Academic Major Spotlight on: Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Living in a Gendered World…and Exploring What That Means
There’s something special about studying Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (frequently shortened to WGSS) at an inclusive women’s college. You’re already surrounded by students who understand that the world is gendered in a very unique way, and because of that, nearly all classes in the humanities, fine arts and social science departments offered WGSS courses. The major is literally part of what makes up Agnes Scott’s culture and curriculum.
It also means that WGSS is truly an interdisciplinary major in a major way, with numerous ways for students to chart their own path throughout the major. Interested in taking your WGSS major into psychology? English? Music? All of those are options within the curriculum.
Bekah Phillips ‘24, a WGSS major from Warner Robins, GA, concurs that the major allows you to chart your own path. “I personally have gained a foundational understanding of our world and society through a variety of lenses or perspectives (by being a part of the major),” Phillips said. It’s a great opportunity to begin your learning and understanding of numerous topics.
What do you do in the WGSS major?
While part of the appeal of the major is that you are able to take a broad course of study, all of them are tied together by one common thread: you are learning to think critically about what it means to be gendered in the world today. WGSS classes explore gender and the ways that it intersects with sexuality, race, ethnicity, nationality, disability and class in history, public policy, religion and more.
How do you do that? According to Bekah, it’s really about learning through reading and class discussions. “You do a lot of reading; Iris Young, bell hooks and Audre Lorde are just some of the key writers that aim to point out and examine the multiple biases within our Western (or in other classes, global) societies. Classes are really structured around conversation, which is fun because there’s a lot to discuss and expand on with our peers and with the professor.”
What kinds of classes can I take with a WGSS major?
The foundational courses of WGSS include an introduction to the field, contemporary feminist theory and required internship and experiential learning experiences. After that, students can customize their own path within the major by taking either courses that share common themes or courses across different disciplines.
The WGSS major allows students to take courses in Art History (Contemporary Art and Theory); Africana Studies (African American Images in Pop Culture); History (Women in the New South); Sociology & Anthropology (Women, Health and Society); Film Studies (Queer & Trans Film Theory); English Literature (Women’s Voices in Modern Irish Literature); Religious Studies (Sex, Gender and Embodiment in Buddhism); Political Science (Women and the Politics of Social Change in Muslim Contexts); Middle East Studies (Women and Gender in the Middle East); Religion & Social Justice (Religion, Ethics and Social Justice); Classics (Sexuality, Gender & Power in Greece and Rome); Pre-Law (Gender and the Law); Psychology (Psychology of Women); Public Health (Maternal and Reproductive Health); Music (Women in World Music); Environmental Studies (Religion & Ecology); and more!
Bekah highlights one of the foundational courses as one of her favorites: Contemporary Feminist Theory. “We explored the question of what is sexism through different perspectives. It leads into other WGSS classes, which work through a similar intersectional framework.”
What skills will I learn in this major?
Bekah specifically mentions the work on critical thinking. Though it can be said for all liberal arts majors, WGSS “personally helped me gain a foundational understanding of the world.” In addition, there is a strong focus on understanding the multi-racial, multi-ethnic and global nature of feminism and gender, as well as on the connections between feminist theory and actual practice.
Agnes Scott alums in numerous fields also highlight the tangible skills they learned through the coursework, including research, event planning, public speaking, management skills and communication skills, all of which have helped them in their current career paths.
What internships, research opportunities and special programs are available?
An internship with a community partner is required for students who wish to graduate with a WGSS major. This allows students to see the connections between feminist theory and practice and between theory and leadership in a hands-on way. Recent internship placements include: The Women’s Resource Center to End Domestic Violence, the Marcus Autism Center and the Feminist Women’s Health Center.
Students are able to practice before their internship experience for academic credit through the Sophomore Class Atlanta Leadership Experience, or SCALE. This year, SCALE takes place in March, and sites coming up that cross over with WGSS include the Atlanta History Center; Atlanta Legal Aid Society; City of Atlanta- Atlanta City Council; Georgia Budget and Policy Institute; New American Pathways; Tapestri, Inc.; and the Turknett Leadership Group.
What are the benefits of studying WGSS at Agnes Scott College?
- Classroom Experience: Small class sizes (an average of 17) and close-knit relationships with fellow students and professors mean that classes will focus on critical thinking. This allows room for lively but respectful classroom debate on controversial issues.
- WGSS Faculty: Bekah highlights the professors that they have worked with as the highlight of the major. “The courses I’ve taken so far would not have had the impact they did if I wasn’t learning from incredible professors. Previous to college, I didn’t even know WGSS existed until taking an intro class my first year and literally falling in love with the subject.”
- Student Clubs and Organizations: Many WGSS students are able to continue their work and learning through related student clubs and organizations; this includes student government work through the SGA, Honor Court or other organizations; Triota, the WGSS Honor Society; and multicultural organizations such as Latinas UNIDAS, Witkaze (Black Student Union) and ASCEND! (LGBTQIA+ organization).
- Outcomes: WGSS grads have gone on to work as lawyers, public relations professionals, fundraising managers, medical professionals, marketing managers and museum curators. They work at locations like The Legal Aid Society, Moxie, The Charleston Museum, Cool Girls, Inc. and more. They also go on to earn graduate degrees in fields across the spectrum at institutions such as Boston College, Simmons College, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia State University, New York University, Loyola University Chicago and the Universities of Hawaii at Manoa, Chicago, North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Michigan, Georgia and Alabama.
Bekah says that even if students don’t major in WGSS, it is such a critical part of both life at Agnes Scott and life in general that they recommend it. “I recommend everyone take at least one WGSS class during their time at Agnes Scott. I wholeheartedly believe that WGSS is one of those life-changing topics that, once you are introduced, it’s hard to not see the multiple avenues in which it affects one’s life and society as a whole.”
About the writer:
Rachel West is the Director of Enrollment Marketing at Agnes Scott. If she could choose a WGSS class to take right now, it would be Women’s Voices in Modern Irish Literature, because she is an Eavan Boland fangirl.