Go to navigation

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 sequence (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 (AFRS 100) in the spring. This is a great course for any student interested in exploring 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 three First-Year Writing Seminars offered in the fall: Martin Luther King, Jr. (AFRS 101), Modern Arabic Literature (AFRS 109), and Religion, Community Organizing, and Movements for Civil Rights (AFRS 189). For students interested in learning Arabic, we encourage you to take Elementary Arabic (AFRS 106) in the fall and Elementary Arabic (AFRS 107) in the spring. Some faculty 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 Program website or email africanastudies@vassar.edu.


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 WPA photography and literature of the 1930s, on the civil rights movement, on the art and thought of the 1980s, and on emerging forms of 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, Hua Hsu, at huhsu@vassar.edu, or the program’s administrative assistant, Darcy Gordineer, at dagordineer@vassar.edu.

For more information, please visit https://americanstudies.vassar.edu.



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 three First-Year Writing Seminars: Anthropology of Water (Anthropology 170-01 fall), Language Facts, Language Fictions (Anthropology 170-02 fall) and Bones, Bodies and Forensic Cases (Anthropology 170-51 spring)  plus Cultural Anthropology (Anthropology 140), which is required of all majors, Archaeology (Anthropology 100), Human Origins (Anthropology 120), and Linguistics and Anthropology (Anthropology 150).

First-year students with a strong interest in anthropology or some background in the social sciences might also consider Anthropology 240-01 China Now, or Anthropology 240-02 The Pacific offered in the fall. Please email the instructors directly with any questions or for additional information.

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 https://anthropology.vassar.edu or email thporcello@vassar.edu



Creativity has long been measured by the work of art and architecture. The subject is vast. The Introduction to the History of Art (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 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, and video 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 https://art.vassar.edu.


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 19 faculty members who teach a broad range of courses. Of particular interest to first-year students are: Religions of Asia (Religion/Asian Studies 152); Encounters in Modern East Asia (History/Asian Studies 122); Introduction to Chinese and Japanese Literature (Chinese-Japanese 120); Early Chinese Philosophy (Philosophy 110); and Analyzing Politics in the World (Political Science 150, when taught by Asian Studies faculty member). Each of these courses can fulfill part of the introductory level requirement for the Asian Studies major or correlate. 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 https://asianstudies.vassar.edu or email email Professor Fubing Su, director of Asian Studies, at fusu@vassar.edu.


Astronomy (see Physics and Astronomy)


Biochemistry (also see Biology and Chemistry)

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, mathematics, and physics to advanced courses in biology and chemistry, integrative courses in biochemistry, and a capstone laboratory research experience in the senior year.

Students should feel free to contact the program director Eric Eberhardt (ereberhardt@vassar.edu) or any of the faculty members from the biology and chemistry departments to ask questions about which courses to consider in their first year.

First semester, first-year students considering a biochemistry major are strongly advised to enroll in

  • Introductory Biology 105 or 106 (for information about placing out of BIOL 105 with AP or IB credit, see the section on “Biology” below);
  • General Chemistry 108 or Chemistry 125 (for information on whether you should take the full year CHEM 108/109 course or should take the accelerated one-semester CHEM 125 course, see the section on “Chemistry” below);
  • Math 121, 126/127 or 220 (for information about which of these courses might be the appropriate entry point for you, see the section on “Mathematics” below).

For more information, please visit the Biochemistry Program’s website or email the program director Eric Eberhardt (ereberhardt@ vassar.edu).



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 Vassar Course 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 105 and Biology 106. Neither is a survey course, and neither is a repetition of high school AP biology. In Biology 105 students explore a specific topic, develop their understanding of the central concepts of biology, and enhance their critical thinking and communication skills. In Biology 106 students conduct laboratory or field investigations, develop their abilities to observe, formulate, and test hypotheses, design experiments, collect and interpret data, and communicate results. Detailed descriptions of the Biology 105 topics being offered this year can be found in the Vassar Course Catalog.

