Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

  • Department Interdisciplinary
  • Academic Division The College

Two students Two students

The Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program is a vibrant academic program that links the classroom with the world and offers the theoretical basis for activism and social change.

Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

An invigorating introductory course and disciplinary distribution requirements give students a sound theoretical orientation to defining and articulating concepts and practices in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. Course offerings across the disciplines — psychology, English, Romance languages, political science, philosophy, sociology and anthropology — allow students to draw connections between their major fields of study and the evolving work of scholars of gender and sex. Students are encouraged to think broadly about the role of women, gender and sexuality across many dimensions of human life.

Many of our students come to W&L with an interest in gender justice and LGBTQ+ rights and want to pursue their interests via a combination of courses, co-curricular opportunities and activism on or off campus. Many others become interested in questions about gender and feminism during their time at W&L, either because they get interested in the topic through their academic coursework or because they are seeking to understand gender relations on campus. WGSS sponsors and hosts numerous events every year so students can interact with guest speakers, faculty and each other.

The WGSS capstone requirement allows students to pursue their particular interests with the kind of intensity that turns classroom competence into an abiding passion.

Our faculty encourage students to see their studies as relevant to their everyday lives and important for understanding and responding to social justice issues. Students do just that — in a math student’s investigation into why so few women study math in college, in a fraternity member’s paper analyzing how his fraternity brothers’ drinking habits shape male privilege, or in a missionary’s daughter’s attempt to better understand how a feminist might read the Bible.

Opportunities 
  • Amnesty International
  • Gender Action Group
  • Multicultural Student Association
  • Project Horizon
  • Queer Liberation Alliance
  • Student Association for International Learning
  • Sexual Health Awareness Group
  • SPEAK
  • Women in Technology and Science
Outcomes

Our students enter a wide variety of careers. Some pursue a Ph.D. in English, history or gender studies, while others attend medical school, law school or work in public policy, nonprofits or the business world. Alumni say that the WGSS program has helped them better understand and navigate the world around them and engage with it as citizens, activists and professionals.

  • Hannah Denham ’20 was co-editor-in-chief of the Ring-tum Phi, the student newspaper. She interned at the Washington Post in summer 2019 and won a Randolph Hearst Foundation Journalism Award for her reporting. She completed a capstone on debates over co-education in W&L student media. She is now a reporter for the Washington Business Journal. 

  • Chase Isbell ’21 was an LGBTQ+ peer counselor and editor-in-chief for The Vigil, an online student journal that serves as a platform for underrepresented students, and co-editor-in-chief for Ampersand, a student-run literary and arts magazine. Chase was also vice president of the Queer Liberation Alliance, the LGBTQ+ rights organization on campus, and received the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for the Class of 2021. 

  • Beverley Xia ’22 is co-president of the Gender Action Group. She has worked to raise awareness on campus about the Equal Rights Amendment, and she helped organize events to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in America.

Sarah Horowitz

Program Head

Amanda Smith

Administrative Assistant

News


Assistant Professor of History Nneka Dennie

Nneka Dennie Receives Mellon Emerging Faculty Leaders Award

The assistant professor of history is one of 10 faculty members nationwide to win the prestigious award.

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Washington and Lee Students Selected for Congressional Hunger Center Internships

Sai Chebrolu ’26 and Valentina Giraldo Lozano ’25 are among 13 students chosen for the Zero Hunger Internship program.

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Caleigh Wells

Caleigh Wells ’17 Found Her Calling in Climate Reporting

The reporter and podcast host won a 2023 National Edward R. Murrow Award for her part in BURNED, which investigated failures by the U.S. Forest Service to protect California towns from potential high-risk wildfires.

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Washington and Lee Names Four Faculty Members to Endowed Professorships

These faculty have been recognized for their outstanding teaching, scholarship and service to the university.

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Assistant Professor of History Nneka Dennie

Professor Nneka Dennie to Discuss Her Recent Book on Black Newspaper Editor Mary Ann Shadd Cary

The assistant professor of history will hold her talk on Feb. 7 at noon in the Harte Center Gallery.

