Surely they could have come up with a better acronym.

It makes sense that Barnard College, the leading historically women’s college in America, would have a robust program for the study of gender. In fact, the name “Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies” is somewhat misleading, as the courses and requirements for this major encompass so much more beyond the study of feminism and queerness. The Barnard WGSS website describes the major as an “interdisciplinary department for students who wish to explore gender and its relation to other axes of power: race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality.” The WGSS department very much abides by the ethos that intersectionality and interdisciplinarity are paramount.

Columbia students can also major in “Women’s and Gender Studies,” where many of the required courses are taught at Barnard as part of the Barnard major curriculum. Columbia is also home to the Institute for the Study of Sexuality and Gender. At Barnard, the department chair is Rebecca Jordan-Young; at Columbia, Sarah Haley is the Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Women’s and Gender Studies program.

Requirements for the major


  • One introductory course emphasizing one of three possible pathways
    • WMST 1001UN (Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies) or SOCI 3302UN (Sociology of Gender)
    • WMST 2150BC (Practicing Intersectionality) or CSER 1040UN (Critical Studies of Race and Ethnicity)
    • WMST 3125BC (Intro to Sexuality Studies) or SOCI 3318V (Sociology of Sexuality)
  • WMST 2140BC (Critical Approaches in Social and Cultural Theory)
  • WMST 3311UN (Feminist Theory)
  • WMST 3514BC (Historical Approaches to Feminist Questions)
  • WMST 3915UN (Gender and Power in Global Perspective)
  • a total of 5 electives, including two Advanced Research Seminars
  • WMST 3903 BC (Senior Seminar I: Knowledge, Practice, Power)


  • WMST 1001UN (Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies) or WMST 3125UN (Intro to Sexuality Studies)
  • WMST 3311UN (Feminist Theory)
  • WMST 3514BC (Historical Approaches to Feminist Questions)
  • WMST 3521UN (Senior Seminar I)
  • WMST 3915UN (Gender and Power in Global Perspective)
  • six electives approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies

Other options of study

Barnard offers a combined major version of the WGSS major, where only two electives are required. Popular combinations include WGSS and English and WGSS and Africana studies. Barnard also offers a minor with only five required courses. For Columbia students who wish to concentrate instead of major, the same courses are required except for Senior Seminar I.

Class recommendations and overview

Bwog writers recommend Historical Approaches to Feminist Questions with Professor Neferti Tadiar, Critical Approaches with Professor Marisa Solomon, and Introduction to Sexuality Studies with Professor Jack Halberstam. Additionally, many classes that can count for elective requirements are cross-listed with other departments. For example, Gender and Sexuality in Yiddish Literature with Professor Legutko, a great option, is cross-listed with the Yiddish department. Ultimately, this major has a rigid core but a very flexible roster of electives. The required core courses are unfortunately often seminar-sized, resulting in registration being difficult for underclassmen. Therefore, it is wise for younger students who know they intend to major in WGSS to take their electives in their first few years, since they will likely have to take the major requirements as juniors and seniors.

So, who should major in WGSS? In my personal experience across my WGSS courses, WGSS majors are extremely passionate about justice, feminism, antiracism, and often anticapitalism. Gender studies is stereotyped as the classic “what are you going to do with that degree?” major, yet people who study WGSS are often combining it with an entirely different major or another heavily academic program of study. Many WGSS majors intend to go into academia, and the robust amounts of theoretical reading and writing that the program assigns to students are certainly adequate preparation for that path. Even if you don’t intend to major in WGSS, it’s certainly worth dipping your toes in by taking a class as an elective. Critical Approaches, which is a prerequisite for almost every other WGSS core class, is an excellent introduction to foundational works of critical theory that will be relevant in every discipline, not just gender studies.

Ultimately, WGSS is a major for people who want to examine the world from a theoretical and interdisciplinary perspective, with a particular focus on racial justice and queer futurity. If you’re into an ultra-academic program of study that never forgets the important of praxis, give it a try.

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