Apr. 12, 2018: Penny Arcade visits Professor Khary Polk's class
Professor Khary Polk's class "Queer Theory and Practice."


Women’s studies courses began to appear in U.S. colleges and universities in the late 1960s. Shortly after its inception Women's and Gender Studies has been one of the most broadly influential fields of intellectual endeavor across both the humanities and social sciences, and (though to a lesser extent) the natural sciences. Throughout North America, and increasingly across both the Global North and Global South, women's studies or Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies programs and departments have offered a hospitable home to the best and most forward-looking scholarship - usually well-ahead of the traditional disciplines. Our department is committed to studying gender along with other categories of difference such as race, class, nation and sexuality. We are eager to introduce a new generation of students to an ever-expanding field of inquiry that often has life-long intellectual, personal and political implications.


In November 1974, after four years of formal review, the Board of Trustees voted that Amherst College would become coeducational.

In the spring of 1975 a group of faculty, staff and administrators concerned with the implementation of coeducation recommended that a list of Women’s Studies courses be included in the interdisciplinary section of the college catalog, and was first included in the 1975-76 Announcement of Courses.

As the years passed it became clear that these arrangements were doing very little either to promote faculty research in Women’s Studies or to encourage more than a token amount of women’s studies instruction. 

By the fall of 1981, faculty who had joined together to formulate a proposal for an Elizabeth W. Bruss Memorial Program noted,

“It seems clear to us that the time has come for some more formal mechanism to ensure that women’s experience is studied in various disciplines.” (Faculty Proposal for an Elizabeth W. Eruss Memorial Program, February 1982, p. 3).

This led to a new ad hoc faculty committee on the Conditions of Work for Faculty Women. The committee’s 1984 report concluded, “that the time has come for some structure that can support and further the aims of women’s studies” (p. 40) and recommended that a committee be appointed to design a Program or Department of Women’s Studies.

In March 1985, in response to the recommendation, the Committee of Six appointed a Committee on Women’s Studies charged to explore the desirability of formally introducing women’s studies into the curriculum.

The committee’s August 1986 report concluded with two recommendations: That the College should establish a major in women’s and gender studies and that the College should establish a Women’s and Gender Studies Department.

In December of 1986, the faculty of Amherst College voted to establish a Women's and Gender Studies department.

Over the years, the department has grown and changed. In 2014 the Women’s and Gender Studies Department chose to add “Sexuality” to its name, becoming the Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies Department (SWAGS). The name change reflected the interests of existing faculty, the hiring of new faculty whose work focused on sexuality, and the importance of sexuality studies to the field. 

Present Day

Our department is committed to intersectionality both in scholarship and in pedagogy. We arrive at questions of gender and sexuality from a variety of disciplinary perspectives such as political science, feminist science studies, history and literature, and aim to give our students a wide range of methodologies through which they might approach these questions. No matter which of these is our disciplinary home, the SWAGS faculty as a whole are dedicated to thinking about gender through other categories of difference such as race, class, sexuality and national belonging.

Our research interests range from post-colonial literature and theory to Colonial American history, to transgender and LGBTQ histories, sex and the military, and sex as a biological and cultural category of difference.

In the spring of 2021 SWAGS created a department handbook detailing department policies and procedures for a wide variety of administrative tasks including its mentoring program, the responsibiities of the chair, criteria for cross-listing a course, and decision making practices. This is a live document that will continue to be updated as policies shift or clarification is needed. Currently faculty and staff can view the SWAGS Department Handbook on our website.

Location and Staff

The SWAGS Office and common room are located on the first floor of Grosvenor House, on College Street next to Valentine Hall. Faculty offices are located in various buildings across campus. Faculty are available during their posted office hours.

Inquiries about the SWAGS Department should be directed to the Academic Department Coordinator.

Stephanie Orion, Academic Department Coordinator

Grosvenor House, room 14
55 College Street
Amherst, MA 01002
413-542-5781 [phone]
413-542-8192 [fax]

Office Hours (Academic Year)

Monday - Thursday
8:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. (on campus)

8:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. (remote)

Professor Khary Polk, Department Chair

Associate Professor of Black Studies and Sexuality, Women's and Gender Studies

304 Cooper House
Amherst, MA 01002