I think there needs to be real change."

Exit polls in New Hampshire showed Bernie Sanders won among women — and had a 4-to-1 lead among voters under 25. The Sanders supporters are working to make that happen again here in Massachusetts and in their home states.

First-year Mira Craig-Morse, from Santa Rosa, California, said she respects Clinton as a stateswoman.

"And as a feminist in politics, and what she has done, and I think she has done many great things, but I think she has less integrity than I would like at this point," Craig-Morse said. "I think she'll say things depending on who is supporting her, and on her donors."

"As far as this campaign goes, I think she's losing her backbone," she added. "Depending on who she's talking to, she'll say she's a moderate or say she's very progressive."

Bracale then jumped in with a concrete example.

"She actually switched her opinion on gay marriage at a point when it was clear that it was going to pass the Supreme Court. And so, it's this kind of thing where I don't think that Hillary Clinton will necessarily hold back progress on these things, but I don't think that she'll be a champion for it," she said. "And I don't think that it's her first priority to be pushing these things through. I think she is interested in them as she is: a moderate Democratic candidate."

The Sanders supporters are eager to point out that they do not hate Clinton.

"We're not running a campaign on Wellesley's campus against Hillary Clinton," Craig-Morse said. "I just think that Bernie is holding a campaign that is full of hope and ambition and something that is finally feeling possible, and that's really exciting, and regardless of whether he wins, the important thing is that he presented this set of ideals that should be on the table."

Sanders supporters insist they are feminists, even though they don't support the woman in the race. They say it's Sanders who addresses injustices such as racial and economic inequality that keep women oppressed.

Clinton supporters Rachel Dodell and Hannah Lindow are eager to defend Clinton's feminist credentials.

"I hate this dichotomy that's been set up between okay, so either you can have the physical representation of a woman, or you can have the substantive representation in Bernie," Lindow said. "How about both? Hillary Clinton is both a woman and she fights for women's rights. I mean it's this false dichotomy that drives me nuts."

"I agree," Dodell said, and the women laugh.

As hard as the Clinton and Sanders supporters at Wellesley are organizing for their candidates, they are planning to unite on Super Tuesday.

Both groups are planning a joint get-out-the-vote phone bank, each calling its supporters.

This article was originally published on February 25, 2016.

This segment aired on February 25, 2016.


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Fred Thys Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.



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