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W&L Student Receives Research Grant from the Virginia Academy of Science

Megan Dufault ’24 is studying the risks that environmental pollutants pose to fetal development.

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W&L Celebrates Women’s History Month

The campus community will recognize women’s achievements with various events throughout the month of March.

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Stackhouse Theater seating

From Screen to Square Film Screening: Hidden Figures

The upcoming screening is the second installment in the DeLaney Center's ongoing film series.

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Katie Shester

Katie Shester

Katie Shester is an associate professor of economics and a core faculty member for the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability, as well as Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

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Rebecca Benefiel

Rebecca Benefiel to Deliver Endowed Professorship Lecture

Benefiel’s talk “Uncovering the mysteries of Pompeii” will be held on Nov. 10.

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W&L’s Maggie Hardin ’22 Earns Fulbright to Germany

Maggie Hardin '22 has received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to Germany.

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Sample Courses

At W&L, we believe education and experience go hand-in-hand. You’ll be encouraged to dive in, explore and discover connections that will broaden your perspective.

POL 255

Gender and Politics

This course investigates the gendered terms under which women and men participate in political life. Attention is given to the causes of men’s and women’s different patterns of participation in politics, to processes that are likely to decrease the inequalities between men’s and women’s political power, and the processes by which society’s gender expectations shape electoral and institutional politics. The different effects of gender on the practice of politics in different nations are compared, with a special emphasis placed on advanced industrial democracies.

ARTH 265

Women, Art & Empowerment

This seminar explores female artists from the late 18th century through the present whose depictions of women have directly challenged the value system in art history that has traditionally privileged white heterosexual male artists, audiences, collectors, historians, curators, etc. Lectures, discussions and research projects address multicultural perspectives and provide a sense of feminism's global import in a current and historical context.

HIST 219

Age of the Witch Hunts

This course introduces students to one of the most fascinating and disturbing events in the history of the Western world: the witch hunts in early-modern Europe and North America. Between 1450 and 1750, more than 100,000 individuals, from Russia to Salem, were prosecuted for the crime of witchcraft. Most were women and more than half were executed. In this course, we examine the political, religious, social and legal reasons behind the trials, asking why they occurred in Europe when they did and why they finally ended. We also explore, in brief, global witch hunts that still occur today in places like Africa and India, asking how they resemble yet differ from those of the early-modern world.

PHIL 242

Social Inequality & Fair Opportunity

An exploration of the different range of opportunities available to various social groups, including racial, ethnic and sexual minorities, women and the poor. Topics include how to define fair equality of opportunity; the social mechanisms that play a role in expanding and limiting opportunity; legal and group-initiated strategies aimed at effecting fair equality of opportunity and the theoretical foundations of these strategies; as well as an analysis of the concepts of equality, merit and citizenship, and their value to individuals and society.

WGGS 246

Philosophy of Sex

This course explores questions related to contemporary conceptions of sexuality and its proper role in our lives. Questions addressed include: What is the purpose of sex? Are sexual practices subject to normative evaluation on grounds of morality, aesthetics and/or capacity to promote a flourishing human life? We consider the relation between sex and both intimacy and pleasure, viewed from the perspective of heterosexual women and men, and gay men and lesbians. What are our sexual practices and attitudes toward sex? What should they be like?

SOAN 261

Campus Sex in the Digital Age

This class explores how the cell phone has impacted hooking up and dating at college, with particular attention to Washington and Lee University as a case study. We discuss the development of campus sexual culture in America and the influence of digital technology on student sociality. Students use open-source digital research tools to analyze data they collect on the mobile apps they use to socialize with each other on campus. As a digital humanities project, students work in groups to post their analyses on the class WordPress site.

Meet the Faculty

At W&L, students enjoy small classes and close relationships with professors who educate and nurture.

Sarah Horowitz
Sarah Horowitz

Sarah Horowitz

Professor of History

Horowitz teaches courses on modern European history and specializes in French history and the history of gender in Europe. She is writing a book on the politics of gender and sexuality in the Steinheil Affair of 1908-1909.

