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Departments of Instruction and Multidisciplinary Programs

Africana Studies

Founded in 1969 out of student protest and political upheaval, the Africana Studies Program continues its commitment to social change and rigorous intellectual engagement. The Africana Studies Program draws on a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to explore the cultures, histories, institutions, and societies of African and African-descended people. The program offers a major and correlate sequences (minor) in Africana Studies, and correlates in Arabic language and culture, and prison studies.

Students interested in Africa and its Black diasporas within Africa, in the Americas, and the Caribbean should enroll in Introduction to Africana Studies (Africana Studies 100) in the spring. This is a great course for any student who would like to explore questions of power and liberation, and is required for all Africana majors and correlates. This course examines such topics as colonialism, slavery, nationalism and transnationalism, civil and human rights, race, gender and sexuality in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, and the United States. First-year students will be particularly interested in a First-Year seminar titled Modern Arabic Literature (Africana Studies 109). For students interested in learning Arabic, we encourage you to take Elementary Arabic (Africana Studies 106) in the fall and Elementary Arabic (Africana Studies 107) in the spring. We also encourage students to consider the Self-Instructional Language Program in Swahili and Haitian Creole (contact Lioba Gerhardi.) Some professors will allow first-year students to enroll in 200 level (intermediate) courses in the spring, but students should speak with the professor for information on the workload and to gain permission to enroll.

For more information on major and correlate requirements, please visit the Africana Studies website or email


American Studies

The American Studies Program began in 1973 as “The Program in the Changing American Culture” and was one of the earliest multidisciplinary programs to be established at Vassar. Courses draw on the broad resources of the college to explore the cultural, historical, and political processes that comprise the United States, as these take shape both within and beyond the nation’s geographical borders. An individually designed course of study, which is the hallmark of the program, allows students to forge multidisciplinary approaches to the particular issues that interest them. For example, students have come to the American Studies Program in order to combine interests in club music and U.S. urban policy; to explore literary and geographic representations of American utopian communities; and to integrate studio art with education certification. The program also offers a correlate sequence in Native American Studies that enables students to examine indigenous cultures, politics, histories, and literatures in a primarily North American context.                                          

Of particular interest to first-year students are the 100-level courses, Introduction to American Studies (American Studies 100), and Introduction to Native American Studies (American Studies 105).                                       

Beyond the introductory level, the program offers courses on the rise of U.S. consumer culture, on Native American urban experience, on the documentary impulse of the 1930s, on the civil rights movement, on subculture and resistance, on the art and thought of the 1980s, and on emerging forms of print, digital, and audio journalism. Students exploring the major are encouraged to take the required seminar, America in the World (American Studies 250) during their sophomore year. Students with questions about the program or its courses should feel free to email the Program Director, Molly McGlennen, or the program’s Administrative Assistant, Melissa McAlley.

For more information, please visit the American Studies website.



Anthropology is the study of humanity, in all its complexity, throughout the world. It offers detailed accounts of human origins, evolution, history, politics, expressive communication and performance (such as art, music, and ritual practices) and sociocultural diversity. Anthropologists engage in ethnographic, archival, biological, archaeological, and linguistic research that focuses on both individual and collective experiences; they also participate in an open and critical exchange with the humanities and the social, physical, and biological sciences. A central concern of anthropologists is the application of knowledge to the solution of human problems. Historically, anthropologists in the United States have been trained in one of four subdisciplines: sociocultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, and archaeology.                           

Anthropologists often integrate perspectives drawn from these subfields into their research, teaching, and professional lives. Courses available to first-year students include Cultural Anthropology (Anthropology 140), which is required of all majors, The Human Animal: Intro to Biological Anthropology (Anthropology 120), Archaeology: Lessons From the Past (Anthropology 130), and Linguistics and Anthropology (Anthropology 150).                   

Majors will also need to take a course in anthropological theory, obtain some field experience, and become familiar with at least two of the other subdisciplines and two cultural regions. Beyond this, students follow their own interests and inclinations with the assistance of departmental faculty.                  

For more information, please visit or email and/or



Creativity has long been measured by the work of art and architecture. The subject is vast. Art 105 and Art 106 provides a two-semester introduction to this history of art and architecture. Opening with the global present, Art 105 uses today’s digital universe as a contemporary point of reference to earlier forms of visual communication. Faculty presentations explore the original functions and creative expressions of art and architecture, shaped through varied materials, tools and technologies. Art 106 continues exploration of an accelerating global exchange of images and ideas from Michelangelo in the High Renaissance to contemporary architecture and video. Students see how the language of form changes over time and how it continually expresses cultural values and addresses individual existential questions. Each week students attend three lectures and a discussion section, which makes extensive use of the Vassar College collection in the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center. The course furnishes many points of entry into the entire spectrum of human accomplishment. Art history is, by its nature, transdisciplinary—drawing on pure history, literature, music, anthropology, religion, linguistics, science, psychology, and philosophy. Over the years Vassar students from every major have found it to be vital to them in ways that they could never have predicted.                                              

Art 105 and Art 106 can be taken as stand-alone courses. Electing both semesters of Art 105 and Art 106 in chronological sequence is strongly recommended, but each may be taken individually or in the order that fits a student’s schedule.                          

Studio classes in drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, printmaking, color, computer animation, video, and architectural design are available to studio majors, correlates, and nonmajors. The yearlong introductory course, Drawing I (Art 102-103), is open to first-year students. This course, suited to students with a range of drawing experience from beginners to those with extensive drawing experience, is the pre- or corequisite for the intermediate studio courses. Color (Art 108) is also open to first-year students. Studio courses meet four hours per week for one unit of credit. As part of their instruction, all students receive individual criticism. Intermediate and advanced architectural drawing and design classes are also offered, with prerequisites that are listed in the catalogue. Note that there is a lab fee for all studio courses; see the catalogue for details. Students enrolled in studio courses who are receiving financial aid may apply to the Office of Financial Aid for a stipend to offset this fee.                                              

For more information, please visit the Art website .


Asian Studies

The Program in Asian Studies introduces you to a multidisciplinary and global approach to studying the peoples and cultures of Asia, examining both traditional Asian societies and their transformations in recent times. The program offers a major and a correlate sequence (minor) in Asian Studies and a correlate sequence in Asian American Studies. Majors and correlates work closely with advisors to design their program of study. Majors typically choose two disciplines and focus on a particular Asian country or region while also learning about other Asian societies. The program has 24 faculty members who teach a broad range of courses. The gateway course to the program is Asian Studies 194: Asia in the World. This team taught course will pro- vide students with an overview of compelling issues in the field, as well as an opportunity to conduct an independent research project on a topic that interests them. Other courses in Asian Studies available to first year students include Encounters in Modern East Asia (History 122), Religions of Asia (Religion 152), and Social Change in South Korean Film (Sociology 111).

Students interested in the Asian Studies major or study abroad in an Asian country should begin language study in their first year if possible. Vassar offers classroom instruction in Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese, with Hindi, Korean, and Turkish available through the Self-Instructional Language Program. The Asian Studies correlate sequence encourages, but does not require, language study. For more information, please visit the Asian Studies website or email Professor Christopher Bjork, director of Asian Studies, at


Astronomy (see Physics and Astronomy)



Biochemistry is an interdepartmental program of the Biology and Chemistry Departments. The program provides a broad and deep foundation in biology and chemistry as a basis for studying the molecular aspects of biological phenomena. The program progresses through introductory studies in biology, chemistry, to advanced courses in biology and chemistry, integrative courses in biochemistry, and an intensive research experience in the senior year.                                   

Students should feel free to contact the program director Jennifer Kennell ( or any of the affiliated faculty members from the biology and chemistry departments to ask questions about which courses to consider in their first year.                               

First-year students considering a biochemistry major are strongly advised to enroll in the following courses at some point in their first-year:                            

  • Introductory Biology 107 and 108 are required for the major and must be taken in numerical order.  Both courses are offered both semesters. For information on these courses and about placing out of BIOL 107 and 108 with AP or IB credit, see the section on “Biology”.
  • Chemistry 125 is required for the major and is offered both semesters. CHEM 121 can be taken as the first course if you have little or no previous chemistry experience.  See the section on “Chemistry” for more information on these courses.
  • Although not required for the major, calculus and introductory physics are recommended for upper level biochemistry courses, so students may consider taking these courses in their first few years at Vassar.

For more information, please visit the Biochemistry Program’s website at ( or email the program director Jennifer Kennell (



Vassar’s biology curriculum allows students to explore the breadth of the life sciences, to focus on a wide variety of subjects in depth, and to gain experience in research. A major in biology prepares students for graduate study in a variety of disciplines, and for a broad array of careers including biological and biomedical research, biotechnology, conservation and environmental work, law, education, journalism, medicine, and the related health professions. We also offer the possibility of pursuing a correlate sequence in biology, which includes our two introductory courses and four courses of more advanced work. The correlate sequence is described in more detail in the catalogue.                         

First-year students may take biology for a number of reasons, to begin a major in biology or a related field, to broaden a liberal arts education, or to explore scientific, biomedical, or environmental interests. We offer two introductory courses: Biology 107 and Biology 108. Neither is a survey course, and neither is a repetition of high school AP biology. In Biology 107 students explore energy flow in biological systems and develop their understanding of central concepts of biology, and enhance their critical thinking and communication skills. In Biology 108 students learn about information flow in biological systems. Accompanying Biology 108 is a stand-alone laboratory experience, where students conduct laboratory and field investigations, develop their abilities to observe, formulate, and test hypotheses, design experiments, collect and interpret data, and communicate results.                                    

Students with an AP Biology exam score of 5 may choose to place out of Biology 107 and Biology 108. Students with an International Baccalaureate (IB) Biology HL exam score of 6 or 7 also may choose to place out of Biology 107 and Biology 108. Students must confirm their AP or IB Biology credit with the Dean of Studies Office. Students who place out of both Biology 107 and 108 must take Chemistry 125 before enrolling in 200-level biology courses.

Both Biology 107 and Biology 108 are prerequisites for 200-level biology courses. If you are contemplating a major in biology or a related field, it is strongly advised to start this 100-level course sequence in your first year.                                             

Students planning to major in biology or biochemistry are also advised to complete Chemistry 125 in the first year. Students considering medical careers should consult the section on “Preparation for Medical School” in this handbook.                        

For more information, please visit the Biology Department website (, or contact the Biology Department chair, Meg Ronsheim (845-437-7441,



Chemistry is the study of the composition, structure, properties, and reactions of matter. A major in chemistry at Vassar provides preparation for graduate study in chemistry or related areas, such as medicine, environmental science, materials science, public health, forensics and toxicology, and is also excellent training for future teachers, lawyers, and individuals working in business or an industrial setting.               