Students who receive exam scores of 4 or 5 on the AP Biology exam and report the score to Vassar College will receive one unit of 100-level biology credit toward graduation and may opt to place out of Biology 105. Students with International Baccalaureate (IB) Biology HL test scores of 5, 6, or 7 may also place out of Biology 105. Students must confirm their IB credit with the Dean of Studies Office.

Two units of 100-level work in biology (Biol 106 and either Biol 105 or a qualifying AP/IB Biology exam score) are required for election of 200-level biology courses. If you are contemplating a major in biology or a related field, it is strongly advised to take these 100-level courses in the first year. Please note that first-year students must take Biology 105 (or have a qualifying AP/IB Biology exam score) before taking Biology 106. Both are popular courses, so those wishing to take one in the fall should rank it high on their pre-registration list.

Students planning to major in biology or biochemistry are also advised to complete Chemistry 108/109 or 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, Kate Susman (845-437-7441, kasusman@vassar.edu).



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, and toxicology, and is also excellent training for future teachers, lawyers, and individuals working in business or an industrial setting.

There are three chemistry courses that can be taken during the first year, all of which combine lecture and laboratory work. The course a student elects will depend on his or her background in chemistry. Chemistry 108/109, General Chemistry, is open to all students regardless of their background in chemistry. This course covers the fundamental concepts of chemistry and begins to build an understanding of the physical world from the perspective of atomic theory. 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 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. Students considering majoring in chemistry should elect chemistry and calculus during their first year and elect physics during either the first or sophomore year. Students who plan to graduate in less than four years or graduate with a degree certified by the American Chemical Society should consult with a department advisor early in their first semester.

For more information, please visit the Chemistry Department website or email chemistry@vassar.edu.


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 Department 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 Department website. You may also call the department office at (845) 437-7380.


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

Vassar’s Computer Science Department offers students the opportunity to study the field of computer science in the context of a liberal arts education. The department’s program, with its theoretical core, provides excellent preparation for graduate study in computer science as well as a career in the profession.

Computer Science 101, the entry-level course in computer science, introduces computing concepts through structural recursion and functional programming. A student who already has this background may be able to go directly into Computer Science 102 or 145 after consulting with the department. Prospective computer science majors are strongly advised to complete Computer Science 101, 102, and 145 within their first three semesters. After completing Computer Science 101, a student may take Computer Science 102 and Computer Science 145 in either order or simultaneously. Prospective majors should plan to complete one of the following by the end of sophomore year: Math 221, 241, 242, or 261. Note that these courses may have prerequisites in mathematics.

Students who want to include a foundation in computer science in their undergraduate programs of study are advised to take Computer Science 101 and 102 and/or 145. This foundation is strongly recommended for science majors who may also opt to take Computer Science 250, Modeling, Simulation, and Analysis.

For students who want to complement other majors with substantial work in computer science, the department offers several correlate sequences consisting of 6 or 7 computer science courses with various emphases. Vassar’s Computer Science Department offers several courses in areas relevant to the broader liberal arts curriculum, including artificial intelligence, computational linguistics, graphics and animation, and bioinformatics. Cognitive science majors with an interest in artificial intelligence or language may choose one of the tracks within their major that includes a sequence of relevant computer science courses.

The department houses computer laboratories containing workstations running the Linux operating system, available to majors and 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 Department website or email csdept@vassar.edu. 



Dance is an elective academic course of study with two full- time faculty, one visiting and two 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 during the first week of classes in the fall. 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 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 Department 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) and Drama 103 (Introduction to Stagecraft), and 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 Department website or contact the Drama Department at drama@vassar.edu or (845) 437-5250.


Earth Science (Geology)

Catastrophic events such as hurricanes and tsunamis and the specter of global climate change underscore the importance of Earth science in a well-rounded liberal arts education. Earth scientists at Vassar study our planet as a system of interacting spheres—the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and rock sphere—that create the environments in which we live, the natural hazards with which societies must contend, and the natural resources upon which we rely. We also work to understand the impacts of human activities on the surface of the planet and provide tools to help remedy environmental problems. Courses emphasize field experiences, both in the Hudson Valley and beyond, and many employ cutting-edge technology and computer software to enhance field and laboratory study. Majoring in Earth science prepares students for a range of careers, including education, government research, environmental consulting, natural resource management, public health, journalism, sustainable development, and environmental law, among others.

