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What is Women's and Gender Studies?

Women’s and Gender Studies offers a unique and empowering interpretive framework for studying and understanding our world. WGS is an interdisciplinary program that examines the research on gender, women, and sexuality in society, culture, and history. It emphasizes the fundamental intersection of gender and sexuality with other vital categories of human identity and experience, including race, ethnicity, (dis)ability and class. It studies the impact of globalization and technologies on relationships of power and gendered identities. WGS courses equip students with the necessary skills in critical analysis, advocacy, and communication that enable creative solutions to issues of equity, diversity, and social justice.

The minor in WGS is an interdisciplinary 18-credit program with one required course (WGS 200). 

Mission and Program Objectives

The minor in Women's and Gender Studies is an 18-credit-hour interdisciplinary program that explores the scholarship related to gender and equity issues as they affect women. The minor reflects a common core of knowledge and a strong academic foundation from diverse disciplines designed to help students achieve the following objectives:

      * Develop an interdisciplinary perspective on women and on society's construction of gender roles
      * Explore the extent to which gender affects access to opportunity, power, and resources
      * Enhance community awareness and sensitivity within the university to the experiences and contributions of women
      * Foster and facilitate research and scholarship on women and gender issues


The idea of the interdisciplinary field of Women's and Gender Studies emerged in the late 1960s as students and faculty recognized that research and teaching often ignored or devalued the contributions and experiences of women. The development of courses that gave serious and informed attention to women's lives involved a search for historical documents by and about women, the unfolding of women's concerns, and formation of feminist theories. Since the first Women's Studies program was established in 1970, Women's and Gender Studies programs have grown and prospered and today exist in most major educational institutions in the US. Furthermore, feminist scholarship has changed the way many disciplines approach their work. 

In 1989 a subcommittee of the JMU Faculty Women's Caucus proposed a Women's Studies program and minor that was approved in 1991 and was first housed in the Madison Center for Interdisciplinary Studies. The first Introduction to Women's Studies course was co-taught in the spring of 1992 by Dr. Arnie Kahn (Psychology) and Ms. Sharon O'Hare (Economics). The first director of Women's Studies was Dr. Violet Allain (General Education), who served from 1992-1997. She was succeeded by Dr. Mary Lou Wiley (affiliate) who served until 2004, and Dr. Ann-Janine Morey, who directed the program from 2004 to 2007. Co-Coordinators, Drs. Mary Thompson (English) and Jessica Davidson (History) directed the program from 2007 until Dr. Davidson took sole direction in 2012-2014. The program is currently under the direction of Dr. Mary Thompson and is part of the Office of Cross Disciplinary Studies and Diversity Engagement.

The first student to graduate with an official minor in Women's Studies was in 1993.

In 2011, the program changed its name to Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) to reflect a broadening scope that includes analysis of masculinity and LGBT identities. 

The Women’s and Gender Studies Program has been an institutional member of The National Women’s Studies Association since 2012.