There are two chemistry courses that can be taken during the first year. The course a student elects will depend on their background in chemistry. Chemistry 121, Chemical Fundamentals, is open to all students with limited or no background in chemistry. This course is designed to provide the fundamentals of chemistry in the context of an instructor-specific theme. Chemical topics covered include units, uncertainty, significant figures, dimensional analysis, estimation, atomic theory and symbols, the periodic table, chemical nomenclature, stoichiometry, solution chemistry including an introduction to acids and bases, solubility and precipitation, and oxidation-reduction chemistry, gases, and thermochemistry. Students may take this course so as to be exposed to chemistry and the theme chosen, to meet the QA requirement, and/or to continue from this course into Chemistry 125, Chemical Principles. Chemistry 121 does not have an associated laboratory and does not count toward the Chemistry major. Chemistry 125, Chemical Principles, is designed to cover the important aspects of general chemistry in one semester and is appropriate for students who have previously studied chemistry. The material covered in Chemistry 125 includes chemical reactions, stoichiometry, atomic and molecular structure, and general chemical physics, emphasizing the fundamental aspects of and connections between equilibria, electrochemistry, thermodynamics, and kinetics. The Chemistry Department offers a written examination to incoming first-year students interested in advanced course placement into Organic Chemistry (Chemistry 244/245). This placement is only granted in exceptional circumstances. Please consult the department for further information.                     

An essential aspect of training in chemistry is the experience of independent laboratory work and research. The Chemistry Department, therefore, provides students the opportunity to use sophisticated instrumentation at all levels of the curriculum and encourages student participation in independent research as early as the second semester of the first year. First-year students may work on a research project under the direction of a member of the department by electing Independent Research (Chemistry 198) after consultation with a faculty mentor.                                 

It is strongly recommended that students have a foundational understanding of single variable calculus, classical mechanics, and electromagnetism. Students considering majoring in chemistry or going on to graduate school in the sciences should consult the department about electing the appropriate calculus and physics courses during the first and sophomore year. Basic knowledge of linear algebra and multivariable calculus are also recommended.                     

Students who plan to complete pre-medical requirements, graduate in less than four years,  undertake an international study abroad experience, complete the Dartmouth engineering or the Columbia MPH dual-degree programs, or graduate with a degree certified by the American Chemical Society should consult with a department advisor in their first semester.    

For more information, please visit the Chemistry website or email


Chinese and Japanese

The Department of Chinese and Japanese is committed to helping students prepare as early as possible for their post-graduation endeavors ranging from graduate studies to careers in both public and private sectors that require Chinese or Japanese linguistic and/or literary and cultural proficiency. The department offers two majors: Chinese and Japanese. In addition, it offers a correlate sequence in Chinese, a correlate sequence in Japanese, and a correlate sequence in Chinese and Japanese Literary and Cultural Studies. The department provides five levels of language instruction in Chinese and four levels in Japanese as well as a wide range of literature and culture courses including poetry, fiction, drama/theater, film, popular culture, linguistics, and literary theory.                                    

First-year students intending to study Chinese or Japanese with no previous training in Chinese or Japanese are advised to start in their first year and may elect the year-long Chinese 105-106 or Japanese 105-106, both of which fulfill the foreign language proficiency requirement of the college. First-year students with some but limited knowledge of Chinese may be placed in Chinese 107-108, the advanced elementary course. First-year students with even better knowledge of Chinese or Japanese may be placed directly in intermediate or higher courses based upon the results of the placement test. The placement tests are administered in the department during New Student Orientation. The department does not automatically honor the level of students’ language proficiencies indicated in the courses or examinations they took in high school or other pre-matriculation programs. Students must take the placement test to be placed in an appropriate level of Chinese or Japanese.                                       

Also available to first-year students are courses taught in English: Introduction to Chinese and Japanese Literature (Chinese-Japanese 120), or, with special permission from the instructor, Chinese or Japanese literature or culture courses at the 200 level. Students who are considering a major or double major in Chinese or Japanese are strongly urged to begin their language study in their first year, continuing with intermediate or advanced language courses in their sophomore and junior years. Students may accelerate the course of their language study by studying at approved summer language programs. Two years of language study are required for students who plan to study in China or Japan during the junior year, so starting the language study early is important. The department places students in strong study abroad programs.         

Among the department’s on-campus activities are annual events such as Chinese and Japanese Culture Day, Chinese New Year Celebration, and Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival, each of which enriches the students’ language and cultural experiences. Students can also benefit from participation in the weekly Chinese or Japanese language table, during which conversations with native speakers and other Chinese or Japanese cultural activities are held. For more information, please visit the Chinese and Japanese website.


Classics or Classical Studies (see Greek and Roman Studies)


Cognitive Science

We human beings take it for granted that we are possessed of minds. You know that you have a mind and you assume that other people do, too. But to what, exactly, are we referring when we talk about the mind? Is a mind just a brain? What endows your mind with the property of being conscious? How does your mind allow you to extract music from sound waves, relish the taste of chocolate, daydream, feel happy and sad, or reach for your cup when you want a sip of coffee? How similar is your mind to the minds of other people? Do you have to be a human being to have a mind? Could other entities have minds so long as they were built the right way? Does your computer have a mind? These are the kinds of questions that cognitive scientists want to address.                                     

Introduction to Cognitive Science (Cognitive Science 100), which is required for the major but open to all students, is the entrance into the department. The course asks what we mean by mind and who or what has a mind. We examine computer models of mind and the relationship between mind and brain. The course also focuses on what enables any agent—from simple animal to human to smart machine—to act intelligently. We especially focus on perception and action, memory, decision making, language, and consciousness. We also explore the degree to which cognition requires and is influenced by having a body situated in a particular context. Multiple sections of the course are offered each year, and first-year students interested in cognitive science are encouraged to consider taking one. This course also serves as the prerequisite for all intermediate-level courses in cognitive science.                                      

Cognitive science is a broadly multidisciplinary field that has emerged at the intersection of a number of older disciplines, such as philosophy, computer science, psychology, neuroscience, anthropology, linguistics, biology, and mathematics. The department offers a core set of courses that teach students how to think in an integrative fashion, but it also requires that students find applications of these ideas in other areas of the curriculum outside of cognitive science. Courses in many divisions of the curriculum, from the arts to the sciences, may count toward the major if they help to develop the skills needed to complete the required senior thesis. The interested student should consult the department web pages or meet with a member of the faculty to discuss how these courses might be selected.         

Vassar offered the first undergraduate major in cognitive science in the world. Distinctive aspects of the program include the number of integrative courses offered in cognitive science itself, especially the intermediate level and laboratory course offerings, and the commitment to balanced coverage of the main topics and perspectives that characterize the current state of this rapidly changing field. Opportunities are available for students to obtain summer positions working on faculty research projects at Vassar and at other schools.

For more information about these and about the major, please consult the catalogue or visit the Cognitive Science website. You may also call the department office at (845) 437-7368.


College Course

The College Course Program was established to ensure that students can have direct exposure in their years at Vassar to some important expressions of the human spirit in a context that is both multidisciplinary and integrative. The aim of a College Course is to study important cultures, themes, or human activities in a manner that gives the student experience in interpreting evidence from the standpoint of different fields. The courses relate this material and these interpretations to other material and interpretations from other fields in order to unite the results of this study into a coherent overall framework. The interpretations are expected to be both appreciative and critical, and the artifacts will come from different times, places, and cultures.                        

First-year students are encouraged to check the catalogue for descriptions of offerings in the College Course Program.


Computer Science

The Computer Science Department places computer science at the core of a modern liberal arts education, offering students the opportunity to engage with the field in a variety of ways. The introductory courses are designed for non-majors, majors, and correlates with no prerequisites for students interested in taking a first course in computer science or data science. Core foundational courses at the 200-level prepare students for further study at the 300-level in areas such as artificial intelligence, bioinformatics, computational linguistics, graphics and animation, systems, networks, and security.  The department provides excellent preparation for a career in computer science, as well as graduate studies in the area.

Computer Science 101, the entry-level course in computer science, introduces computing concepts through functional programming and structural recursion. After completing Computer Science 101, a student may take Computer Science 102 and Computer Science 145 in either order, or simultaneously. These three foundational courses are strongly recommended for science majors. For students who want to complement other majors with substantial work in computer science, the department offers a correlate in computer science consisting of six courses with different emphases.   

The department provides all necessary computing equipment, including laboratories containing workstations running the Linux operating system, available 24x7 to all students taking courses in the department. Ongoing research projects in several areas of the field offer students the opportunity to work with faculty both during the academic year and over the summer.

For more information, please visit the Computer Science website or email



Dance is an elective academic course of study with three full time faculty and one part-time faculty, a resident lighting designer/technical director, and three adjunct artists/accompanists. Located in Kenyon Hall, the Dance Department’s facilities include four dance studios and the Frances Daly Fergusson Dance Theater, which seats 242. All the dance floors are designed specifically to serve the needs of the dance program.                              

Vassar’s primary student dance performance group, Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre (VRDT), holds an annual audition on the first Saturday of the fall semester. VRDT performs throughout the year and may be taken for academic credit. It is a yearlong commitment. The repertoire includes existing works in the jazz, modern dance, and classical ballet styles as well as new creations by guest choreographers, faculty, and students.                        

The technique courses offered are beginner through advanced modern dance technique, beginner through four levels of intermediate classical ballet technique including pointe and adagio when suitable, beginner to intermediate jazz, and intermediate Graham technique and repertory. In addition to the technique courses, the department offers courses in choreography, improvisation, and movement analysis. These are open to all students. The choreography students and the independent study students often perform in December and April.

Details on all courses may be found in the catalogue. For placement or special permission signatures, consult the appropriate individual faculty member. For the VRDT audition date in the fall, performance dates for the year, master class offerings, and other information, call the Dance Office at (845) 437-7470 or visit the Dance website.



Drama majors study all aspects of theater. We strongly believe that theory and practice are inseparable. Complex learning, analytical and critical thinking, and collaborative, embodied practice as they are taught in the classroom are tested in a laboratory production environment. The Drama Department curriculum and its Experimental Theater work in tandem. Opportunities for first-year students include Drama 102 (Introduction to Theater-Making), Drama 103 (Introduction to Stagecraft), and Drama 104 (The Acting Company) as well as the possibility of auditioning and/or participating in Drama 200 (Production).                              

First-year students planning to continue the study of drama beyond their first year should note that Drama 102 (Introduction to Theater-Making) and Drama 103 (Introduction to Stagecraft) are prerequisites for all 200-level work in drama. Productions undertaken by the department are curricular in nature.                            

The department undertakes faculty directed projects and a number of senior projects, both emphasizing the collaborative nature of theatrical production. Occasionally the department hires guest artists to create specific projects with our students. Our productions are presented in the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film or in the Hallie Flanagan Powerhouse Theater.

For more information, please visit the Drama website or contact the Drama Department at or (845) 437-5250.


Earth Science (Geoscience)

Earth science plays a critical role in safeguarding the lives of all living beings on Earth.  It also facilitates thinking on a global scale about environmental change. From learning the climate science necessary to respond intelligently to our climate crisis, to considering how human populations cope with geologic hazards, to helping understand our impacts on the atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere, study of earth science provides knowledge essential to creating an informed citizenry. Planet Earth is our home, and to live on it well, we must understand its component parts and how they function. Note that we differ from the Environmental Studies program inasmuch as we focus on the natural science of the Earth and its processes which we view as critical for anyone interested in environmentalism.

As a visual science, we regularly go on field trips to observe geologic phenomena outdoors. Frequently we sponsor week-long field trips to understand recent and past geologic events such as tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and floods.  For example, in recent years, Earth science students have studied with our earth science faculty at Big Bend National Park, Death Valley, Yellowstone, Iceland and Italy.           

