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Scholarship and teaching related to gender, feminism, and sexuality have had a place at Northwestern for more than forty years, beginning with the founding of an interdisciplinary Program on Women in 1971. Northwestern converted that initiative into a Women's Studies Program in 1980, which began to offer an undergraduate certificate in Women's Studies. In 1991, the University made its first faculty appointments in the program; in 1992, Women's Studies awarded its first graduate certificate; and in 1993, Women's Studies was recognized as a major by the College of Arts and Sciences.

With a change of name from "Women's Studies" to "Gender Studies" in 2000, the program built upon its strong, existing foundations in women's studies scholarship and feminist theory, while also expanding its commitment to include the study of gender more broadly, sexuality studies, and their deep implications with experiences of race, ethnicity, class, and globalism. In 2007, partly on the strength of its longstanding graduate certificate program, Gender Studies become one of the inaugural participants in the Graduate School's innovative Interdisciplinary Cluster Initiative, attracting Ph.D., M.A., and M.F.A. students from ever more disciplines.

In 2012, in consultation with our students and in response to the expanding range of research agendas among the faculty, the program's name changed once more, this time to Gender and Sexuality Studies.  Simultaneously, the program ceased being an "adjunct major" for undergraduates, in tandem with a second department; for the first time, our seniors could graduate from Northwestern with an exclusive major in Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Today, Gender and Sexuality Studies offers more courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels than ever before, from an ever-widening array of disciplines, guiding students at all levels through long-term research projects and launching them into varied and rewarding careers. 

Past directors of the program at Northwestern, in its various names and forms, have included: Arlene Kaplan Daniels (Sociology), Tessie Liu (History), Jeffrey Masten (English), Rae Moses (Linguistics), Ann Orloff (Sociology), Alexandra Owen (History), Frances Freeman Paden (Writing Program), Sylvie Romanowski (French and Italian), Tilde Sankovitch (French and Italian), Mary Weismantel (Anthropology), Mimi White (Radio, Television, and Film), and Jane Winston (French and Italian).  We thank all of these colleagues and remember with fondness and gratitude those who are no longer with us.