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Women's Gender, Sexuality Studies:
Exploring the Intersection of Gender, Race, Class, Nation and Sexuality

Overview   |   Our Faculty   |   Plan of Study   |   Courses  


The Women’s, Gender, Sexuality Studies (WGSS) program is designed to explore how diverse people’s experiences and identities are shaped by, and shape, the intersectionalities of gender, race, class, nationality and sexuality.

The program challenges students to undertake critical inquiries that are historically and geographically contextualized, with an eye to the contemporary moment and an emphasis on the generative debates within the field.

By linking academic work and activism, theoretical inquiry and practical experience, our students are prepared as nuanced analytical thinkers, inventive problem solvers and strong communicators.

Professor JoAnn Martin is currently leading a collaborative faculty/student research project on the film Mary Poppins as a representation of the role of rejection of queer identities to establish compulsory heterosexuality as the normative family.

More from the Women's, Gender, Sexuality Studies Department:


WGSS students participated in a two-week collaborative research trip with Professor Ryan Murphy to the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. Students researched and wrote about topics including sex education, birth control, family policy and LGBT rights.

A recent WGSS graduate worked on a demonstrative project that included historical research about the history of women in punk rock and performing in her own Riot Grrrl band.

Nearly half of Earlham alumni enter graduate or professional school within 10 years of receiving their degrees, and Earlham ranks 29th among 1306 colleges and universities nationwide for the percentage of graduates who go on to earn a Ph.D.

WGSS graduates enter a wide range of career fields, including advocacy, education and law.

Our Faculty

Amanda Gray
Predoctoral Teaching Fellow

Margaret Hampton
Professor of German

Kari Kalve
Professor of English

JoAnn Martin
Professor of Sociology/Anthropology; Convener of Women's, Gender, Sexuality Studies Program

Ryan Murphy
Assistant Professor of History and Women's, Gender, Sexuality Studies

Elana Passman
Associate Professor of History

Joann Quiñones
Associate Professor of English

Betsy Schlabach
Associate Professor of History and African & African American Studies

Chris Swafford
Professor of Spanish and Hispanic Studies

Joanna Swanger
Director of Peace and Global Studies Program; Associate Professor of Peace and Global Studies

Maggie Thomas
Associate Professor of Psychology

Bonita Washington-Lacey
Senior Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, Registrar and Director of Accreditation

Susan Wise
Professor of Ancient and Classical Studies
Plan of Study

General Education Requirements

The Program offers various courses that meet General Education requirements including the Perspectives on Diversity Requirement, both domestic and international (WGSS 203, 246, 305, 364, 365, 367, 357 and 482. In addition, a number of WGSS courses fulfill Writing Intensive and Research requirements.

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 the convener 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 of people, ideas and places in a transnational context. Courses that may fulfill this requirement are:
      • ENG 464: Post-Colonial Literature
      • SOAN 365: Political Economy of Development
      • HIST 130: History of Nonviolent Movements
      • PAGS 240: Global Dynamics and World Peace
  • One course focusing on Race and Ethnicity in the U.S.

    • At least one course with a sustained emphasis on social justice with respect to a particular race or ethnicity in the U.S. 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 372 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 at the intersection of gender, sex, sexualities, race, and class. The WGSS curriculum committee evaluates and approves courses in this area. Courses that typically fulfill this requirement include:
      • CLAS 357 Gender and Sexuality in the Ancient World
      • ENG 206 Literature and Identity: Sexuality
      • PSYC 364 Psychology of Women
      • HIST 246 European Women’s and Gender History
      • HIST 367 Women and Men in American History
  • Internship for 0-3 credits

    • An internship must be completed before the student's final semester at Earlham. The internship enables students to apply theoretical approaches raised in WGSS courses to practical situations 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 semester of the senior year. Students should meet with their WGSS adviser no later than the spring of their Junior year to discuss plans for this project. The project requires students to synthesize theory and practice and demonstrate a nuanced understanding of an issue or problem relevant to the Earlham community. Students present their demonstrative project to the Earlham community in Spring semester of the senior year.