We offer several courses of particular interest to first-year students. For those seeking an in-depth introduction to major concepts of Earth science, the department recommends Earth, Environment, and Humanity (Earth Science 151), which fulfills the college’s quantitative analysis requirement. Other introductory courses include Oceanography, Field Geology of the Hudson Valley, Volcanoes and Civilization, and a first-year writing seminar about the Anthropocene and environmental justice.

Beyond the introductory level, intermediate and upper level courses in earth science focus on Earth history; mass extinctions; Earth surface processes that sculpt landforms; minerals, rocks, sediments and soils; and water resources. Our courses prepare students to undertake research both during the academic year and in the summer. Examples of current research include studies of microplastics in water and sediments, climate change in the Hudson Valley, impacts of urbanization on stream water quality, atmospheric deposition of metals in Catskill Mountain bogs, and low-temperature transformation of rocks in geothermal wells. Earth science majors have gone on to careers in environmental law, environmental health and medicine, mapping, museum design, academia, science writing, renewable energy research,  and natural hazard risk mitigation, to name a few.

Details regarding courses as well as requirements for majoring or electing a correlate sequence can be found in the catalogue. Interested students are also encouraged to email the chair of the Department of Earth Science and Geography, Jill Schneiderman,, and visit the Earth Science and Geography website.


Earth Science and Society

The Earth Science and Society major combines courses from Earth Science and Geography to provide a focus on the relationships between Earth processes and human societies. From earth science, students gain an understanding of natural processes that govern resources such as water, fossil fuels, and soil, and also examine hazards that impact human settlements, such as flooding, landslides, and earthquakes. From geography, students learn about the spatial distribution of physical and human phenomena and how human societies are shaped by, and also change, the natural world.                             

First-year students interested in exploring the Earth Science and Society major should take Earth, Environment, and Humanity (Earth Science 151) and Global Geography: People, Places, and Regions (Geography 102). Students majoring in Earth Science and Society take roughly half their major sequence in earth science and half in geography.

For further information, visit the Earth Science and Geography website.



Economic forces shape many aspects of society and profoundly influence our daily lives. The study of economics at Vassar deepens students’ understanding of these forces and helps equip them for positions of leadership in today’s world. Whatever their intended majors, students will find exposure to the topics and methods of economics to be valuable. It will sharpen their reasoning skills, broaden their acquaintance with important economic issues, and deepen their understanding of government policies, business behavior, and personal decision-making. A good background in economics helps open doors to careers in a variety of fields including finance, law, public policy, international affairs, and the media. Students should also note that introductory economics is frequently a prerequisite for courses that are an integral part of multidisciplinary programs of study.             

The study of economics at Vassar begins with Introduction to Economics (Economics 102) which introduces students to the national economy and to the function of markets in the economic system. In 2020/21 there will be 8 sections of Economics 102 offered in the fall semester and only two in the spring semester. Students wishing to take this course in 2020/21 should consequently endeavor to do so in the fall semester. Those who wish to continue in economics may then take a 200-level elective in the spring semester. Students should be mindful of the calculus prerequisites for Economics 201 and Math 241.

A typical path through the major will see a student taking Economics 102 and possibly a 200-level elective in their first year in addition to ensuring that they will have the prerequisites for second-year work. Economics 200, 201, 203 and Math 241 (a prerequisite for Economics 203) are usually taken in the second year, although Economics 203 can be taken in the third year. Students intending to study economics during their junior year abroad, however, should take Economics 200, 201, and 203 by the end of their second year.

Students whose transcripts indicate that they have received Vassar College credit for both AP microeconomics and macroeconomics or for IB economics need not take Economics 102 to complete the economics major and will be considered to have taken that class for prerequisite purposes.                                           

First-year students may not take Economics 200, 201, or 203 but they may take other courses numbered 200 and above in their second semester provided they have satisfied the prerequisite requirements. Economics 209 is not open to members of the class of 2024.

Potential Economics majors with AP or IB credit in mathematics should see the “Mathematics and Statistics” section below for placement advice.           

For more information, please visit the Economics Department website.



2019 Text, Subject to Change

The major in Educational Studies challenges students to think deeply and critically about the ways in which schools socialize as well as educate citizens. It provides ongoing opportunities for conceptual integration across disciplines and domains of theory, policy, and practice. This interdisciplinary approach encourages students to study the impact of political, historical, cultural, economic, and social forces on education. Requirements for the major in Educational Studies press students to develop a solid foundation in learning theory, the social foundations of education, as well as a global perspective on education. Individuals who complete a major in Educational Studies are prepared to integrate and apply knowledge to guide personal action and development, regardless of their ultimate career trajectory. The major is an excellent option for students who are interested in issues related to education—but who are not planning to earn a teaching credential at Vassar.

The teacher preparation programs in the Department of Education reflect the philosophy that a broad liberal arts education is the best foundation for teaching, whether at the elementary or secondary level, and whether in public or private schools. See the section on “Preparation for Teacher Certification” earlier in this handbook for further information.

The Educational Studies correlate is offered both to students who plan to teach and those who are interested in pursuing other pathways related to education. Under the supervision of a member of the department, students undertaking the correlate will design a sequence of courses that address a central topic or theme related to education. Completing these courses should challenge students to think comprehensively about the manner in which schools socialize as well as educate citizens, and how the interests of certain stakeholders are privileged or neglected.

The Education Department, in conjunction with University College, Galway, offers a one-semester internship in the primary and secondary schools of Clifden, Ireland.

For more information, please visit the Education website.



The Art of Reading and Writing (English 101) is open only to first-year students and offers an introduction to the study of English at the college level. In this course, we study literature as an art—that is, as the formal and inventive representation of experience in poetry, fiction, and drama--as well as nonfiction writing, including essays, journals, and letters. We also attend to the social and historical contexts within which literary forms arise and change. The focus of English 101 varies, but each section includes substantial reading in more than one genre, regular exercise in writing, and active discussion.                                               

In addition to English 101, the department offers Texts and Contexts (English 170), which is open to first-year students, sophomores, and others by permission. Those who have taken English 101 in the fall semester and who wish to continue in English are advised to elect English 170 in the spring of the first year. Students may not elect both English 101 and English 170 in the same semester, nor take either course twice.                         

Students who receive a 4 or 5 on the AP examination in English Language and Composition or English Literature and Composition or who receive an IB diploma may elect English 101 or English 170 in the fall semester. AP and IB students may also seek placement in a 200-level course in the fall semester. They must choose from a list of approved courses, which will be made available at the English AP & IB advising meeting during orientation. First-year students with an IB diploma or AP scores of 4 or 5 may also elect, with the permission of the instructor, a 200-level course in the spring. No student scoring lower than 4 will be eligible for placement in English 170 or a 200-level course in their first term at Vassar.   

The department’s 200-level creative writing classes are not open to first-year students, even those with a 4 or 5 on the AP examination. Occasionally, the department offers a unit of creative writing for first-years. English 101 does allow for creative writing though it emphasizes expository writing.      

For detailed descriptions of the English 101 courses offered this year, please see the section of this handbook on “First-Year Writing Seminars.”

For more information about all the courses offered by the Department of English, please visit the English website.


Environmental Studies

Vassar’s multidisciplinary program in Environmental Studies involves the natural sciences and social sciences as well as the arts and humanities. Approximately 40 professors from virtually every department on campus participate in the program. Students choose a disciplinary concentration, which can be in any department (from biology to art), and view environmental issues through the perspective of that discipline. They also take multidisciplinary courses on environmental issues offered by the program itself. These courses are often team-taught by professors from two different disciplines. The special studies courses for 2020/21 include Acoustic Ecology  (Environmental Studies 260) and Terroir: The Art and Science of “Tasting” the Earth (Environmental Studies 270). First-year students considering a major in environmental studies are encouraged to take Essentials of Environmental Sciences (Environmental Studies 124) and/or Environmentalisms in Perspective (Environmental Studies 125). Please look at the program website for a list titled “Courses to Consider” of other environmentally relevant courses.     

Vassar’s location in the Hudson River Valley, one of the world’s great watersheds, and its proximity to New York City position students well for both rural and urban ecology study. The program concerns itself both with traditional “green” issues such as conservation and sustainability and with environmental issues of social justice. Graduates from the Environmental Studies Program go on to pursue graduate education in areas such as urban ecology, environmental policy, public health, environmental law, and environmental management. Others go on to a wide variety of careers in which a multidisciplinary perspective is valuable, including environmental education, environmental consulting, sustainable agriculture, green architecture, marine conservation, and environmental journalism.    

For further information, please visit the Environmental Studies website.



The film major emphasizes the study of narrative, documentary, and avant-garde films. The concentration includes a range of courses in international film, American film, film history and theory, film and video production, and screenwriting. In connection with its courses, the department screens hundreds of films each year. The Vassar library also houses a DVD collection of more than 13,000 titles, which are freely available.                                

We encourage first-year students to widen their exposure to films of all countries, styles, and time periods.

Film 175: Introduction to Screen Arts, is currently the only course available for first-year students and is offered every spring semester. Sophomores must plan to take Film 209: World Cinema (either in the fall or spring semester). An introductory course in filmmaking, Film 240: Sculpting Images in Time, or Film 241: Sound and Sight, may be taken concurrently  with Film 209: World Cinema. Film 240 or Film 241 serve as prerequisites for upper level film production courses. Intensive workshop courses in film and video production are offered to students during their junior and senior years at the college. Note that the Film Department does not accept advanced course placement for high school coursework.                                               

The Film Department’s facilities in the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film include modern classrooms with smart podia; a screening room with surround sound and 35mm and advanced digital projectors; a studio equipped with a flexible set and a lighting grid: a room devoted to sound recording containing a whisper booth; 2 editing suites; and a high tech multimedia laboratory.                                         

First-year students interested in work/study positions or in participating in junior and senior film projects as actors or production assistants are welcome to send an email of interest to the department administrative assistant at

For more information, please visit the Film website.


French and Francophone Studies

The Department of French and Francophone Studies (FFS) offers students a global perspective on the French-speaking world through a combination of language study, critical cultural studies, historical contextualization, and linguistic and cultural immersion. The curriculum is designed to promote understanding and awareness of the language, literatures, and cultures in the French-speaking world. Recent graduates now enjoy careers in wide-ranging fields including teaching, translating, the arts, publishing, law, banking, management, business, government and nonprofits, the fashion industry, public relations, medicine, curation, and the art world.          

Except for our First-Year Writing Seminar (FFS 180), all courses are conducted in French. Only students who have never studied French are permitted to enroll in the yearlong FFS 105-106, usually followed by FFS 205. All other students should take the online placement exam located at before pre-registering. Use the password “chicagohall” to take the test. Students should then consult with FFS faculty at the departmental advising session during orientation. Students who have taken two years of French in high school normally elect FFS 205. Students who have taken one or two years of French and who do not place into 205, may elect FFS 109 to complete the equivalent of 105-106. Those who have taken three years of French in high school normally elect French 206. Students who have taken four years of French in high school normally elect FFS 210 before moving on to FFS 212 or upper 200-level courses.          

