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First-Year Focus

First-Year Advising in the Gender & Sexuality Studies Program

Courses offered through the Gender & Sexuality Studies Program are open to all undergraduates at Northwestern and we offer several introductory courses intended for freshman each year. If you are interested in issues of gender and sexuality, want to know about our course offerings, or are interested in the major or minor, the information below should be of use to you. If you want to know more, please feel free to get in touch or make an appointment with our Director of Undergraduate Studies, Tessie Liu.

What is Gender & Sexuality Studies?

“Girl or boy?” is often the first question anyone asks about us, preceding our own memories or our ability to speak for ourselves. In many ways, we never stop responding, consciously or otherwise. Our answers are expected to be automatic, and confined to these two options. Our female or male sex, our feminine or masculine gender, and our straight or gay desires are presumed as natural, individual facts, but at the same time, they are forced into binaries and regulated by culture at every level: in the clothing we wear, the popular culture we create or consume, the family structures we inhabit, the laws and public policies we obey or defy, and even the words we use. How do we navigate this paradox whereby sex, gender, and sexuality are taken to be fully natural but also profoundly cultural? How can we identify or alter the social inequalities built into these ways of thinking and being? In other words, how can we understand sex, gender, desire, and the complex relations among them as malleable products of culture, changing tremendously over time and across different societies?

The faculty and students in Gender and Sexuality Studies investigate these and related questions from multiple standpoints within the humanities and social sciences. Courses emphasize feminist, gay/lesbian, transgendered, queer, and other ways of knowing specific to sex and gender, as applied through fields like history, literature, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, film and media, political science, and public health. The program pays particular attention to how gender and sexuality intersect with race, class, ethnicity, national belonging, and transnational movement(s). In classes and in pursuing their own research, students focus on gender and sexuality as key categories of political, social and cultural analysis. For example, in recent years our students have done research on such topics as women’s empowerment and micro-loan programs in Uganda, “hook-up culture” on college campuses, depictions of transgendered identities in Hollywood films, medical diagnoses of female sexual dysfunction, and the effect of the 1977 Hyde Amendment on debates over abortion in the U.S.

Students majoring or minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies have gone onto rewarding careers in law, medicine, education, journalism, business, advocacy work, and the arts. Many of our students have won prestigious Coro Fellowships in Public Affairs, secured teaching placements through the Teach for America program, or gone onto graduate school, law school, or medical school upon completing their B.A. at Northwestern.

Good Classes for First-Year

We offer introductory classes for first-year and sophomores every fall quarter and reserve spots for incoming freshman in these courses, including GSS 220: “Sexual Subjects: Introduction to Sexuality Studies”; GSS 230: “The Roots of Feminism”; and 232 “Sexuality and Society.” We also recommend Sociology 216: “Gender & Society.” Each of these courses will introduce you to key terms, issues, and approaches to the study of gender and sexuality in the humanities and social sciences.

All of our 200-level courses are suited to first-year students and sophomores and each fulfills one or more of the Weinberg College distribution requirements. For example, “The Roots of Feminism” fulfills your Area IV Historical Studies requirement, and “Sexual Subjects” can satisfy a credit in Area III, Area IV, or Area V. Similarly, our spring quarter class Gender & Sexuality Studies 231 “Introduction to Gender, Sexuality, and Cinema” fulfills an Area VI—Literature and Fine Arts distribution requirement.

Most of our 300-level seminar courses are also open to freshman, but we encourage freshman interested in gender and sexuality to begin by taking one or more of our 200-level introductory courses.

Getting Started in the Major or Minor

Majors and minors are required to take our two core classes, 220 “Sexual Subjects” and 230 “The Roots of Feminism,” in their first-year or sophomore year. Majors are also required to take both of our theory courses,   381 “Queer Theory” and 397 “Feminist Theory,” in their junior or senior year.

In addition to these courses, majors will take another 7 courses in gender & sexuality studies of their choosing at the 200 or 300-level, plus 4 related courses in other departments or programs. Majors are also required to complete a research project or paper by their senior year and may decide to pursue a senior thesis as well. Minors will take another 5 courses in gender & sexuality of their choosing.

For more information about the major and minor requirements see the following gender & sexuality studies undergraduate program pages:

Students in our program often double-major in another Weinberg College department or count their minor in Gender & Sexuality Studies towards the "related courses" requirement in their major. In addition, a number of our courses are regularly co-listed in other departments and programs, including African-American Studies, Global Health, History, Sociology, and English. Thus, they can be taken for credit in either department or program.

If your particular interest is in how issues of gender and sexuality intersect with science and medicine, public health or the law you might also be interested in these programs:


For further advising help, the following resources can be of great help:

Anyone who is interested in issues in gender and sexuality studies may want to join these student groups:

Other campus resources include:

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