We offer several courses of particular interest to first-year students. For students seeking an in-depth introduction to major concepts of earth science, the department recommends Earth, Environment, and Humanity (Earth Science/ Geography 151), which fulfills the college’s quantitative analysis requirement and studies the internal and surface processes that shape the Earth as well as geologic hazards and human impacts on the environment. Other introductory courses include topics such as Field Geology of the Hudson Valley, Volcanoes and Civilization, and a First-Year Writing Seminar, Science and Environmental Justice in the Anthropocene.

Beyond the introductory level, intermediate and upper- level courses in earth science focus on Earth’s 4.6-billion year history; surface processes that sculpt landforms; formation of minerals, rocks, sediments and soils; water resources; and Earth’s history of climatic change.

Abundant opportunities exist for guided independent as well as collaborative research with faculty. Examples of current research with students include studies of microplastics in dune sands of Cape Cod, recent climate change using lake sediment cores from New York and New Mexico, impacts of urbanization on water quality of streams and aquatic ecosystem health, atmospheric deposition of metals in high altitude Catskill Mountain bogs, and low-temperature metamorphism of rocks in geothermal wells.

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, schneiderman@vassar.edu, and to visit the Earth Science and Geography Department website.


Earth Science and Society

The Earth Science and Society major combines departmental courses from earth science and geography to provide a focus on the relationships between earth processes and human societies. The major is similar to a physical geography major at other colleges and universities. 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/Geography 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. Focal themes include physical geography— understanding patterns and processes that shape landscapes, with emphasis on climate, soils, water, landforms, and natural hazards; or land and resource analysis—the study of the uneven distribution of resources, such as agricultural soils, water, or energy, implications of this unevenness for human societies and for sustainable development. The department encourages field work and collaborative research with faculty.

Recent majors in Earth Science and Society have gone on to careers in fields such as renewable energy research, natural hazard risk mitigation, environmental health, and science writing.

For further information, see the Earth Science and Geography Department 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 (ECON 102). This course introduces students to the national economy and to the function of markets in the economic system. In 2018-19 there will be 10 sections of ECON 102 offered in the fall semester and only a few in the spring semester. Students wishing to take this course in 2018-19 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 as several will be offered, having just ECON 102 as a prerequisite and with spaces reserved for first-year students. Such students should also be mindful of the calculus requirement for the economics major and of the calculus prerequisites for ECON 201 and ECON 209.

A typical path through the major sees the student taking ECON 102, MATH 121, MATH 126 and possibly a 200-level elective in their first year and then ECON 200, ECON 201, and ECON 209 and possibly a 200-level elective in their second year. It is strongly recommended that all students intending to study economics during their junior year abroad take at least ECON 200, ECON 201, and ECON 209 by the end of their second year.

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

First-year students may not take ECON 200, 201, or 209 but they may take other courses numbered 200 and above in their second semester provided they have satisfied the prerequisite requirements.

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

For more information, please visit the Economics Department website or contact econ@vassar.edu.



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 Department 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 may elect English 101 or English 170 in the fall semester. AP 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 advising meeting during orientation. First-year students with 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, but in the spring any first-year student may enroll in English 180, Creative Writing for First-year Students.

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 Department 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, often team-taught by professors from two different disciplines, include the introductory seminar, Environmentalisms in Perspective (Environmental Studies 125), as well as special studies courses that analyze significant environmental problems. The special studies courses for 2018/19 include Racism, Waste and Resistance (Environmental Studies 266) and It’s Only Natural: Contemplation in the American Landscape (Environmental Studies 270). The program’s senior seminar includes a practicum involving a group project focused on a local or regional environmental issue. 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 Program 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. First-year students are also welcome at department lectures and screenings.