Since high school experiences vary, taking the online placement exam and conferring with departmental faculty ahead of time is always the best way for students to enroll in the appropriate course. There is, however, considerable movement between courses during the add/drop period as instructors continue to advise students who might have registered for a course above or below the appropriate level. Students should therefore not hesitate to consult with department faculty during the add/drop period.

Students are encouraged to avail themselves of all the opportunities to speak and hear French in informal situations (bi-monthly Café-conversation, French Club, French films, the French book club, conversation with the language fellows and academic interns, or watching French and Francophone news via the Internet). Two native speakers —the language fellows—are in residence during the entire academic year. Additionally, we employ academic interns and run a language "Atelier" to help students with their work.

There are also employment opportunities which allow students to use their language skills as research assistants, drill instructors, and administrative assistants. Please see the Chair if you are interested.                     

Students interested in pursuing a major or correlate sequence should consult the Chair or another member of the department as early as possible. Students who receive a 4 or 5 on the AP examination may count their AP credit as 1 unit toward the major or correlate. Some students elect to take an accredited summer course after their first year in order to accelerate their program. It is strongly recommended that qualified students spend one or two semesters of their junior year in France or another French-speaking country in a program accredited by Vassar College. The department website provides information on study abroad programs, including the Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris; for further details, go to       

Some students double major by combining their FFS major with a major in an interdepartmental or a multidisciplinary program such as Africana Studies, Environmental Studies, International Studies, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, or Women’s Studies. Others combine FFS with a departmental concentration such as history, art history, economics, political science, or another language. Individually tailored majors involving French and Francophone Studies, such as comparative literature, can be created through the Independent Program.    We also offer a wide variety of community-engaged learning possibilities and several innovative "Intensives."  

For more information, including meeting the College language requirement, please visit the French and Francophone Studies website or contact the FFS Academic Assistant, Phyllis Post, at



Many of our most interesting and urgent questions today occur at the intersections of society, space, and environment. Geographers study these problems by examining uneven spatial and social distributions of power and resources. This approach allows us to anchor general explanatory frameworks in the real communities and environments in which they play out. How does climate affect food production? How does uneven distribution of power produce conflict across international borders? How do planners design equitable and sustainable cities? Students learn a variety of analytical and research skills to answer questions like these. We use field research to understand how theory intersects with the empirical world around us. We use mapping and GIS (geographic information systems), and cognitive geography to evaluate relationships among factors such as settlement patterns, resources, climate change impacts, or poverty. Theoretical approaches and concepts such as political ecology, world systems, socio-nature, placemaking, symbolic landscapes, and the production of space help us understand power relations among places and peoples. If you are interested in integrative problems of society, justice, environment, planning, and policy, geography provides a disciplinary home in which to develop critical reading, writing, and analysis skills to understand these challenges.

Geography majors go on to a variety of careers, such as public policy, urban planning, environmental consulting, environmental agencies, community development, law, and many other fields. Among the specific skills you will learn in geography classes are GIS (geographic information systems); written and verbal expression; critical reading of texts, maps, and urban landscapes; and geographic research methods.

Interested first-year students should take Geography 102, Global Geography: Place-Making in the Modern World. This course examines major contemporary issues such as the impact of environmental changes on local communities, impacts of climate change on societies, uneven development of the global political-economic system, the implications of nation-states and borders, cultural landscapes, and differentiated urban space, as well as mapping and cartographic communication.

Following Geography 102, students may choose from a variety of 200-level courses, such as Population, Environment, and Sustainable Development (Geography 266), Urban Geography: Space, Place, Environment (Geography 250), GIS (Geography 224), or Economic Geography (Geography 276). To major in Geography, students take 11 units, including Global Geography, a methods course, and three units at the 300 level. A number of courses in Earth science also count toward the major.

For further information, please visit the Earth Science and Geography website.



Geography and anthropology share common interests in social and spatial structures, cultural and symbolic landscapes, and human-environmental relations. For students wishing to integrate the perspectives of both disciplines, from research methods in anthropology and ethnography to GIS analysis and political ecology, this interdepartmental concentration combines the perspectives of geography and anthropology in examining the cultural, ecological, and spatial relations of societies and the environmental systems in which they develop.    

Students take courses in both geography and anthropology for this major. Interested first-year students should take Geography 102, Global Geography: Place-Making in the Modern World as well as an introductory (100-level) course in anthropology, such as Anthropology 100, Archeology; Anthropology 120, Human Origins; or Anthropology 140, Cultural Anthropology.      

Requirements for a concentration include 11 units, with at least 5 units in each field. The 11 units include at least two introductory courses, at least 4 units at the 300 level, a methods course in both geography and anthropology, and Anthropological Theory.

For further information, see the Earth Science and Geography website.


Geology (see Earth Science)


German Studies

The Department of German Studies offers an integrated and holistic approach to the study of language, literature, and culture. This approach embodies Vassar’s liberal arts principle of “going to the source” by engaging with primary documents and by exploring the fundamental debates and processes that have shaped German culture and its relationship to the contemporary world. Germany’s location at the intersection between eastern and western Europe, as well as the size of its economy, continues to make German an advantageous language in today’s global world, while Germany’s history and culture continue to pose significant questions for our contemporary society.                                   

The department’s faculty has developed an innovative curriculum that redefines what language study means. In particular, the department seeks to provide students with intellectual engagement at all levels of the curriculum. Thus, rather than merely memorizing grammar rules and vocabulary, the department’s language courses are organized around a sophisticated study of engaging topics that facilitate language learning, such as childhood, contemporary identity, and media politics. Because the department’s faculty participates actively in many of the college’s multidisciplinary programs, German Studies courses feature interdisciplinary methods and topics. Finally, the relatively small size of the program enables an individualized course of study in which students develop close working relationships with faculty members. The German Studies Department also offers study abroad opportunities through its close and long- standing association with the prestigious Berlin Consortium for German Studies.                    

During New Student Orientation, students can consult with faculty about the appropriate courses to take. First-year students who have never studied German should enroll in the year-long Beginning German (German 105-106) or Intensive Beginning German (German 109), a two-unit, one-semester course offered in the spring semester. Generally, students with less than two years of German in high school should enroll in German 105 or 109; students with more than two years and less than four should register for German 210; students with more than four years of high school German should enroll in German 230 or 240. Students who receive a score of 4 or 5 on the AP examination in German language or German literature should register for either German 210 or German 230/240 and should consult with the department during orientation.                     

In addition to these courses in German, the department also offers several courses in English translation.                                 

The department offers additional opportunities for practicing German through the weekly Kaffeeklatsch, film showings, and get-togethers with our German language fellow.

For more information, please visit the German Studies website.


Greek and Roman Studies

Students who study in the Greek and Roman Studies Department explore aspects of the ancient Mediterranean world with an emphasis on the cultures of Greece and Rome. At the heart of this exploration are the languages of the Greeks and the Romans as well as their literature, history, art and architecture, philosophy, religion, politics, relations with the other peoples of the Mediterranean, and reception and interpretation by later cultures.                     

The story of “classical” scholarship goes back to the Library of Alexandria in the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE. The project that the scholars of the library undertook was to collect, copy, and edit as many texts of Greek literature as they could find. The study of the Greeks and Romans still has, at its core, this act of preservation. But, like the Alexandrian scholars and perhaps more self-consciously, we acknowledge that we are also involved in an act of rein- terpretation. Our goal is both to preserve the knowledge of ancient cultures but also to interpret that knowledge in the context of contemporary culture.                   

We bring to this project many different skills and many different methods. Again, at the heart of the enterprise are the philological skills that the Alexandrian scholars developed: the ability to look back at a “dead” language and imagine it in its living form so as to read texts as richly as possible. An ancient historian adds to this skill the ability to gather disparate kinds of fragmentary evidence, both literary and material, to reconstruct both the major national and international events that shaped these cultures as well as the day-to-day texture of life. In this they rely heavily on archaeologists who uncover the physical traces of the past and attempt to establish a chronology and a function for these remains. Literary scholars not only find evidence in works of literature for the aesthetic principles that govern the creation of literary works of art, but also apply modern theoretical approaches that allow us to see literature as a reflection of social, political, and religious assumptions.                                             

But in the end every student of Greek and Roman studies is using insights about the ancient world to enrich his or her understanding of our modern world. What classicists develop is an intense self-consciousness about the nature of their own assumptions, fashioned by the world in which they live—assumptions that the study of antiquity allows us to question, that we must question, in order to be able to focus our attention on the strange “otherness” of different cultures that have much to teach us.                                       

Students interested in learning Greek or Latin, or who have done so only briefly, should take Elementary Greek (Greek and Roman Studies 127, a one semester intensive course taught in the spring) or Elementary Latin (Greek and Roman Studies 145-146, a year-long course); these courses cover the essentials of grammar and include short readings from ancient texts. Those who have had two or more years in high school should consult with a member of the department, who may direct them to a higher-level course. Courses in English, for those interested in ancient societies, include the introductory courses, Then and Now: Reinterpreting Greece and Rome (Greek and Roman Studies 100), and Civilization in Question (Greek and Roman Studies 101). The department also regularly offers First-Year Writing Seminars. We also offer a wide variety of other courses in translation at all levels. Please consult the course catalogue for the most up-to-date listings; many 200 level courses do not have a prerequisite.   

For more information, please visit and on Facebook You are also welcome to contact Rachel Friedman, Chair of the Greek and Roman Studies Department, at


Hispanic Studies

The curriculum in Hispanic Studies has a twofold purpose: to teach the skills required to understand, speak, read, and write the Spanish language and to guide the student in the search for an understanding of the literatures and cultures of Latin America and Spain. Normally, all courses in the department are taught in Spanish.

Students entering Vassar with no prior experience with Spanish and who wish to begin to learn the language are welcome to enroll in the yearlong Hispanic Studies 105-106. For students with some years of study in high school, please use the following guidelines when selecting the appropriate level: with one-two years, Hispanic Studies 105-106; two-three years, Hispanic Studies 205; four or more years, Hispanic Studies 206. Heritage speakers of Spanish (i.e., students who learned from native Spanish-speakers in their families) should consult with the department faculty for proper placement. Successful completion of the introductory sequence, Hispanic Studies 105-106, or of any one semester course at a higher level suffices to meet the college language requirement. Additional guidance about appropriate placement will be available during New Student Orientation.              

In addition to formal coursework, the department sponsors a weekly Café Sur designed for informal conversation practice and cultural activities in our lounge in Chicago Hall. The department also sponsors film festivals, lectures and multicultural celebrations (Black History month, Hispanic Heritage month and Indigenous People’s day). All activities—open to all students—are directed by the Hispanic studies language fellow, a recent graduate of a Spanish or Latin American or Spanish-speaking Caribbean university. The language fellow also assists with the conversation sections of Hispanic Studies 206.     

The department sponsors a study abroad program in Madrid, Spain. The academic year program, located at the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid, is co-sponsored by Wesleyan University. This program, normally taken during the junior year, may be elected for either the semester or the full year. To qualify, students must have completed Hispanic Studies 216 or its equivalent. Courses in the Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Madrid are listed in the catalogue at the end of the section on Hispanic Studies. Hispanic Studies majors are encouraged to study in a Spanish-speaking country during their Vassar career.

