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Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies should be a mandatory class

A photo of a lecture hall, with balcony seating and large gothic windows.
The interior of McCosh 50.
Candace Do / The Daily Princetonian

Considering the growing political divide in the United States and legislation targeting various intersectional identities, Princeton must ensure that students are ready to productively learn about and discuss the politics and experiences of members of underrepresented and intersectional identities. I took GSS 201: Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies during my first year, and the class and its incredible teaching staff had a clear and positive impact on me. GSS 201 should be compulsory for all undergraduates under general education requirements.

Princeton aims to shape us into understanding and well-educated global citizens — primed for careers and lives in diverse workforces and communities — and as a result, it’s imperative that all undergraduates must have some idea of introductory theory in various intersectional identities. That’s exactly what making GSS 201 compulsory would do: equip all students with tools to engage with Princeton’s wide repertoire of courses and increasingly global and diverse community.


GSS 201 is an introductory-level course that explains basic academic theory in fields relating to intersectional identities. It offers critical perspectives on disability studies, the distinctions between gender and sex, and the importance of reproductive justice, as well as race and interactions with racism. The class looks both at how these identities overlap and at how in isolation, they can affect someone’s experiences. The class offers resources and materials to educate students on certain topics but allows students to make their own decisions and opinions.

The course’s structure is entirely conducive to reflective and active learning. At the beginning of the course, students are asked to write a short essay detailing their prior knowledge about various aspects of identity, including disability, queerness, reproductive justice, and their concept of what a feminist future would look like. This encourages students to consider gaps in their knowledge in preparation for holistic, open-minded engagement with the course material — a mindset that Princeton should seek to instill in all of its students.

During the class, students learn about the disability rights movement, examine facets of history that are often overlooked and erased in education systems, and discuss various social theories of disabilities. This teaches students how to better understand disabled peoples’ interactions with the world and how these interactions are affected by their disabled identity. At the end of the course, students write a similar essay, detailing all of their new knowledge, allowing them to reflect on how much they learned about intersectionality and factors of identity with which they were previously unfamiliar.

Students may not realize they need this class, and as a result, may mistakenly overlook it. Before taking GSS 201, I considered myself educated on — to name but a few identities — aspects of disability, ageism, and intersexuality, but I was quickly humbled by my ignorance. It was only after taking the class that I was able to recognize how little I knew about identities related to intersectional communities to which I did not belong. Reading my first essay while writing my final essay, I became acutely aware of the jarring reality that I was previously uneducated regarding the historical struggles and successes of many communities. GSS 201 not only taught me how to interact with people from different backgrounds and communities, but it also taught me how to reflect on newfound knowledge at the end of a course, which I have since translated into all of my courses at Princeton. There are likely many other students who similarly overestimate their knowledge. Thus, we need the University to push students to take this course.

Princeton clearly believes there are some concepts and ways of thinking that every student must learn and that a required class is an effective way to impart these ideas. Writing seminar is a compulsory class taken by all undergraduate students, regardless of their major because it teaches students valuable tools that set them up for success and sets a precedent for the expected quality of written work. GSS 201 should also be mandatory because its content is similarly important for productive learning in our diverse environment and prepares Princeton students for successful careers and social lives in an increasingly diverse global population. GSS 201 is an effective way to teach students how to interact with theories about identities other than their own, educating students on the complexities of the identities held by individuals in the Princeton community.

Although GSS 201 is an incredibly valuable class in its own right, it becomes even more valuable considering that only a small percentage of Princeton’s students are able to access social science and humanities classes related to intersectional identities. Most of these classes are extremely small: they’re taught in seminar format and usually 12–20 students can enroll in such a course on any given semester. Thus, although these classes are incredibly important for challenging students’ opinions surrounding intersectionality, they’re sometimes simply out of reach for students. GSS 201 is different, though — it’s designed so that a larger number of students are able to enroll in the course, and the class enrollment usually caps at about 80 students every semester. This makes it a rare class with a large and more scalable intake capacity, making it a more practical and valuable class to make mandatory.


The University should promote this type of learning more generally by expanding departments whose work contends with intersectional identities, including the GSS department, to allow more students to access their courses. By doing so, our undergraduate community will become better educated on intersectionality, help increase political viewpoint diversity, and facilitate constructive and respectful discussions about important — and often controversial —topics across political groups.

Contributing columnist Emilly Santos is a junior from London, England, studying Medical Anthropology, minoring in Global Health & Health Policy, Gender & Sexuality Studies, and Korean Language & Cultures.

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