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-AR) = Analytical - Abstract Reasoning
  • (A-QR) = Analytical - Quantitative
  • (D-D) = Diversity - Domestic
  • (D-I) = Diversity - International
  • (D-L) = Diversity - Language
  • (RCH) = Research
  • (W) = Wellness
  • (WI) = Writing Intensive
  • (AY) = Offered in Alternative Year

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 or consent of the instructor. Also listed as ENG 303. (WI, D-D)

How has the Jewish tradition weighed in on issues of gender and sexuality, and how have issues in gender and sexuality shaped and challenged the Jewish tradition? This course explores issues of sexuality, gender norms, marriage and divorce, feminism, and queer activism in the context of the Jewish tradition from antiquity to the present. This course will focus particularly on the relationship between Jewish sacred texts and the communities who read them; the rise of Jewish feminism and LGBTQ civil rights; and ethnographic accounts of contemporary Jewish communities in the U.S., Israel and Palestine, and North Africa. Also listed as JWST 232 and REL 232. (DI)

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)

*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: Consent of the instructor. Also listed as GER 343. (AY)

Gender is a pervasive cultural system that structures nearly every human behavior and interaction. In this course, students will analyze how gender functions in modern U.S. culture and how it intersects with other major social categories such as race, class, sexual orientation and identity. Prerequisite: PSYC 115/116 or WGSS 305 and sophomore standing. Also listed as PSYC 344. (D-D)

This course explores ways the ancient Greeks constructed notions of gender and sexuality. Students examine a wide range of primary evidence (such as drama, poetry, philosophy, science or medical treatises, court documents, art, architecture and daily artifacts) in order to uncover Greek attitudes and practices. By confronting the assumptions of a culture that was in many ways radically different from our own, we address some of the fundamental ways that ideas about gender and sexuality inform and shape societal expectations and institutions, from personal identity and forms of self-expression to the legal, medical and political mechanisms that govern society. Knowledge of a classical language is not required. Prerequisite: Consent of the instructor. Also listed as ANCS 357. (WI)

Explores select topics in the history of African American women from the era of antebellum slavery to the present, using such primary sources as slave narratives, autobiographies, documents and historical monographs. Topics include gender relations in the slave community, the gendered nature of slave resistance and rebellion, the politics of economic emancipation, women’s activism in the struggle against racial violence and segregation and the role of women in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements.

Examines women’s lives and experiences through the lens of psychological research. Includes a variety of psychological perspectives and issues in women’s lives, as well as discussions about gender as a social framework. Prerequisite: PSYC 115 or WGSS 305, and Sophomore standing or above. Also listed as PSYC 364. (D-D)

Critically examines the discursive construction of a presumed natural link between sex, gender and desire, emphasizing connections between the naturalization of heterosexuality and the formation of nations and empires. (D-D or D-I)

A survey of U.S. social history from 1607 to the present, focusing on the historical contours of female/male sex roles and the family. Topics include marriage, the family, child rearing, work, education, sexuality and gynecology, and reproduction. Analyzes the effects of war, racism, slavery, immigration, industrialization and consumerism, along with abolitionism, temperance, feminism, civil rights and other social protest movements. Prerequisite: Earlham Seminar II, HIST 121 or 122, or consent of the instructor. Also listed as HIST 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. Prerequisite: sophomore standing. Also listed as PSYC 368. (AY)

An interdisciplinary and intersectional examination of major feminist theories. The course emphasizes a diversity of perspectives, highlights generative debates and considers the implications of theoretical frameworks for people's lives and experience. Prerequisite: WGSS 305.


WGSS 482 SPECIAL TOPICS (3-4 credits)
Selected topics determined by the instructor for upper-level study. Examples of recent and future offerings include Queer Histories: Dissident Sexualities in U.S. History, 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.


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 project such as a report prepared in the style of a thesis or research paper, a performance or public presentation, etc.

Part of the Women's, Gender, Sexuality Studies Senior Comprehensive.
The project requires students to synthesize the theory and practice and to demonstrate a nuanced understanding of an issue or problem relevant to the Earlham community. Students present their demonstrative project to the Earlham community in spring semester of the senior year. Recent projects include an investigation and discussion of abortion narratives in film, slam poetry, organizing a lecture series on minority women's health issues, and creating one-woman art shows.

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.