For more information, please visit the Hispanic Studies website or email



The History Department at Vassar College has a distinguished tradition of helping students “go to the source” as they take up the craft of history. From the beginning, students learn how to examine historical problems using the rich resources of the library and presenting their findings in class discussions, presentations, and papers. All courses stress the examination of both original sources and historical interpretations. The aim throughout is to help students develop skills in independent research, critical analysis, and imaginative synthesis.

We strongly recommend that students begin with a 100-level course. First-year students, whatever their academic background, tend to find our introductory classes quite different from any history course they have taken in the past. These courses include extensive class discussion, deep engagement with original historical documents, and independent research. Different 100-level courses introduce           students to the diverse histories of Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the U.S., and the modern Middle East.

Incoming Vassar history students frequently ask whether they can “place out” of 100-level courses and begin at the 200-level. Ordinarily, one 100-level history course in any field is the prerequisite for enrolling in a 200-level history class. However, students who receive a score of 4 or 5 on the AP examination in American or European history may wish to consider taking 200-level history courses. If you have such a score, and if you believe your background prepares you to enroll at the 200-level, you should consult the instructor by email or attend the first class session and ask the instructor to consider your request. If you become a history major and you received a 4 or 5 on an AP history exam (U.S., European, or World), you may count at most one AP credit toward the 11 units required for the major. AP credits cannot be used to fulfill the major’s distribution requirements. Alternately, students who have participated in the International Baccalaureate (IB) program and have earned a score of 5, 6, or 7 on the Higher Level Examinations may count that as one of the 11 units required for the major. The department also offers a correlate sequence that permits students to combine a sequence of six history courses with a major in another discipline. More information can be found in our History Handbook, available in the front foyer of Swift Hall, just to the left of the stairway. Feel free to stop by and pick up a copy, or explore the History Department website for more information about our faculty, course offerings, majors committee, department activities, and the recently established Evalyn Clark Travel Awards for history majors.            

History faculty are most willing to advise first-year students, whether or not they are considering a major. Arriving students with questions about the history program—especially prospective majors—are cordially invited to visit the department in Swift Hall and introduce themselves to the department chair, Lydia Murdoch. Her office is Swift Hall, Room 304. She is best reached by email (lymurdoch@vassar. edu) for an appointment or consultation.

For more information, please visit the History website.


Independent Program

The Independent Program exists to allow the study of a subject of interest to a student that can only be approached in a multidisciplinary way. The Program only allows students to pursue the major if Vassar does not already have a formalized departmental, interdepartmental or multi-disciplinary program that allows for the proposed course of study.

Prospective majors must first meet with the director of the Independent Program by the beginning of their sophomore year before starting the process of making a formal application. The formal application may then be submitted to the director, who will take it to the Independent Program Committee. The Independent Program Committee will then evaluate the proposal. A proposal may be accepted, sent back to the student for revisions, or denied. The Committee may suggest ways in which a student can explore an area of study through some department or program that already exists at the college. If admitted to the Independent Program, the student follows the agreed-upon course of study, culminating in the senior thesis, under the guidance of two faculty advisors from different academic departments. The variety of major concentrations is made possible first and foremost by the breadth of Vassar’s curriculum, as well as by access to courses at other institutions through various exchange programs.

For more information, please visit the Independent Program website.


Interdepartmental Courses

Vassar students may train as required for state certification as an emergency medical technician by taking a yearlong EMT Training course (Interdepartmental 150-151) for 0.5 units of credit each semester. It is expected that the students who complete the training will serve on the Vassar EMT squad. See the Vassar catalogue for more details.


International Studies

International Studies (IS) is a multidisciplinary program that allows students to design a course of study that reflects their intellectual interests and draws on courses from across the Vassar curriculum. The program’s faculty come from various departments and programs, including anthropology, Asian studies, Chinese and Japanese, economics, education, environmental studies, French and Francophone studies, geography, German studies, Hispanic studies, history, Latin American and Latina/o studies, philosophy, political science, sociology, urban studies and women’s studies.

The IS Program encourages IS majors to engage and explore a variety of perspectives, disciplines, methodologies, and modes of storytelling.

A student who majors in IS designs a major (in consultation with the IS faculty) that includes courses from several traditional disciplines (departments) and multidisciplinary programs. Every IS major chooses two “areas of concentration”—two departments, typically—in which they take at least two 200 level courses and one 300 level course. History, political science, geography, sociology, economics, anthropology and education are common choices, although many students choose disciplines other than these. IS majors fulfill this major requirement in a variety of ways, depending upon the departments they choose. IS majors tend to have a social science focus, but not always. Political science is the most popular “area of concentration,” followed by history, economics, geography, sociology and education. IS majors have had concentrations in religion, Hispanic studies, philosophy, English, film among others.             

Every IS major is required to take International Studies 106 (the IS intro course) or Geography 102 (Global Geography), International Studies 305 (the senior seminar), and 301/302 (the senior thesis). These classes are the only International Studies courses that an IS major is required to take (although most IS majors take additional IS courses as part of their major).

IS majors are asked to submit a “major proposal” before officially declaring an IS major. (This is not an “application” but rather a plan so that each student, their advisor and the Program Director will have a clear vision of the student’s unique IS major.) This proposal is typically due at the end of October of the sophomore year, although many students end up declaring IS after the “due date.”                              

IS majors are strongly encouraged to live and study outside of the United States at some point during their time as a Vassar student. Typically, this will be a study away program through the Office of International Programs. In recent years IS students have lived and studied in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, China, England, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Morocco, Madagascar, Malaysia, Russia, Uganda, and South Africa.                   

IS majors are strongly encouraged to achieve “competency” at (or above) the 3rd year level in at least one language other than English.

For more information, please visit the International Studies website, or contact the program director, Timothy Koechlin, at



The Italian Department offers a variety of courses in Italian language, literature, cinema, and general culture. Besides achieving fluency in spoken and written Italian, through our courses students explore the debates that have shaped Italy over the centuries and its important contribution to humanistic culture. Most courses in the department, from introductory language instruction to advanced seminars, are taught in Italian. First-year students with no previous experience in Italian should take the yearlong Italian 105-106, which is an introduction to the language and culture of Italy through short stories and plays, opera and popular music, and film and popular culture. Skits and other student-centered activities integrate grammar and vocabulary study to promote practical communication in the classroom and beyond. All students with previous knowledge of Italian will be placed in the appropriate courses after an interview with the department chair. An oral and written exam may be used for advanced placement or to fulfill the Foreign Language Proficiency requirement.                    

To coordinate the different language activities, a native Italian language fellow will be in residence. Students are encouraged to attend extracurricular activities organized by the department and by the Italian Majors’ Committee, such as trips to the Metropolitan Opera House, the Italian Cinema Club, and cooking classes.                                       

Italian majors and correlates are encouraged to spend a semester or a year in Italy, usually during their junior year. In collaboration with Wellesley College and Wesleyan University, Vassar offers the Eastern College Consortium (E.C.Co.) Program in Bologna, Italy, where students take courses at the program center and the University of Bologna. To qualify, students must complete four semesters of Italian. Typical correlate combinations include art history, studio art, drama, film, medieval and Renaissance studies, history, women’s studies, and international studies.

For more information, visit the the website or email the chair, Simona Bondavalli at


Japanese (see Chinese and Japanese)


Jewish Studies

Jewish studies offers a multidisciplinary approach to the diversity of Jewish experience. This approach involves studying the creation and reproduction of Jewish culture in multiethnic societies in the ancient, medieval, modern, and contemporary worlds as well as such subjects as languages and translations, texts and images, diaspora and Zionism, law and religion, and the cultural construction of Jewish identities. While all instruction and text study is in English, the program is supported by instruction in Hebrew language from elementary through advanced levels, with opportunities to study abroad in Israel and elsewhere during the junior year. Yiddish language at the elementary and intermediate levels is available through the Self-Instructional Language Program, as is special instruction in Aramaic, the language of the Talmud. Because a large and important population of Jews in the pre-1948 era lived in the linguistic and cultural milieu of Arab lands, students may wish to consider taking advantage of the Arabic language curriculum in support of their work in Jewish studies.                                       

Jewish studies draws upon faculty from a wide variety of departments including anthropology, Greek and Roman studies, English, geography, German studies, Hispanic studies, history, political science, psychology, art history, and religion, reflecting the multidisciplinary orientation of the field.   

The program strongly recommends that students pursue one of the many options that exist for a study away experience. Students are encouraged to begin discussions about this with their professors as soon as possible. In addition to the core courses in Jewish studies, the program is supplemented by an ample list of approved courses on topics in Jewish culture offered in the constituent disciplines of the field (consult the catalogue under “Jewish Studies”). These courses, along with approved courses taken during study away, may be credited to the major or correlate sequence. Requirements for the major and correlate sequence are detailed in the catalogue; in brief, students chart their own paths through the diversity of disciplinary methodologies and subject areas, establishing their own points of significant intersection, thus contributing to the definition of this field of study. No prior background in the study of Jews or Judaism, whether of a religious or cultural nature, is assumed.       

For more information, please visit the Jewish Studies website.


Latin (see Greek and Roman Studies)


Latin American and Latino/a Studies

The Latin American and Latino/a Studies Program provides a multidisciplinary approach to the study of Latin America and the Latinx and Latino/a populations of the Americas. The program emphasizes knowledge of global politics, economies, histories, cultures, and nations as theorized, imagined, and practiced through Latin/Latino/a America. Participating faculty are drawn from the following departments: anthropology, economics, education, English, geography, Hispanic studies, history, political science, and sociology.

The major requires eleven courses: at least one Intensive, and up to ten classroom courses, some of which may be taken during the Junior Year Abroad experience. Good knowledge of Spanish or Portuguese is required for majors; deeper knowledge of the relevant language is recommended. An introductory course, Latin American and Latino/a Studies 105, and the Latin American and Latino/a Studies Senior Seminar (in previous years, 389 or 352) are both required, along with one course on Latin America before 1900, one in Latino/a or Latinx studies, and a methods course. Majors are expected to elect work above the introductory level in at least three departments and are encouraged to pursue a structured academic experience relevant to the student’s program beyond Vassar during the junior year, either in Latin America or at an appropriate domestic institution. In the senior year, majors may complete an optional senior thesis or senior project under the guidance of two professors from different disciplines. Students are also encouraged to enroll in independent studies, fieldwork, or Intensives in Latin American and Latino/a Studies.                                

Latin American and Latino/a Studies correlates, who also should meet the language requirement outlined above, must complete six courses, including Latin American and Latino/a Studies 105, a pre-1900 course on Latin America, the Senior Seminar, and another Latin America and Latino/a Studies 300-level seminar. Offerings from three different departments should be represented in these courses, and one course from a junior year experience abroad may be counted.                               