First-year students may enroll in Introduction to Screen Arts (Film 175), offered every spring semester. Sophomores should plan to take World Cinema to 1945 (Fall Semester: Film 210) and World Cinema after 1945 (Spring Semester: Film 211). An introductory course in filmmaking, Film 240: Foundations, can be taken simultaneously with World Cinema. 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 film@vassar.edu.

For more information, please visit the Film Department 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 FFS curriculum is designed to promote understanding and awareness of the language, literatures, and cultures of the French-speaking world. Recent FFS graduates now enjoy careers in wide-ranging fields including teaching, translating, the arts, publishing, law, banking, management, business, government and nonprofits, and medicine.

Except for our First-Year Writing Seminar (FFS 170), all courses are conducted in French. Only students who have never studied French are permitted to begin in French with the yearlong FFS 105-106, usually followed by FFS 205. All other students should take the online placement exam before pre-registering in July. Use the password “chicagohall” to take the test. Students should also 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.

Note, however, since high school experiences may vary, taking the online placement exam and conferring with departmental faculty ahead of time is the best way for students to maximize their chances of getting into the course appropriate to their level. There is 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 level most appropriate for them. Students should not feel alone in this process and are encouraged to consult with department faculty during the add/drop period as needed regarding what course to take.

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 fellow and academic interns, watching TV5 in the French lounge or French and Francophone news via the internet). Two native speakers of French–the language fellows–will be in residence.

Students interested in pursuing a major or correlate sequence in French and Francophone studies 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. The department website provides information on study abroad programs, including the Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris. Students can also find information about the Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris at http://en.vwpp.org.

Some majors combine FFS 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.

For more information, please visit the French and Francophone Studies Department website.



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 on 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 frameworks 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 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 (GEOG 266), Urban Geography: Space, Place, Environment (GEOG 250), GIS (GEOG 224), or Economic Geography (Geog 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, see the Earth Science and Geography Department 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 GEOG 102, Global Geography: Place-Making in the Modern World as well as an introductory (100-level) course in anthropology, such as ANTH 100, Archeology; ANTH 120, Human Origins, or ANTH 140, Cultural Anthropology.

Requirements for a concentration include 13 units, with at least 6 units in each field. The 13 units include at least two introductory courses, at least 3 units at the 300 level, a methods course (such as GIS), and Anthropological Theory.

For further information, see the Earth Science and Geography Department 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 longstanding 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. In 2018-19, these include a First-Year Writing Seminar (GERM/CLCS 182); German Film (GERM/FILM 265); and a new course that is cross-listed with Media Studies (MEDS/GERM 287). All these courses are open to first-year students.

In addition to courses, 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 Department website.


Greek (See Greek and Roman Studies)


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 reinterpretation. 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 (GRST 100), Civilization in Question (GRST 101), and two First-Year Writing Seminars (GRST 187 and 188). 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 the Greek and Roman Studies Department website and on Facebook. You are also welcome to contact the department chair, Rachel Friedman, at rafriedman@vassar.edu.


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 Spain and Latin America. 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 Department website or email hispanicstudies@vassar.edu.



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 Department website.


Independent Program

The Independent Program exists to allow the study of subjects of interest to a student that can only be approached in a multidisciplinary way and for which Vassar does not already have a formalized interdepartmental or multidisciplinary program. For example, a student wishing to understand the roots of human behavior might propose an Independent major and draw upon courses in sociology, biology, psychology, anthropology, religion, and history, to name a few of the most obvious. Alternatively, the same student might major in a multidisciplinary program such as neuroscience and behavior or women’s studies, or study the roots of human behavior from the point of view of a single discipline.

The Independent Program will accept proposals from students who wish to elect a field of concentration that is not provided by one of the regular departments, interdepartmental concentrations, or multidisciplinary concentrations of the college. 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 continuing guidance of two faculty advisors. The variety of major concentrations is made possible both by the breadth of Vassar’s curriculum and 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 (INTD 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 (in consultation with the program’s director and the panel of advisors) to design a course of study that 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 Francophones studies, geography, German studies, Hispanic studies, history, Latin American and Latino studies, philosophy, political science, sociology, and urban studies.

