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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 studies how ideas about women, gender and sexuality are organizing principles of society that intersect with racialization, urbanization, immigration, (dis)ability, religion, and a number of other historical phenomena. Our interdisciplinary program's curriculum spans the four divisions of Earlham College, and encourages every student to take artistic, literary, social scientific, historical, psychological and medical approaches to gender and sexuality.

WGSS at Earlham stands out from gender and sexuality studies programs at other liberal arts colleges in two ways. First, while feminist theory, LGBT and queer studies, postcolonial studies and women’s history are the core of our curriculum as they are at other schools, WGSS students at Earlham are particularly interested in social and economic justice. Current WGSS majors and minors are working as union organizers, in the immigrant rights movement, with Justice for Janitors and the Fight for $15, and other movements dedicated to winning the resources that women of color, queer families, single parents, poor people, and others on the margins need to survive.  Second, because of our major and minor track system, the WGSS program has been of particular interest to people in the STEM fields. Physics and Biochemistry students are currently double majoring in WGSS, and Computer Science and Biology majors are minoring in WGSS. The program has been particularly helpful in preparing students for the social and cultural aspects of work in fields such as technology and engineering.

WGSS majors dedicate their first three years to deep engagement with their individual tracks of study, spending their time reading, writing, on the stage, in the laboratory, in the archive, or at work in the community. During their senior year, WGSS students do a collaborative demonstrative project, where they present their work to the wider Earlham community. They also take a capstone seminar, where they produce an original research project on an individualized topic that they workshop with their peers.  Students end up with a coherent area of expertise that directly translates to their life and work after Earlham.

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 wrote a senior capstone project about her fieldwork with No More Deaths, a faith-based social justice organization in Tucson that provides humanitarian aid to migrants on the Southwest border. She conducted this work as part of her WGSS major on Earlham’s Border Studies Program.

Senior WGSS Majors from the class of 2019 delivered a group demonstrative project at the Center for Inclusive Gender Expression (CIGI), a campus theme house on College Avenue just east of Earlham’s campus. The students invited back LGBTQ alumni for a discussion of the changing nature of queer activism at Earlham between 1970 and the present.  Seventy-five people attended, and the WGSS Department provided dinner from the popular local Indian restaurant Gulzar’s.

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

Dyron Dabney
Jackson Bailey Memorial Endowed Chair for Japan Study/Institute for Education on Japan; Director of Japan Study and Associate Professor of Politics and Japanese Studies

Kari Kalve
Professor of English

Ahmed Khanani
Plowshares Assistant Professor of Politics; Co-Director of the Center of Social Justice

Mary Lacey
Professor of English

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

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

Elana Passman
Associate Professor of History

Maggie Thomas
Interim Dean of the College; Associate Professor of Experimental Social Psychology and Faculty Director of EPIC Programs

Amanda Gray
Predoctoral Teaching Fellow in Women's, Gender, Sexuality 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

Students majoring in WGSS must complete:

  • Eight courses in the following tracks with the following breakdown:
    • Four courses in a primary track
    • Two courses in each of two secondary tracks
  • One Writing Intensive course
  • One Research Intensive course
  • WGSS 481 Internship
  • WGSS 487 Senior Demonstrative Project
  • WGSS 488 Senior Capstone Experience

Historical Track

This track focuses on how the concepts of women, gender and sexuality have changed over time. Courses that count toward the historical track include but are not limited to:

  • HIST 246 European Women’s and Gender History
  • HIST TBD Women, Gender and Sexuality in Modern Africa
  • HIST 357 Readings in African American Women’s History
  • HIST 367 History of Women, Gender and Sexuality in the United States
  • HIST 372 Asian American History through the Media
  • REL 232 Women, Gender and Sexuality in the Jewish Tradition
  • ANCS 357 Gender and Sexuality in the Ancient World

Social Science Track

This track focuses on how the concepts of women, gender and sexuality are socially, culturally, politically and economically constructed. Courses that count toward the social science track include but are not limited to:

  • PAGS 351 Workplace Justice
  • SOAN 118 Inequalities, Power and Society
  • SOAN 215 Identity and Social Movements
  • SOAN 365 Women, Gender and Sexuality
  • POLS TBD Women and Politics in the United States
  • POLS 333: Gender and Sexuality in the Muslim Middle East and North Africa
  • WGSS 305: Radical Queeries

Humanities Track

This track focuses on how the concepts of women, gender and sexuality grow out of representation practices in media, performance, film, literature and visual art. Courses that count toward the humanities track include but are not limited to:

  • WGSS 382 Feminist Art and Theory – 1970 to Present
  • ENG 203 Women and Literature
  • ENG 206 Literature and Identity
  • ENG 309 Prophetic Black Women
  • ENG 358 Gender and Sexuality in Literature
  • ENG 364 Postcolonial Literature

 Psychology and Health Studies Track

This track focuses on how ideas about the mind, consciousness, neurobiology, health, genetics and disease produce the concepts of women, gender and sexuality. Courses that count toward the psychology and public health track include but are not limited to:

  • PSYC 230 Human Development
  • PSYC 344 Psychology of Gender
  • PSYC 353 Behavioral Neuroscience
  • PSYC 356 Psychology of Prejudice
  • PSYC 364 Psychology of Women
  • PSYC 368 Human Sexuality
  • BIOL 112 Cells, Genetics and Inheritance
  • BIOL 200 Epidemiology
  • BIOL 351 Human Genetics and Genomics
  • SOAN 335 Health, Medicine and Society

Writing Intensive

Note that any of these courses may also count toward the eight courses required in the primary or secondary tracks.

  • ENG 203 Women and Literature
  • ENG 206 Literature and Identity
  • HIST 367 History of Women, Gender and Sexuality in the United States
  • PAGS 351 Workplace Justice
  • PSYC 368 Human Sexuality
  • WGSS 305 Radical Queeries

Students may fulfill the writing intensive requirement by taking other writing intensive courses that are offered on a semester‐by-­semester basis with the permission of their WGSS adviser.

Research Intensive

Note that any of these courses may also count toward the eight courses required in the primary or secondary tracks.

  • BIOL 455 Population and Community Ecology
  • ENG 401 Junior Research Seminar
  • HIST 240 History Research Seminar
  • SOAN 309 Sociology of Social Media
  • SOAN 345 Social Research Methods
  • SOAN 346/7 Ethnographic Research Practicum I and II
  • PSYC 354 Interviewing and Field Research
  • PSYC 356 Psychology of Prejudice Any Collaborative Research Project

Students may fulfill the research intensive requirement by taking other research intensive courses that are offered on a semester-­by-­semester basis with the permission of their WGSS adviser.


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.

Senior Demonstrative Project

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.

Senior Capstone Project

Students take a research project that they began in their primary track of focus, and to turn it into a 30-­page senior research paper or equivalent document for the discipline in which the project is produced.


The Minor

Students minoring in WGSS must complete a total of five courses:

  • Three or more classes in a primary track
  • One course in two other tracks


* 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)

Students will be introduced to manga and other forms of sequential art (comics/graphic novels/BD), and methodologies of analyzing multimodal media. The class will look at genre, relationships to other media, censorship, and representations of violence and sexuality. Also listed as JPNS 216. (D-I)

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)

This is a companion course to JPNS 343 that will examine a selection of short stories and novels spanning the Shôwa and Heisei periods. The class will address questions of genre, legitimacy, canon, translation, the social role of the writer, and the place of female authors. Also listed as ENG 310 and JPNS 310. (D-I, WI)

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)

The black middle class has often been used rhetorically and empirically to make claims about the intersection of race and class in the U.S. Students will examine the evolving debate about significance of race and class with the black middle class at its center. Also listed as AAAS 354 and SOAN 354. (A-AR, D-D, RCH)

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.

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

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Earlham admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin, age, gender and sexual orientation to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin, age, gender and sexual orientation in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.