First-year students interested in the program may take Conceptualizing Latin and Latino/a America (Latin America and Latino/a Studies 105), offered in the spring semester. This course offers a multidisciplinary exploration of the worlds of Latin and Latino/a America, drawing on the expertise of participating faculty in the program to introduce students to critical themes and issues that shape the realities of Latin American and Latino/a worlds. Topics to be treated may include immigrant children and education, gender and development, the formation of national identities, urbanization and uneven development, revolution, indigenous rebellions and resistance, the politics of memory, plantation economies and their environmental impact, human rights education and peace building, and/or questions of cultural citizenship. Prospective majors are strongly encouraged to take this course.        

For more information, please visit the Latin American and Latino/a Studies website.


Mathematics and Statistics

Mathematics is one of the oldest learned disciplines. Statistics provides one of humanity’s best ways to gain information in the face of uncertainty. Both contribute to the foundations of our understanding of much of the physical world, and they are essential for the study of modern developments in the social sciences. Our graduating majors are very much in demand in teaching, the business world, and the computing professions. A strong background in mathematics and statistics also increases an applicant’s chances of admission to law and medical schools and to graduate programs in engineering, economics, and business management. Mathematics and statistics are essential for graduate programs in computer science, economics, and the physical sciences.          

The department offers a number of course sequences for first-year students. For any questions of placement, please consult the department during the departmental advising sessions.

First-year students who have taken a year of calculus in high school should enroll in one of the following depending on their particular background: Calculus IIA: Functions and Integration (Math 126, a six-week course), Calculus IIB: Sequences and Series (Math 127, a six-week course), or Multivariable Calculus (Math 220). Math 126 together with 127 will satisfy the quantitative analysis requirement, and these courses may be taken in either order. However, many students will need only Math 127 to progress to the 200-level. These students can fulfill their quantitative anal- ysis requirement by enrolling in Math 220.

First-year students who have had little or no calculus in high school should enroll in Single Variable Calculus (Math 121), which begins with first principles. If such a student plans a major in the sciences or plans to take additional courses in mathematics, it is recommended that Math 121 be followed by Math 126 and 127 during their first year.                       

Here is some general advice for students wishing to preregister in a math or stats course:           

Students who receive a 4 or 5 on the AP Calculus BC examination should elect Math 220. Students who earn a 3 or below on the BC examination will ordinarily take either Math 127 alone, or Math 126 and Math 127 but must discuss their placement with the department.    

Students who receive a 4 or 5 on the AP Calculus AB examination are advised to elect Math 127. Students with a 3 or below on the AB examination are advised to enroll in Math 126 and Math 127. But students should confirm these placements by consulting with the department during the departmental advising sessions.  

Students with a full year of calculus, through IB or in some other setting, may sign up for 126/127 or 220 in advance and consult with the department during orientation to be sure of the correct level of placement.

Students who receive a 4 or 5 on the AP Statistics examination are advised to elect Math 242 if they are interested in continuing their study of statistics. Students with a 3 or lower on the AP Statistics examination should elect Math 240 to continue statistics studies. Students interested in statistics who have not had any exposure to statistics should consider Math 141 or Math 240 after consultation with the department. A score of 4 or 5 on the AP Statistics examination together with another Statistics course in the department counts as a gateway requirement in the Statistics pathway.

Any student without AP credit in Calculus can still receive 1 unit of advanced placement credit by performing well enough on a written Calculus Credit Examination given by the department in early September. The time and place of the Calculus Credit Examination will be posted on the Mathematics Department bulletin board in Rockefeller Hall and announced in classes. The first part of the examination covers limits, differentiation and its applications, graphs, the definite integral and area, and polar coordinates. The second part covers exponential, logarithmic, and trigonometric functions and their inverses; techniques of integration; volume and arc length; indeterminate forms; and simple differential equations.      

Any of the following satisfies the pre-medical calculus requirement: Math 121/126/127, Math 126/127, Math 220. The department also offers Introduction to Statistical Reasoning (Math 141) and Introduction to Statistics (Math 240), either one of which satisfies the pre-med statistics requirement. Math 141 is not open to students who have a 4 or 5 on the AP statistics exam.

It is important that students considering a major in mathematics complete Math 220 and 221 by the end of the sophomore year. Consequently, Math 121/126/127 should be completed by the end of the first year. The department encourages its majors to design well-balanced programs with representative courses from the arts, foreign languages, physical sciences, and social sciences.

For more information, please visit the Mathematics and Statistics website.


Media Studies Program

The Media Studies Program offers students a multidisciplinary approach to the study of media culture. The Program’s curriculum provides students with the intellectual and creative tools to become sophisticated analysts of both contemporary and historical media environments, developing theoretical and critical skills that can be used in everyday experiences of media consumption and production. The Program’s curriculum includes considerations of the form and aesthetics of media objects, the history of old and new media technologies, the economic and organizational structure of media industries, indigenous and oppositional media forms, and the social implications of, and ethical issues associated with, various media.

The Program includes a set of core courses that provide students with a strong base in media theory and analysis, beginning with a thoroughly multidisciplinary introductory-level class, Approaches to Media Studies (Media Studies 160), and culminating in a Senior Seminar and an individual Senior Project for all majors. The Media Studies major provides each student with the opportunity to design their course of studies to their specific interests. Media Studies majors work with a Faculty Advisor and the Program Director to design a coherent plan of study from different Departments and Programs. Students are also encouraged to link their theoretical and critical study of media with hands-on practice-based courses and/or internships in media-related workplaces. Because the Media Studies concentration incorporates courses originating within the Program as well as a wide range of courses from other Departments and Programs, students wishing to major in Media Studies should consult with the Program Director as early as possible to formulate their course of study.            

Students with questions about the Program or its courses should feel free to email the Program Director, Eva Woods Peiró, at, or the Program’s Administrative Assistant, Melissa McAlley, at

For more information, visit the the website.


Medieval and Renaissance Studies

The Program in Medieval and Renaissance Studies allows students to engage in the cross-cultural study of art, history, literature, and thought from the fall of Rome to the 18th century. Students are expected to elect work from three groups of disciplines: art history and music; history, political science, philosophy, and religion; and language and literature. In addition, students are expected to gain a reading knowledge of requisite foreign languages and, in their senior year, write an interdisciplinary essay under the supervision of one or more of the participating faculty.   

First-year students interested in medieval and Renaissance studies should consult with the director soon after arriving on campus. First-year students considering majoring in the program should elect some of the introductory courses in Greek and Roman studies, philosophy, religion, political science, and history during their first year at the college. Students should select introductory courses in the two disciplines that they hope to study at the higher level. Art 105-106 provides a grounding for the program, as do the historical sections of English 101. The Dark Ages (History 116) and High Middle Ages (History 117) are valuable introductions to medieval history, and the College Course 101, Civilization in Question offers a useful multidisciplinary and team taught approach to pre-modern readings. Students should think carefully about the language that they plan to take in the program. Latin is highly recommended for students planning to enter graduate school in medieval studies. Since many majors study abroad, it is wise to begin or continue a language appropriate to the country in which students anticipate studying.          

For more information, please visit the Medieval and Renaissance Studies website.



Music is studied at Vassar in each of its distinct but interrelated aspects: theory, history, composition, and performance. First-year students may choose from among Fundamentals of Music (Music 101), Harmony (Music 105/106), Introduction World Music (Music 136), and private lessons including piano, jazz piano, organ, harpsichord, voice, violin, viola, cello, double bass, flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, saxophone, French horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, percussion, classical guitar, jazz guitar, and harp. Please note that all private lessons are intensives courses.                      

Ensembles: Students interested in performing in an ensemble may audition for the Vassar College Choir, Chamber Singers, Women’s Chorus, Jazz Combos, Jazz Ensemble, Orchestra, Chamber Music, and Wind Ensemble. Please note that Jazz Combos and Chamber Music are intensives courses.                

Music Major: For those students planning on majoring in music or pursuing a correlate, Music 105/106 should be taken in the first year if possible, as these courses are prerequisites to all subsequent courses in the major and most of the correlates. Music 105/106 is a study of tonal harmony in the 18th and 19th centuries and requires familiarity with the rudiments of music.           

Correlate Sequence: Students may elect to pursue a correlate sequence in Music and Culture, Composition, History, Theory, or Performance.           

Intensives: The Music Department is pleased to offer an array of intensive courses: all private lessons, chamber music, and jazz combos are designated as intensives. We also offer non-performance intensives: “Vassar Music Treasures” and “Music from Outer Space.”                      

Non-Majors: Music 101 is a study of musical fundamentals and requires no previous musical training. Music 136 focuses on various topics in music of non-Western cultures; neither may be counted toward the major.

Advanced Placement: An advanced placement test is offered during orientation week for those students who have had previous work in basic harmony and musicianship skills to determine whether they can be excused from Music 105 and/or Music 207. A student may receive college credit if appropriate proficiency is demonstrated.     

Auditions for Lessons and Ensembles: An audition is required for all voice and most instrumental lessons. Starting Monday, August 24, 2020 audition sign-up sheets for ensembles and lessons will be posted on the board outside Skinner 105.      

Co-requisite Requirements: The Music Department believes that music performance in a liberal arts environment should be studied in the context of some knowledge of music history and theory. Therefore, students taking lessons for credit are required to take at least one music course no later than the third semester of study and, if continuing with lessons for credit, must complete 1.5 credits by their junior year. First-year students and first-semester sophomores are especially encouraged to take at least one of the following: 101, 105, 136, or 180.  

Scholarships for Lessons: Scholarships for students electing credited lessons are available to those on financial aid for lessons in one instrument each semester. Eligible students must apply for the scholarship at the beginning of each semester. please visit the Student Financial Services website.

For more information, please visit the Music website.


Neuroscience and Behavior

Neuroscience and Behavior is a multidisciplinary program that is interested in how interactions of brain, body, and environment contribute to animal (including human) behavior. Neuroscientists and Behaviorists study the structure and function of the nervous system, the development and evolution of neural and behavioral systems, and the co-actions and interactions among behavior, environment, physiology, and heredity. The study of brain and behavior requires students to delve deeply into nervous system mechanisms at all levels of analysis, from molecules to synapses to neurons, from circuits to computational algorithms to behavior and cognition to mathematical modeling of neuroscience and behavior related processes. This program is ideal for students with interests in biological and psychological sciences specifically, but also students interested in incorporating chemistry, computer science, physics and astronomy, mathematics and statistics, and philosophy into the study of brain and behavior.

Interested first-year students should take Biology 107 and Biology 108 (required) and Neuroscience 105 (required; to be taken after Biology 107 or with AP (5) /IB HL (6 or 7) equivalent credit); other recommended courses include, but are not limited to Psychological Science 105, Cognitive Science 100, Chemistry 125.

For more information about the courses, the faculty, and what to do with a degree in neuroscience and behavior after graduation, please visit the Neuroscience and Behavior website. If you have questions that are not answered when you visit the website, please email



Philosophy is the search to understand ourselves and the world by reflecting critically on the beliefs and values that shape our lives. What is the relationship between mind and body? Are there limits to what we can know? Are there objective moral truths? Are our own political and economic institutions just? Is there such a thing as beauty, and does it matter in art? At Vassar, we approach these and other questions from a variety of perspectives and traditions: ancient and modern; eastern and western; analytic and continental. We aim to help students at all levels learn to think, speak, and write with open-mindedness, clarity, and rigor.                

First-year students may begin the study of philosophy by means of any of five courses open to them. This selection allows students to align their first philosophy course with their interests or plans for future study.            