Curriculum Vitae

Melina Bell
Melina Bell

Melina Bell

Professor of Philosophy and Law

Bell is a part of the faculty in the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, the Shepherd Program for the Interdisciplinary Study of Poverty and Human Capability, and the Law, Justice, and Society Program. She also teaches at the Law School. Professor Bell’s primary research interests are in political philosophy, philosophy of law, and feminist philosophy.

Curriculum Vitae

Jenefer M. Davies
Jenefer M. Davies

Jenefer M. Davies

Department Head, Theater, Dance and Film Studies; Professor of Dance and Theater

Davies teaches courses on contemporary European dance, dance composition, movement for actors and aerial dance techniques. Her research focuses on modern dance composition and the feminine aesthetic.

Megan Fulcher
Megan Fulcher

Megan Fulcher

Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Science

Dr. Fulcher teaches courses on child development, the development of gender roles, and socioemotional development. Her research focuses on children’s gender role development, toy play and their visions of their future selves.

Genelle Gertz
Genelle Gertz

Genelle Gertz

Associate Dean of Strategic Initiatives and Thomas H. Broadus Professor of English

Gertz teaches courses on Milton, the Tudors and the Bible. She is currently working on methods of social network analysis as they apply to our understanding of the rise and fall of women mystics in English literary history.

Sascha L. Goluboff
Sascha L. Goluboff

Sascha L. Goluboff

Professor of Cultural Anthropology

Goluboff teaches courses such as Food, Culture, and Society, and Gender and Sexuality. Her research focuses on the anthropology of emotion in a variety of geographic and historic contexts.

Wan-Chuan Kao
Wan-Chuan Kao

Wan-Chuan Kao

Associate Professor of English

Professor Kao’s teaching and research interests include medieval literature, especially Chaucer; whiteness studies; critical theory; race and ethnicity; gender and sexuality; queer studies; hotel theory; affect; and cute studies.

Robin LeBlanc
Robin LeBlanc

Robin LeBlanc

Professor of Politics

LeBlanc is a political anthropologist focused on the civic engagement of non-elites in rich democracies. She teaches classes on global politics, urban politics, gender and politics, and political theory.

Ellen Mayock
Ellen Mayock

Ellen Mayock

Ernest Williams II Professor of Spanish

At Washington and Lee, Mayock has taught courses in Spanish, Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Her research focuses on gender and its intersections in literature and film, feminist theories and practice, and representations of conflict and violence. Mayock also writes poetry and creative nonfiction.

Dominica Radulescu
Dominica Radulescu

Dominica Radulescu

Edwin A. Morris Professor of Comparative Literature

Radulescu teaches upper-level French and Francophone literature, theater, and the representations of women, gender, and sexuality in literature. She researches feminist theater and is an award-winning novelist/playwright.

Website

Katharine L. Shester
Katharine L. Shester

Katharine L. Shester

Associate Professor of Economics

Shester teaches courses on urban economics, women in the economy and U.S. economic history. Her research interests include American economic history, urban and labor economics, demography and education.

Curriculum Vitae

Taylor Walle
Taylor Walle

Taylor Walle

Associate Professor of English

Walle is a W&L alumna who teaches courses on Jane Austen, Mary Shelley and other topics in British literature. Her research interests include orality and literacy in the 18th century, women’s writing, and women’s and gender studies.

Lesley Wheeler
Lesley Wheeler

Lesley Wheeler

Henry S. Fox Professor of English

Wheeler teaches courses in poetry, creative writing and speculative fiction. Her research interests include 20th- and 21st-century poetry in English, especially as it involves sound, gender, politics and world-building.

Julie Woodzicka
Julie Woodzicka

Julie Woodzicka

Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Science and Department Head

Woodzicka’s courses include Stereotyping, Prejudice, and Discrimination, Social Psychology, Psychology of Humor, and Research Design and Analysis. She studies the effects of disparagement humor (specifically sexist and racist humor) and subtle strategies to confront discrimination.

Melina Bell
Jenefer M. Davies
Megan Fulcher
Genelle Gertz
Sascha L. Goluboff
Wan-Chuan Kao
Robin LeBlanc
Ellen Mayock
Dominica Radulescu
Katharine L. Shester
Taylor Walle
Lesley Wheeler
Julie Woodzicka
Sarah Horowitz