Although the international studies major is flexible, there are specific requirements for majors to follow to ensure a coherent plan of study. Majors must, for example, complete work at the advanced seminar level in two disciplines; complete intermediate level work in three social sciences, and complete a thesis by the end of senior year. In addition, IS majors must demonstrate proficiency in a language corresponding to the geographic area selected by the student as his or her area of focus.

IS majors generally spend all or part of their junior year at academic institutions overseas. In the last several years our students have attended universities in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Cameroon, China, England, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Morocco, Madagascar, Malaysia, Russia, Taiwan, Uganda, and South Africa.

As part of the program, International Studies sponsors an annual study trip, open to all Vassar students, credited as a semester course. Over the years, students have traveled to Indonesia, Jamaica, Russia, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Cuba, Brazil, China, Morocco, Lesser Antilles, Chile, Mexico, and Spain. Students learn about the culture, economics, history, language, and political situation of the area they will visit.

To ensure the effectiveness of their proposed course work, international studies majors consult regularly with professors. For the senior thesis, majors work with two advisors from different departments.

For more information, please visit the International Studies Program website, or contact the program director.



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. All courses in the department, from introductory language instruction to advanced seminars, are typically 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 opera events at 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 conjunction 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 Italian Department website or email the chair, Simona Bondavalli at sibondavalli@vassar.edu.


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. 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, 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 junior year abroad 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 in a junior year abroad, 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 Jewish Studies Program 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 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.

A reading knowledge of Spanish or Portuguese is required for majors; deeper knowledge of the relevant language is recommended. An introductory course in Latin American and Latino/a studies and a senior seminar are required, as is a course in history and in Latino/a studies. 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 choose to write a senior thesis or conduct a senior project under the guidance of two professors from different disciplines.

First-year students interested in the program may take Conceptualizing Latin and Latino/a America (Latin American and Latino/a Studies 105), offered in the spring semester. LALS 105 offers a multidisciplinary exploration of the worlds of Latin and Latino/a America, drawing on the expertise of LALS participating faculty 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 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, immigrant children and education, and questions of cultural citizenship. Prospective majors are strongly encouraged to take this course.

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


Mathematics & 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 foundation 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 and in 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 QA 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 QA 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.

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). 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, humanities, physical sciences, and social sciences.

For more information, please visit the Mathematics & Statistics Department 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 provides 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 specific focus of each student’s program is tailored to individual student interests. Media studies majors work with a faculty advisor and the program director to design a plan of study from a set of approved courses from departments such as Anthropology, Art, Computer Science, English, Film, and Sociology, among others. Depending on the student’s focus, however, the plan of study might well include courses not included on the approved list. 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 programs and departments, students wishing to major in media studies should consult with the program director as early as possible to design their course of study.

For more information, visit the Media Studies Program 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) is a valuable introduction 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 Medieval and Renaissance Studies Program 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 to 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. 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.

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 (new!).

Non-Majors: Music 101 (offered both semesters) 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 206.  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 27, 2018, audition sign-up sheets for ensembles and voice lessons will be online and all other lesson and audition sign-up sheets will be posted on the board outside Skinner 105. Enrollment is limited in each instrument with preference given to music majors and those students electing credited lessons.

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, must complete two courses 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. The application is available on the Student Financial Services website.

For more information, please visit the Music Department website.


Neuroscience and Behavior

Neuroscience and behavior is an interdisciplinary program that applies the perspectives and techniques of biology and psychology to the study of the brain and behavior. Neuroscientists are interested in how the interactions of brain, body, and environment contribute to animal (including human) behavior. Neuroscientists study the structure and function of the nervous system, the development and evolution of neural and behavioral systems, and interactions among behavior, environment, physiology, and heredity.