Philosophy 101 and 102 both study the history of Western philosophy through the great texts of this tradition. Philosophy 101 covers ancient Greek thought, with emphasis on Plato and Aristotle. Philosophy 102 surveys modern philosophy from Descartes to Kant. Both courses constitute an excellent background for understanding later debates in Western philosophy and provide conceptual tools to work in a variety of fields. These courses may be taken in any order.  

Philosophical Questions (Philosophy 105) and Philosophy and Contemporary Issues (Philosophy 106) provide an alternative approach to the subject. These courses are organized around philosophical problems rather than authors or periods. Philosophy 105 explores some traditional questions concerning the relation between the mind and the body, the nature of truth, the scope and limits of human knowledge, and the basis of ethics. Philosophy 106 investigates philosophical issues arising out of contemporary political and moral dilemmas. Both courses aim to help students develop their critical powers and philosophical views.                  

Philosophy 110 is an introduction to ancient Chinese philosophy, roughly from 500 to 221 BC, with a special focus on early Confucianism and Taoism. Topics discussed include human nature, methods of ethical education and self-cultivation, virtues and vices, along with the role of conventions and institutions of human life. This course assumes no background knowledge of philosophy, Chinese culture, or language.       

For more information, please visit the Philosophy website.


Physical Education

The instructional program in the Physical Education Department offers 0.5 units of academic credit for courses in the following physical activities: badminton, basketball, bowling, fencing, flag football, fundamentals of conditioning, golf, indoor rowing, soccer, squash, swimming, tennis, triathlon training, volleyball, and weight training. Two courses, Introduction to Athletic Injury Care (Physical Education 110) and Nutrition and Exercise (Physical Education 210), are offered for one unit of academic credit. Students may also earn 0.5 credits for participation on a varsity athletics team with approval from the coach.

No more than four 0.5 units of physical education credit may count toward the degree. One-unit courses are exempted from this limitation.

Beginning classes assume no prior experience. Those who think they qualify for an intermediate or advanced section should register for it. However, they should be prepared to drop it after the first class if the instructor thinks they are not ready for that level of work.

For more information, please contact the Associate Director of Athletics for Physical Education, Kathy Campbell, at (845) 437-7460 .


Physics and Astronomy


The astronomy major accommodates students interested in careers in professional astronomy as well as those who wish to combine a strong background in astronomy with specialization in another field. Except at the introductory level, astronomy courses have small enrollments (5 to 10 is typical) and students have good access to faculty as well as instrumentation. Recent graduates have gone on to graduate astronomy programs at Caltech, UCLA, University of Maryland, Columbia, Boston University, New Mexico State University, Indiana University, NC State, and University of Florida. Other recent astronomy graduates are pursuing careers in such diverse fields as aerospace engineering, secondary education, media consulting, journalism, computing, finance, medicine, and music.                      

Those interested in astronomy should consider enrolling in Astronomy 101 in the fall semester or 105 in the spring semester. These introductory courses survey many areas of modern astronomy and presume little mathematical or scientific background. They also satisfy the quantitative analysis requirement. First-year students with an interest in majoring in astronomy should consult with the department at their earliest convenience and consider electing physics and calculus in their first semester. Such students may contact Professor Colette Salyk ( over the summer, even prior to course selection.                           

The Class of 1951 Observatory houses a 32-inch telescope and a 20-inch telescope, computer-controlled and equipped with an electronic camera and spectrograph. Various small telescopes, including a solar telescope, are also at the site. We support a program of monitoring variable objects by student observers at the observatory. Vassar is part of the international KELT-FUN network for exoplanet transit follow-up observing. Research is also done during the academic year and during the summer (through the URSI program) using data from the Hubble Space Telescope, ALMA, and other national observatories. Recent student-faculty research projects have included work on the structure of galaxies, including galaxies in the early universe, protoplanetary disks, exoplanet searches, stellar spectroscopy, and mass transfer binaries. Much of the analytical work on these projects is done on department computers optimized for image processing. Students also host open nights at the observatory as outreach for the public.         

Because astronomy is a relatively small field, the department at Vassar finds it important to maintain strong ties with other schools and programs. We have a strong tradition of student participation at astronomy meetings off-campus. Vassar participates in the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium of eight liberal arts institutions, a group that exchanges summer research students, hosts an annual symposium, and collaborates on several research projects.     

America’s first woman astronomer, Maria Mitchell, was also the first director of the original Vassar College Observatory, now an historical landmark on campus. She believed astronomical education is best accomplished when students do their own research, and that students work best when they are part of a supportive scientific community. The department today works to maintain Maria Mitchell’s legacy. All astronomy majors complete an Intensive research experience, individually or in groups.                                            


The curriculum of the physics major is designed to satisfy the needs of students with various goals, from pursuing a career in physics to pursuing a technical career in another discipline. A rigorous course selection is available for those interested in physics, astronomy, or engineering (students may apply for a dual degree with the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth) as well as for pre-medical students, other science majors, or students electing a correlate sequence in physics. Courses are also available for those students with an interest in learning about the ideas of physics with a less quantitative approach. Students interested in biophysics should consult with Professor Magnes, and students interested in physics education should consult with Professor Schwarz, for advice on appropriate courses.                    

First-year students who are interested in majoring in physics should elect Physics 113/114 in their first year (or other physics courses, as determined by advanced placement), as well as an appropriate mathematics course. First-year students who have not taken calculus must enroll in calculus concurrently with physics. Physics 113/114 are appropriate both for potential physics majors as well as those planning possible majors in other sciences and for pre-medical students, although there are also Physics 111/112 algebra-based introductory physics courses intended for pre-meds who do not wish a calculus-based course. Although it is possible to complete the requirements for the physics major by starting in the sophomore year, it is extremely difficult if physics and mathematics are not elected in the first year. Interested students are strongly encouraged to work closely with a department advisor in planning their program.                                              

Students who receive a score of 4 or 5 on the Physics 1 exam will receive one unit of AP credit. Students taking the Physics C Mechanics exam or Physics C Electricity and Magnetism exam will receive 0.5 units of credit each for a score of 4 or 5. Students with AP Physics credit should plan on Physics 114 or Physics 200 as their first course and should consult to determine which is best for them.. Students who have taken IB, A-levels, or another advanced high school physics course should take our online placement exam, available from June 22 through September 4 also at  Those taking the test will hear from a faculty member regarding the results and advice on course selection within seven days of taking the test. Students are strongly encouraged to take the exam before selecting your courses. Additional placement issues should be addressed by consultation with the department during departmental advising during orientation. Students who have any questions over the summer about placement may contact Professor Jenny Magnes (jemagnes@vassar. edu) prior to selecting courses.                                          

Special note to pre-medical students: The department recommends that students seeking admission to medical school enroll in Physics 111/112 at Vassar or an equivalent physics course at another institution during the summer. Students who receive AP physics credit should discuss pre-med fulfillment of the laboratory requirement with the director of fellowships and pre-health advising.                 

The department also offers courses primarily for non-science majors on a rotating basis, such as A Tour of the Subatomic Zoo (Physics 168), Lasers, Technology, and Teleportation (Physics 152), 20th-Century Revolutions in Physics (Physics/STS 105), and Relatively Uncertain: A History of Physics, Religion, and Pop Culture (Physics/ Religion/ Science, Technology, and Society 160).                                 

There are opportunities in the department for research collaboration and thesis work with faculty in fields including physics education, ultrafast laser physics, atomic, molecular and optical physics, photonics, and biophysics. All physics majors complete an Intensive research experience. Summer research with faculty is available through Vassar’s Undergraduate Research Summer Institute (URSI).

For more information, please visit the Physics website.


Political Science

Politics, the pursuit and exercise of power, exists in many realms of social life—not just in government but in businesses, religious institutions, universities, clubs, the media, and families. The academic discipline of political science focuses mainly on the politics of states (governments), including their political relations with members of society and with one another. It examines the sources, distribution, and exercise of power; the roles of class, race, and gender; the dynamics and impact of social movements; the political attitudes and behaviors of individuals and groups; the functioning of domestic and international political institutions; the relations among states, nations, and other actors in the international system; political beliefs, values, and ideologies; mass media and communications; the place of legal systems in domestic and international politics; major issues of public policy such as affirmative action, reproductive rights, and access to health care; human rights, immigration, welfare reform, and governmental budgets; and major global issues such as war, the economy, and the environment.                                  

Four one-semester courses corresponding to the major fields of political science are offered at the introductory level: American Politics (Political Science 140), Comparative Politics (Political Science 150, political systems outside the U.S.), International Politics (Political Science 160, the relations among nations), and Political Theory (Political Science 170, political philosophy). First-year students planning to major in political science would normally elect one introductory course. This fulfills the introductory level requirement for concentration in political science. Students are allowed to count up to two units in different subfields at the 100-level in political science toward the major. No high school credits, Advanced Placement, or IB scores, however, may be counted toward the major.       

A concentration or major in political science not only serves the purposes of a liberal arts education but is especially relevant to careers in law, business, finance, governmental service at all levels, non-governmental organizations, teaching, and political journalism. Opportunities exist for internships, community-engaged learning, and study abroad programs off campus and research assistantships in the department.

For more information, please visit the Political Science website.


Psychological Science

The Psychological Science Department has one introductory course, Psychological Science 105, which introduces students to fundamental psychological processes and contemporary research methods in Psychological Science.  Psychological Science 105 may be taught either as a traditional survey or as a special topics course, offering the same basic content as the survey course, but views the research areas of psychological science through a topical lens. The special topics section for Psychological Science 105 in 2020-21 will be Psychological Science and Environmental Sustainability. The department also offers a First-Year Writing Seminar, Psychology 108: Reading and Writing in Psychology. The topics of this year’s writing seminars, offered in the fall and spring semesters, respectively, will be Growing Up Poor in America and The Art and Science of Resilience.

Students may receive Psychological Science 105 credit through successful completion of the course or through appropriate transfer credit.  Any of the following that appear on the Vassar College transcript as college credits will count as equivalent to Psychological Science 105: AP Psychology (score of 4 or 5 on the AP exam), IB Psychology (score of 5, 6, or 7 on the IB exam), or successful completion of a pre-matriculation course in introductory psychology from a college or university. Students wishing to count their AP or IB score as equivalent to Psychological Science 105 should have those scores listed on their Vassar transcripts. Students with a pre-matriculation college course should submit the syllabus and description of the text used in the course, as well as an official transcript to the department chair for approval. A high school course in psychology does not, by itself, qualify a student for advanced course placement. An AP examination in statistics does not meet the requirement for the statistics course in psychology. For prematriculation credit in psychological statistics, a college-level course must have been taken, and the syllabus, description of the course, and official transcript must be submitted to and approved by the department chair.                         

