Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies (GWSS)

Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies (GWSS)

The Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies (GWSS) Program at Grinnell College offers students a broad foundation in feminist, critical race, and queer scholarship and activism. From the introductory course to the senior capstone, GWSS students and majors explore the construction and operation of power in the lives of individuals, within groups, and across the globe. GWSS thus is as much a way of seeing the world as it is an academic discipline.

The interdisciplinarity inherent to GWSS means that the program is vitally important to the liberal arts curriculum. The major’s structure requires GWSS majors to explore courses across the campus in order to fulfill their elective requirements. In the program's core courses, students learn to think through the lenses of various disciplines, applying methods and theoretical models borrowed from the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Students then take questions of power, privilege, and intersectionality learned in GWSS courses and apply them in their courses across the curriculum. Moreover, the research that students conduct in their GWSS courses and through Mentored Advanced Projects (MAPs), as well as their internship and employment opportunities, allow them to enact the social justice ethos that is central to Grinnell College.

Grinnell’s GWSS program is part of the interdisciplinary-discipline of women’s studies that emerged in the wake of the women’s liberation movement of the late 1960s. The first women’s studies program in the United States was established at San Diego State University in 1970. Seven years later, the National Women’s Studies Association formed as the national organization in 1977. Women’s studies courses finally came to Grinnell in the 1980s. In 1985, Joseph Rosenfield ’25 endowed a faculty chair in honor of his sister, Louise Frankel Rosenfield Noun ’29, a formidable figure in Iowa politics and feminism. The program began offering a concentration in women's studies in 1989. Since then, the field of women’s studies nationwide and at Grinnell College has expanded greatly. The National Women’s Studies Association explains,

Today the field’s interrogation of identity, power, and privilege go far beyond the category “woman.”  Drawing on the feminist scholarship of U.S. and Third World women of color, women’s studies has made the conceptual claims and theoretical practices of intersectionality, which examines how categories of identity (e.g., sexuality, race, class, gender, age, ability, etc.) and structures of inequality are mutually constituted and must continually be understood in relationship to one another, and transnationalism, which focuses on cultures, structures and relationships that are formed as a result of the flows of people and resources across geopolitical borders, foundations of the discipline.

Professors Astrid Henry and Lakesia Johnson joined the Grinnell College faculty in 2008 with the charge of expanding the concentration. Committed to the definition quoted above, they rebuilt the program to reflect the dynamic state of the field. In 2009, Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies became a major at Grinnell College. The program has continued to expand and evolve, with an ever-growing cohort of alumni who have launched successful careers in law, medicine, non-profit work, and more. Intersectional explorations of gender and sexuality remain at the heart of the GWSS program, and inform our expanded offerings in disability, transgender, and even animal studies. 

Currently, more than twenty-five faculty members from all three academic divisions serve as advisors for GWSS majors. In addition to taking GWS 111: Introduction to GWSS; GWS 249: Theory and Methods; and GWS 495, the senior capstone seminar; majors may select from approximately 150 courses from across the curriculum to build a program of study that not only fulfills the elective requirements for the major, but also reflects their own interests and commitments.