The Program

The Women’s, Gender, Sexuality Studies program (WGSS) examines how power operates in relation to socially constructed categories such as “woman,” “man,” “homosexual,” and “heterosexual.” Courses in WGSS explore how diverse people’s experiences and identities are shaped by, and shape, the intersectionalities of the categories of gender, race, class, nation and sexuality. WGSS also analyzes how identity is communicated by and reinforced within ideological, economic and political domains. The critical inquiries undertaken in WGSS courses are historically and geographically contextualized, with an eye to the contemporary moment and an emphasis on the generative debates within the field. Because the WGSS program involves both explorations across a broadly defined area of inquiry, as well as an examination of the methods and knowledges of specific disciplines, it is a richly interdisciplinary program.

The focus on contemporary circumstances, set within a framework of a commitment to social justice, demands that WGSS students learn to link academic work and activism, theoretical inquiry and practical experience. While the WGSS program is grounded in a political commitment to feminism, its curriculum is not limited to the presentation of any single doctrine, methodology or position. Instead, students are encouraged to think critically and develop their own positions on the entire spectrum of questions that inform the curriculum.

WGSS majors are prepared to be nuanced analytical thinkers, inventive problem solvers and strong communicators, and therefore are qualified for a wide range of occupations and graduate work.

General Education Requirements

The Program offers five courses that meet the Domestic component of the Perspectives on Diversity Requirement, WGSS 303, 305, 364, 367 and 482. Two offerings are Comparative Practices courses: WGSS 303 and 357.

The Major

The structure of the major includes core courses, a course in transnational movements, power and critique courses, a course in U.S. Ethnic Studies and internship/field experiences. The WGSS major is designed to allow students flexibility and versatility. Students and faculty work closely to shape the WGSS major to meet the needs and interests of the individual student. The Program encourages students to participate in off-campus programs and to design independent study experiences, enabling each person to take advantage of the rich diversity of opportunities available at Earlham College and in the world.

A student who wishes to declare a major in WGSS should meet with a member of the WGSS faculty to receive final approval of her/his course selections. A student will follow the program requirements based on the catalog year in which they entered.

Students majoring in WGSS must complete:

  • Four Core Courses for a total of 16 credits

    • WGSS 305 Radical Queeries: Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies
    • WGSS 365 Women, Gender and Sexuality (cross-listed as SOAN 364)
    • WGSS 375 Feminist Theories
    • WGSS 488 Senior Capstone Experience
  • One course focusing on Transnational Movements

    • At least one course with a sustained emphasis on a movement or movements that takes into account how people, ideas and places are discussed and explored in a transnational context. Courses that may fulfill this requirement are:
      • ENG 464: Post-Colonial Literature (offered every year)
      • SOAN 365: Political Economy of Development (offered every other year)
      • HIST 130: History of Nonviolent Movements (offered every fall)
      • PAGS 240: Global Dynamics and World Peace (offered every spring)
  • One course focusing on Race and Ethnicity in the U.S.

    • At least one course with a sustained emphasis on how race and ethnicity function in the U.S must be taken. The WGSS curriculum committee will continue to evaluate and approve courses in this area. Courses that have fulfilled this requirement are:
      • AAAS 114 Introduction to African American Studies
      • ENG 304 African American Literature
      • HIST 482 Asian American History.
  • Three Power and Critique courses for a minimum of 9 credits

    • At least three additional courses should be chosen that represent a sustained, critical analysis of how power functions in relationship to gender, sex, sexualities, race, class and intersectionalities. The WGSS curriculum committee will continue to evaluate and approve courses in this area. At this time, courses such as, but not limited to, that will fulfill this category include:
      • CLAS 357 Women in Antiquity
      • PSYC 364 Psychology of Women
      • HIST 367 Women and Men in American History
      • PHIL 386 Feminist Philosophies
  • Internship for 0-3 credits

    • An internship is completed before the student's final semester at Earlham. The internship enables students to apply theoretical approaches raised in WGSS courses to practical situations in the world beyond the classroom. Internships can be done on an off-campus program, during the summer, or in Richmond during the academic year. The convener of WGSS must approve the internship.
  • Demonstrative Project for 2 credits

    • The demonstrative project is to be completed in the first Senior semester. Students should meet with their WGSS adviser no later than the spring of their Junior year to complete this project by the end of the Fall Semester of their Senior year. The project provides an opportunity for students to synthesize the theoretical and practical experiences gained in the Major and to demonstrate their depth of understanding of a particular issue or problem to the larger Earlham community.

The Minor

To minor in WGSS, students must complete:

  • WGSS 305 Radical Queeries: Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies
  • WGSS 365 Women, Gender and Sexuality (cross-listed as SOAN 364)
  • WGSS 375 Feminist Theories
  • Two Power and Critique Courses

* Key

Courses that fulfill
General Education Requirements:

  • (A-AP) = Arts - Applied
  • (A-TH) = Arts - Theoretical/Historical
  • (A-AR) = Analytical - Abstract Reasoning
  • (A-QR) = Analytical - Quantitative
  • (D-D) = Diversity - Domestic
  • (D-I) = Diversity - International
  • (D-L) = Diversity - Language
  • (ES) = Earlham Seminar
  • (IP) = Interpretive Practices
  • (SI) = Scientific Inquiry
  • (W) = Wellness
  • (WI) = Writing Intensive
  • (AY) = Offered in Alternative Year

*WGSS 150 EARLHAM SEMINAR (4 credits)
Offered for first-year students. Topics vary. (ES)

An examination of women's and gender history in the 19th and 20th centuries across a range of European countries with particular focus on politics, gender roles, sexuality, and culture. Allows students to question narrow (national, disciplinary, epistemological) boundaries, think critically about the gendered constructions of European society, and reflect upon the distinctive contributions of women's history. Also listed as HIST 246. (D-I) (AY)