A wide range of intermediate-level course offerings is available covering the major sub-areas of the diverse field of psychological science. These include clinical, developmental, evolutionary/comparative, health, individual differences, learning and behavior, physiological, and social psychology.                                        

Students who wish to major in psychological science or pursue advanced coursework in Psychological Science should consult with the department and obtain a copy of the Psychological Science Major’s Handbook. For more information, please visit the Psychological Science website (, or contact the Department Chair, Professor Cleaveland (845-437-7646 or



In the Religion Department we examine in rigorous ways the most profound issues that human beings face, issues such as building community, understanding suffering and pain, searching for the ethical life or finding a sense of faith or meaning. The academic study of religion is an interdisciplinary exploration of these issues as well as of other phenomena we call “religious” around the world. Faculty in our department use historical methods to understand how religious communities and practices change over time; they use comparative methods to analyze ritual, popular culture, race, gender, media and material culture in different settings; and they employ sociological, psychological, and anthropological methods to study how religiosity shapes social and individual life. Our classes critically explore the complexities of religion around the globe, looking at how religion plays a key role in today’s urgent political and social problems. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of our department, we particularly welcome double majors and students working in related fields.

For more information, please visit the Religion website.


Russian Studies

In 1907, Vassar College became the first among the original Seven Sisters colleges to offer a course on Russian history. In 1939, again first among its peers, Vassar instituted regular courses in Russian. At present, the Department of Russian Studies offers a well-rounded curriculum that includes three years of language instruction and a wide range of literature and culture courses taught both in Russian and in English.                 

Every fall, in partnership with the Hermitage Museum, the department conducts a semester-long junior year abroad program in St. Petersburg that offers our students unique access to the cultural treasures of Russia’s imperial capital.                

First-year students with no previous knowledge of the Russian language may elect Elementary Russian (Russian 105-106) or the one-semester Intensive Russian (Russian 107) that covers the same amount of material in a more concentrated fashion. The department gives an oral and written examination to students with previous knowledge of Russian for the purpose of satisfying the foreign language proficiency requirement, for placement into intermediate or advanced courses, and for a possible 2 units of credit. Please be sure to attend the departmental advising session during the orientation period.            

All departmental courses offered in translation are open to freshmen. The topics of such courses include literature, both classical and modern, theatre, cinema, visual arts, and various aspects of Russian culture.                     

Students who are considering the option of majoring in Russian are urged to begin the study of the language in their first year, continuing with intermediate and advanced language courses in their sophomore and junior years. For those who will be starting their language study here, this sequence is mandatory unless one of these levels is covered in an accredited summer program. However, those who have taken Russian in high school or have a knowledge of the language from home should sign up for a placement test that will indicate the appropriate level at which they should enroll.             

Every semester the department offers a specialized seminar on a literary or cultural topic given entirely in Russian; access to such courses is open to students who have completed intermediate Russian or have the equivalent language competency. Additionally, some courses taught in English have a supplementary section with readings in Russian.                

Students can benefit from participation in the weekly Russian tea, from conversations with the native speaker who serves as the departmental language fellow, or from participation in our department band (“The Post-Soviets”) and from many other extracurricular activities.                    

The department has established the Masha N. Vorobiov Prize, which is awarded each spring to a promising student of Russian who intends to pursue summer study of the language.

For more information, please visit the Russian Studies website.


Science, Technology, and Society

The Science, Technology, and Society (STS) Program is a multidisciplinary program that studies science and technology in a social, cultural, and historical context. Established in 1971, it was one of the first programs of its kind at an undergraduate institution. By taking a broad range of courses across the curriculum and within the program itself, the STS major learns how the interrelationships among science, technology, and society have developed, and what major figures in the sciences and humanities have thought about it. The STS program is designed to enable students to pursue three objectives: a) to understand the central role of science and technology in contemporary society; b) to examine how science and technology reflect their social, political, philosophical, economic, and cultural contexts; and c) to explore the human, ethical, and policy implications of current and emerging technologies.   

Faculty who teach in the STS program are drawn from many departments in the college. Presently, this includes faculty from biology, chemistry, cognitive science, economics, history, philosophy, physics, political science, psychology, religion, and sociology.           Majors take courses in STS and in other departments and programs and culminate in a senior thesis. Recent senior theses have addressed such topics as: “The Human Genome Patent Debate,” “The Controversy over the Use of Transgenic Organisms in Agriculture,” “Paradigms in Conflict:Technological Development in Rural India,” and “Wireless Communication and the 21st-Century Employee.” Strengths of the program are the flexibility it gives its majors and the close relationship it fosters between students and faculty.                     

First-year students who are interested in STS should consider taking a natural science, including a laboratory course, Introductory Sociology (Sociology 151) and/or Introduction to Economics (Economics 102). All 100-level STS courses are open to first-year students. STS 200 (Conceptualizing STS: Theory and Practice) is typically taken by sophomores and juniors but a few spots may be available to well-prepared first year students.            

For more information, please visit, or contact the Director, David Esteban, Email inquiries can also be sent to


Self-Instructional Language Program (SILP)

The Self-Instructional Language Program allows well-motivated students to enroll in a program of supervised self-instruction in American Sign Language, Haitian Creole, Hindi, Irish/Gaelic, Portuguese, Swahili, Swedish, Turkish, and Yiddish. Students develop an active command of the target language with the help of textbooks, multimedia materials, and weekly review sessions with a native-speaking tutor. Please note that Beginning American Sign Language is not open to First-Year Students.    

An orientation meeting for all students interested in a SILP course will be held on the first Wednesday afternoon of the semester; please check for announcements in Chicago Hall 135.

For more information, visit the the website or contact the coordinator, Lioba Gerhardi (



The Department of Sociology offers a diverse curriculum that deepens and broadens students’ understandings of modern society through examination of social issues, social structures and culture, and social justice. Our courses can be understood in terms of six basic themes—social justice, inequality and difference, culture, public policy, globalization, and theory—and highlight distinct perspectives to focus on individuals as members of collective forms and groups including (but not limited to) families, age, class, gender/sexuality, and race/ethnicity/nation. Students who majored in sociology at Vassar have pursued careers in government, research, business, the media, social work, and a variety of nonprofit organizations. Others have gone on to pursue graduate study in law, health care, and sociology as well as in other academic or professional disciplines.                             

Our Introductory Sociology (Sociology 151) course explores major concepts and various approaches necessary for cultivating a sociological imagination; the theme of each section varies, although Sociology 151 may not be repeated for credit. First-year students are also invited to enroll in our First-Year Writing Seminars, which also vary thematically. These seminars can count toward the major but do not ordi- narily satisfy the Introductory Sociology requirement.                         

Our 200-level courses in the department deal with an array of contemporary topics as well as with modern social theory and methods of sociological analysis. 300-level          courses provide students with the chance to examine selected sociological topics in seminar settings. In addition, the department offers independent study or community-engaged learning opportunities under the sponsorship of individual faculty members. In the senior year, students undertake individual work by choosing to do a senior thesis or a senior project. Students must complete one to fulfill the requirements of the major. Either option allows students the opportunity to plan and execute an original sociological investigation on a topic of their choosing.              

Sociology requires 10.5 units for a major, and also offers a correlate sequence that allows students to combine a sequence of six sociology courses with a major in another discipline. Our faculty are pleased to advise first-year students, whether or not they are considering a sociology major. Students with questions about the department can email Please explore the department website for more information about our faculty, course offerings, and other resources, visit the Sociology website.


Spanish (see Hispanic Studies)


Urban Studies

As most of the world’s population now resides in cities, suburbs, and metropolitan areas, virtually nowhere on Earth is outside of urban influences. The Urban Studies Program provides multidisciplinary perspectives on the forms and relationships of cities, global dynamics of urbanization, urban ways of life, urban design and architecture, and urban planning and policy. We encourage students to articulate and pursue their own intellectual goals within the major, or to develop a correlate sequence on urban issues to complement other majors. Our graduates have gone on to careers in urban planning, policy analysis, government service, public administration, urban design and architecture, human services, teaching, business, and many other fields.                               

First-year students should take Introduction to Urban Studies (Urban Studies 100), which examines different ways of understanding and intervening in urban space. Subsequently, those considering majors should enroll in Urban Theory (Urban Studies 200) to study important theoretical debates and to formulate original questions for investigation. Students may also take such intermediate courses as Making Cities (Urban Studies 230); Community Development (Urban Studies 237); Urban Space, Place, Environment (Urban Studies 250); Cities of the Global South (Urban Studies 252); Gender and Social Space (Urban Studies 270); and other urban studies courses.                                       

As juniors or seniors, majors take a seminar on Advanced Debates in Urban Studies (Urban Studies 303), which can be repeated for credit if the topic has changed. Previous advanced seminars have focused on such topics as “Greening the City,” “Plotting the Invisible City,” “Memory and the City,” and “Musical Urbanism.” A variety of other seminars are offered to advanced students. In addition, majors gain practical as well as theoretical expertise in urban studies through Community-Engaged Learning (Urban Studies 290). During their senior year, majors can choose to complete a year-long senior thesis or senior project. Entering students with previous courses in urban studies may confer with the program for advice on advanced placement, although there is no standard AP test.

For more information, please visit the Urban Studies website or email the program director, Tobias Armborst ( or the administrative assistant, Alison Mateer (


Victorian Studies

The Program in Victorian Studies enables students to combine courses offered in several departments with independent work and, through an interdisciplinary approach, to examine the assumptions, ideas, ideals, institutions, society, and culture of Victorian Britain, which was at the height of its power as a global empire in the nineteenth century.               

First-year students considering a possible Victorian Studies major or correlate sequence are encouraged to consult with the Victorian Studies coordinator or any of the advisors. The intellectual foundation for the major is best laid by taking “Revolution, Evolution, and the Global Nineteenth Century” (History/Victorian Studies/College Course 150) as well as survey courses or 100-level courses in at least three of the departments involved in this interdisciplinary program.                 

A grounding in the literature and history of the nineteenth century is expected, and potential majors would do well to take English literature courses as well as courses in History that focus on the nineteenth century, or on Great Britain, such as British History: James I (1603) to the Great War (History 151). Students interested in the study of nineteenth-century art should enroll in Art 106 in their first year.

For more information, please visit the Victorian Studies website or email


Women’s Studies

gender and sexuality are fundamental categories of analysis across disciplines. As a multidisciplinary field, women’s studies teaches students to think critically about the multiple, intersecting systems of power through which sexual and gendered identities are constructed, and to engage with real-life political and ethical issues from diverse perspectives. The program offers courses that examine women and gender in a variety of historical, cultural, and political contexts, as well as courses that explore the intersections of feminist theory, queer theory, and activism.                                

First-year students interested in the major are encouraged to take Women’s Studies 130, Introduction to Women’s Studies, a team-taught course offered each semester that serves as a foundation for future study. Women Studies 130 introduces students to multidisciplinary methodologies, feminist history, and theoretical debates, with a particular focus on the intersections of gender, race, class, and sexuality. Beyond the introductory level, regularly offered courses include Introduction to Queer Studies (Women’s Studies 201),  Gender in American Popular Media (Women’s Studies 240), Topics in the Construction of Gender (Women’s Studies 241), Making Waves: Topics in Feminist Activism (Women’s Studies 245), Feminist Theory (Women’s Studies 250), and Global Feminism (Women’s Studies 251). A full list of courses can be found in the catalogue.

In additional to a major in Women’s Studies, the program offers correlates in both Women’s Studies and Queer Studies. For more information, please visit the Women’s Studies website, or contact the director, Hiram Perez (