Detailed study of different behavioral systems and different levels of organization raises many intriguing questions. How do the cells of the brain “learn”? How do various drugs alter both brain function and behavior? What kinds of environmental and social events influence how and when an animal will eat or mate? How do different animals communicate, whether it be humans using language or spiders vibrating a web?

Students interested in majoring in neuroscience and behavior will want to take introductory courses in biology and psychology in the first year. Please refer to the biology and psychology sections in this handbook for more information about these courses and about placement if you have AP credit. Typically, students begin to take the core courses of the major curriculum in the sophomore year.

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 neuroscienceandbehavior@vassar.edu.



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 Department 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 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, and University of Florida. Other recent astronomy graduates are pursuing careers in such diverse fields as physics, government, secondary education, law, engineering, media consulting, journalism, computing, finance, medicine, music, and drama.

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. Students with some background in science and calculus may wish to consider Introduction to Observational Astronomy (Astronomy 240—also in the spring), with special permission. 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 Debra Elmegreen (elmegreen@vassar.edu) over the summer by email to elmegreen@vassar.edu, even prior to course selection.

The Class of 1951 Observatory houses a 32-inch telescope and a 20-inch telescope, each computer-controlled and equipped with an electronic camera. A high-resolution spectrograph and various small telescopes, including a solar telescope, are also at the site. We support a program of monitoring variable objects (such as quasars and stars with extrasolar planets) by student observers at the observatory. 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.

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.


The curriculum of the physics major is designed to satisfy the needs of students with various goals, including both majors and non-majors. 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 or Professor Sheung, 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 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, IB Physics, or A-level Physics credit should plan on Physics 114 or Physics 200 as their first course. Placement into Physics 114 or Physics 200 or other upper-level physics courses will be determined through an online placement exam, available from June 15 through July 15 at http://physicsandastronomy.vassar.edu/physics/placement.html. 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 Debra Elmegreen (elmegreen@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 113/114 at Vassar or an equivalent physics course at another institution. 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. In 2018/19, we offer A Tour of the Subatomic Zoo (Physics 168). Other courses that will be offered in future years include: 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, and biophysics. Summer research with faculty is available through Vassar’s Undergraduate Research Summer Institute (URSI).

For more information, please visit the Physics and Astronomy Department 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 at the 100-level in political science 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, politics, teaching, and political journalism. Opportunities exist for internships and practical experience outside the college in such settings as the United Nations, Capitol Hill, law offices and courts, and political campaigns, and for study abroad in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, or the Middle East.

For more information, please visit the Political Science Department website.


Psychological Science

The Psychological Science Department has one introductory course, Psychology 105, which is taught either as a traditional survey or as a special topics course. Introduction to Psychology: A Survey introduces the student to fundamental psychological processes, their nature and development, and contemporary methods for their study through a survey of the major research areas in the field.  Introduction to Psychology: Special Topics offers the same basic content as the survey course, but views the research areas of psychological science through a topical lens. Special topics for Psychology 105 in 2018-9 will be the Health and Happiness (fall) and Sex on the Brain (spring). The department also offers a First-Year Writing Seminar, Psychology 108—Reading and Writing in Psychology. The topic of this year’s writing seminar, offered in the fall semester, will be Living Rhythms.

Consideration of advanced course placement in 200-level courses is available only to students who have completed an introductory course in psychology at a college or university. Such students 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 qualify a student for advanced course placement. An AP examination in psychology similarly does not qualify a student for advanced course placement into 200-level courses. In addition, an AP examination in statistics does not meet the requirement for the statistics course in psychology. A college-level course must have been taken, and the syllabus and description of the course 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 interested in majoring in Psychological Science or pursuing advanced coursework 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 Trumbetta (845-437-7366 or trumbetta@vassar.edu).



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 Department 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 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.

In 2018/19 first-year students may also enroll in one or more of the courses given entirely in English translation. In the first semester we offer four such courses: The Russian Classics (RUSS 135); The Great Utopia: Ideals and Realities of the Russian Revolution  (RUSS 169); Russia and the Short Story (RUSS 171), a First-year Writing Seminar; Vampires, Monks, and Holy Fools: The Mystical in Russia and Eastern Europe (RUSS 168).

