The Wellesley Kissing Tradition and #MeToo

Runners pass through the scream tunnel near Wellesley College. April 16, 2018. Photo by Jacqui Busik / BU News Service

By Chloë Hudson
BU News Service

WELLESLEY, Mass. – As runners neared the halfway point of the 122nd Boston Marathon today, they were met with cheers from the Wellesley College “Scream Tunnel.”

Among the sea of controversial “Kiss Me” signs were others asserting the opposite – don’t.

In the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, the hashtag #MeToo sparked important conversations around sexual assault. Women across the United States have rallied against sexual harassment and demanded a redefinition of consent.

Molly Hoyer, 22, is the coordinator of sign making at Wellesley College. Her team created a total of 530 customized signs ahead of this year’s marathon. However, due to poor weather conditions, only 100 signs were successfully fastened to the barriers this morning.

“We release a Google Form for requests from runners and their supporters,” Hoyer said. “We got an uncomfortable request for a sign that said ‘Kiss Me if You’re a Scientist Named Mark,’ and it was obvious that Mark had made the request himself. That was not cool; we would never fulfill that request. But if we did, he could by all means go ahead and kiss the barrier it was hanging on.”

The tradition, which started in 2002 with high fives and air kisses, has included cheeks and lips in recent years. Students line up along Route 135 with homemade signs and encourage reactions from runners.

“Wellesley students do, of course, have agency over what they put on their signs,” Hoyer said. “I personally have never held up a ‘Kiss Me’ sign. If you hold up that sign you are genuinely inviting a runner to kiss you, and that is a personal and intimate decision.”

Jackie Wernz, 36, a civil rights attorney from Chicago, Illinois, supported her husband in his 18th marathon with a homemade sign that read, “Kiss Me If You’re My Husband.”

“I wanted to watch him from the halfway point and it just so happened to be near the young girls with the ‘Kiss Me’ signs,” Wernz said. “So I ran into CVS for paper and a Sharpie and I made my sign on the roadside. He hasn’t seen it yet; he better be the only man who tries to kiss me.”

Maggie Ugelstad, 19, a sophomore at Wellesley College and aide to a woman with cerebral palsy who relies on a wheelchair, held up her “Kiss Me” sign during the push rim wheelchair division. She said she was surprised by the unconventional preparation of a Duo Team – an able-bodied person pushing a disabled person in a customized racing chair – who gave her chocolate kisses instead.

“As they went past, the pusher handed out Hershey’s Kisses to to every girl with a ‘Kiss Me’ sign,” Ugelstad said. “He said they were ‘kisses from Jacob,’ the man in the wheelchair. It was a great play on words.”

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