An introduction to the study of literature by and about the lives of women, written in a variety of genres and periods, from a number of cultural traditions. Explores ways in which a study of a writer's ideas and techniques and a text's background (e.g., biography of the author, political climate, religious tradition) can lead to greater appreciation and understanding of a work, a writer, a reader and a time. A variety of critical points of view with particular attention to Feminist and Womanist theories. Prerequisite: An Earlham Seminar, an Interpretive Practices course or consent of the instructor. Also listed as ENG 303. (WI, D-D)

*WGSS 305 RADICAL QUEERIES (4 credits)
An advanced introductory examination of women's and men’s lives, attending to commonalities and differences of experience in terms of gender, race, class, age, culture, nation, sex, sexuality dis/ability, etc. People live at the intersections of these categories, and so we will examine what scholars talk about as: Intersectionality, The Prism of Difference, Borderlands. The course focuses on “Socially Lived Theorizing,” “a theoretical framework / methodology that allows us to see the diversity of women’s [and men’s] lives and the structures of power, inequality, and opportunity that shape our experiences” (Kirk and Rey, 55). (D-D)

Critical reading of representative works. Focuses on the contributions of women to the literary life and cultures of German-speaking countries. Also explores myths and misconceptions regarding women by addressing questions of image and reality. Prerequisite: An Interpretive Practices course or consent of the instructor. Also listed as GER 343. (AY)

*WGSS 357 WOMEN IN ANTIQUITY (3 credits)
A study of representations of women and the construction of gender in ancient Greek and Latin texts and art. Readings include works by Homer, Sappho, Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristotle as well as selections from secondary sources. Students complete a research project, possibly in collaboration with another student. Knowledge of a classical language is not required. Prerequisite: An Interpretive Practices course or consent of the instructor. Also listed as CLAS 357. (WI)

Examines psychological theory and research from a feminist perspective. Uses historical and developmental frameworks to explore how psychology has contributed to the meaning of gender in the lives of women and girls. Prerequisite: PSYC 115 or WGSS 305, and Sophomore standing or above. Also listed as PSYC 364. (D-D)

Examines the production of heterosexuality in contemporary western society through the discursive construction of a presumed natural link between sex, gender and desire. The course emphasizes the connections between the naturalization of heterosexuality and the formation of nations and empires and transnational movements of capital, images and people.

Surveys American social history from 1607 to the present, with a focus on the historical contours of female/male gender roles and the family. Topics include conception and roles of marriage, the family, child rearing and human development, work, leisure, education and sexuality. Analyzes the effects of war, racism, slavery, immigration, industrialization and consumerism, along with abolitionism, temperance, feminism, civil rights and other social protest movements. Prerequisite: An Interpretive Practices course, HIST 121 or 122, or consent of the instructor. Also listed as HIST 367 and LGST 367. (D-D) (AY)

WGSS 368 HUMAN SEXUALITY (3 credits)
Sexuality is central to our lives. It is involved in many of our most fundamental relationships and engages some of our strongest emotions. This course provides an examination of human sexuality (encompassing sexual behaviors, sexual identity, social norms/attitudes, etc.) and the psychological, physiological and sociocultural influences upon human sexuality. (AY)

An interdisciplinary examination of major feminist theories with attention to the history of feminist thought. Emphasizes a diversity of perspectives and reflective consideration of the implications of theoretical frameworks for people's lives and experience. Among authors recently included: Daly, Chodorow, Lorde, Joseph, Eisentein, Gilligan, Mitchell, Ortner, Butler, Hooks, Lerner, Ruether, Rossi, Fox-Keller, Anzaldua, Hill-Collins, Lugones, Frye, Nicholson, Harding and Cooper. Prerequisite: WGSS 305.

Traces the histories of women in the church and explores the emergence of feminist/womanist theology in the 20th century. Focuses on current feminist/womanist thought and action in today's societies. Also listed as AAAS 440 and REL 440. (AY)


*WGSS 482 SPECIAL TOPICS (3-4 credits)
Selected topics determined by the instructor for upper-level study. Examples of recent and future offerings include Women and the Civil Rights Movement, Women Writers and the Color Line, Lesbian Literature and Culture, Feminist Friendship, Asian Immigrant Women, Public Policy and Women, Feminist Ethics, Womanism and Toni Morrison, and Feminist Film. (D-D)


Collaborative research with faculty funded by the Ford/Knight Program.

WGSS 485 INDEPENDENT STUDY (1-3 credits)
Investigation of a specific topic conceived and planned by the student in consultation with a faculty supervisor. Culminates in a comprehensive report prepared in the style of a thesis or research paper.

Part of the Women's, Gender, Sexuality Studies Senior Comprehensive. Provides an opportunity to synthesize theoretical and practical experiences gained in the Women's Gender, Sexuality Studies Major and to demonstrate depth of understanding of a particular issue or problem to the larger Earlham community. Recent projects include organizing a lecture series on minority women's health issues; creating one-woman art shows; coordinating groups to explore different forms of artistic expression including poetry by women of color, collections of Jewish women's writings and feminist choral singing.

Focuses on a question or theme selected by the instructor in consultation with the Senior students. Provides an opportunity to integrate the breadth of Women's, Gender, Sexuality Studies experiences and to make plans for living out a life that includes the intersection of our personal, intellectual and activist commitments. Recent seminar topics include women and violence, the limits of language, reproductive technologies, abortion, postmodernism and working-class women. Prerequisite: WGSS 375.

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Earlham College, an independent, residential college, aspires to provide the highest-quality undergraduate education in the liberal arts, including the sciences, shaped by the distinctive perspectives of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

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