In the second semester we teach four semester-long courses in English that are open to first-year students: Dostoevsky and Psychology (RUSS 141); Beyond the Looking Glass: Nonsense and Absurd in Russian and European Literature and Visual Arts (RUSS 172); The Genius of Chekhov: Theatre and Tales (RUSS 143); Women in Russian Arts: The Power and the Glory (RUSS 173), a First-year Writing Seminar. In addition, first-year students will also be able to enroll in one of the six-week courses offered by the department: The Cinema of Sergei Eisenstein (RUSS 156) and The Cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky (RUSS 154) focusing on two Russian film giants of the 20th century. Descriptions for all these courses are available in the college catalogue.

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 course on a literary or cultural topic given entirely in Russian; access to such courses is open to students who have completed advanced Russian or have the equivalent language competency. Additionally, most 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, 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 Department website.


Science, Technology, and Society (STS)

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. Today, many graduate and a few undergraduate institutions have programs of a similar nature. As an undergraduate program, however, Vassar’s is unusual in the flexibility it gives its majors and in the close relationship it fosters between students and faculty.

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, there are faculty from anthropology, biology, chemistry, economics, history, philosophy, physics, political science, psychology, religion, and sociology. Adjunct instructors from the fields of the history of science and medical ethics also take part in the program.

STS majors continue on in an extremely broad range of professions. Recent graduates have entered law, medicine, public health, and policymaking. Recent senior theses have addressed such topic 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.”

First-year students who are interested in STS should consider taking a year of science, including at least one laboratory course, as well as Introductory Sociology (Sociology 151) and/or Introduction to Economics (Economics 102).

For more information, please visit Science, Technology, and Society (STS) Program website, or contact the acting director, David Esteban at daesteban@vassar.edu (until July 1 2018) or the director, Nancy Pokrywka at napokrywka@vassar.edu. 


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, Hindi, Irish/ Gaelic, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Swahili, Swedish, Turkish, and Yiddish.

For more information, visit the Self-Instructional Language Program website or contact the coordinator, Lioba Gerhardi (ligerhardi@vassar.edu).



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; this course can count toward the major but does not ordinarily 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 field work under the sponsorship of individual faculty members. In the senior year, students undertake individual work through a required, year-long senior thesis, which allows the student to plan and execute an original sociological investigation on a topic of his or her 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 sociology@vassar.edu. Please explore the Sociology Department website for more information about our faculty, course offerings, and others resources.


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 immune from 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); Modern Architecture and Beyond (Urban Studies 273); and other URBS courses.

Majors specialize in two disciplinary clusters—such as art, geography, history, political science, and sociology— and go on to take a seminar on Advanced Debates in Urban Studies (Urban Studies 303) as juniors or seniors, 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 field work (Urban Studies 290).

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 Program website or email the program director, Tobias Armborst (toarmborst@vassar.edu) or the administrative assistant, Alison Mateer (almateer@vassar.edu).


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” (Victorian Studies 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 English literature and history is expected, and potential majors would do well to take English literature courses as well 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 105-106 in their first year.

For more information, please visit the Victorian Studies Program website or email lymurdoch@vassar.edu.


Women’s Studies

The Women’s Studies Program at Vassar brings together faculty who share the conviction that 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 the lives and experiences of women 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 women’s studies are encouraged to take WMST 130, Introduction to Women’s Studies, a team-taught course offered each semester that serves as a foundation for future study. WMST 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 Gender in American Popular Media (WMST 240), Topics in the Construction of Gender (WMST 241), Making Waves: Topics in Feminist Activism (WMST 245), Feminist Approaches to Science and Technology (WMST 277), Feminist Theory (WMST 250), and Global Feminism (WMST 251). A full list of courses can be found in the catalogue.

For more information, please visit the Women’s Studies website, or contact the director, Barbara Olsen (baolsen@vassar.edu).