Knocking on the Ivory Tower WGS Seeks a Department

Twenty-five years after the founding of the Committee on Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Committee members say the next step for WGS at Harvard is to become a full-fledged department.

WGS is one of many degree-granting committees in the College—along with Social Studies, Folklore and Mythology, and six others. These committees provide courses and degrees just like any other concentration, but draw on faculty members from other departments.

“Departmentalization would give WGS the academic and institutional recognition that the Program deserves,” Director of Undergraduate Studies Caroline Light wrote in an e-mail.

If the ongoing conversation between committee members and Faculty of Arts and Sciences administrators does lead to a WGS department, it would mark a significant milestone for WGS as an academic field at Harvard.

Talk of developing a core faculty of its own began three years ago, Light wrote.


Though a FAS budget deficit has inserted an obstacle, Committee members remain hopeful that the recent improvements in the budget will accelerate the process.

“The FAS administration has demonstrated full support for the intellectual and pedagogical reasons for departmentalization,” Light wrote. “We remain hopeful that it will be possible in the near future as the University’s fiscal health improves.”


The effort to become a department comes on the heels of a decade of expansion for the WGS program at Harvard, according to Department Chair Afsaneh Najmabadi.

“We’ve consolidated our faculty, our faculty has grown, we’ve managed to hire more lecturers, the courses we give have become larger, and the number of students taking WGS courses has grown,” she said.

Two years ago, the committee began offering a secondary graduate degree. And next academic year, WGS will begin bringing in one visiting professor each year to fill a newly-created endowed chair in LGBT studies.

The total number of undergraduates enrolled in WGS classes has increased from 388 in the 2008-2009 academic year to 545 during the last academic year.

Najmabadi credits this rise to the increased popularity of WGS in the General Education curriculum.

Courses such as Culture and Belief 37: “The Romance: From Jane Austen to Chick Lit,” and United States and the World 26: “Sex and the Citizen” have also been ranked highly among students in the Q guide ratings.

The number of undergraduate concentrators in the program, however, has seen only gradual growth since 2008. The number of primary concentrators has risen from 16 to 18, the number of joint concentrators has risen from 5 to 9, and the number of students pursuing a secondary in WGS has risen from 9 to 12.