Skip to main content


History of the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies

In response to the cultural and intellectual ferment of the civil rights and women’s movements, the College of Arts and Science established a Committee on Women’s Studies in 1972 to address the need for women’s studies scholarship and courses. As universities and colleges at the time recognized, the combination of intellectual rigor, personal investment, and interest in improving the community produced tremendous vitality among faculty and students interested in studying, analyzing, and redressing long-term and deeply rooted patterns in gender inequality.

Women’s studies courses were added to the curriculum in 1973, and gradually expanded with the addition of faculty with expertise in feminist literary studies, gender-based sociological research, the history of women, and as part of various disciplines interested in the social, medical, and cultural patterns ingrained in human societies. In 1988, women’s studies was recognized as a standing academic program, with a curriculum and dedicated leadership under its first director, Professor Nancy Walker (English). Under Professor Walker’s guidance, women’s studies developed a minor and established several courses within the college’s liberal arts requirement structure.

In May of 1990, women’s studies began offering a minor, and seven years later, under the leadership of Professor Ronnie Steinberg (Sociology), the program expanded to offer a major and a graduate certificate. Reflecting the developments in the field, women’s studies recognized the centrality of gender as an analytical category and adjusted both its curricular focus and its name to the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies. Throughout the program, students are offered a wide array of courses, enabling students who were committed to understanding and addressing inequality—of gender, sexuality, race, class, and ability—to find an intellectual home.

Subsequent directors of the program, including Professor Emerita Charlotte Pierce-Baker (English/GSS) and Professor Katherine Crawford (History/GSS) have extended and expanded the program’s mission, enlisting more than 90 faculty across the university to engage in teaching, workshops, symposia, and lecture series on matters pertaining to the core issue of inequality. At present, faculty members and students explore, analyze, and research on a wide range of issues pertaining to gender and its intersections with other relations of power, such as: sexuality, race, ability, class, nationality, religion, locality, and age. Through links with the K.C. Potter Center and the Margaret Cunningham Women’s Center, faculty and students can utilize their classroom knowledge in activist projects and commitments. These commitments come back into the classroom to enrich the intellectual spirit and energy that has marked the study of women and gender from its origins.

Staying true to its history, the program has revitalized its curriculum, revised its major, minor, and graduate certificate, and, in keeping with both the intellectual and activist directions of the discipline, has become the Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies as of July 1, 2020.