History and the Social Sciences

The area of history and the social sciences comprises those disciplines by which we read the stories of political, psychological, and societal life. Courses in economics investigate such issues as globalization, the interaction of growth and social policy, and the glories and inequalities of capitalism. Others in anthropology, geography, political science, psychology, public policy, science and technology, and sociology examine such subjects as death and dying, personality development, and women in the Muslim world. Through focused study, students explore many sides of the human condition.


The study of anthropology traditionally covers four fields: sociocultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, biological anthropology, and archaeology. At Sarah Lawrence College, we concentrate on sociocultural and linguistic anthropology.

Behind almost every aspect of our lives is a cultural realm, a shared construction that shapes assumptions and determines much of how we perceive and relate to the world. Sociocultural anthropology is the study of that realm—its extent and its effects. As students learn to approach with an anthropological eye what they formerly might have taken for granted, they gain insight into how social forces govern the ways in which we relate to ourselves and to each other: how we use words, how we define ourselves and others, how we make sense of our bodies, even how we feel emotions. Through examining the writings of anthropologists, viewing ethnographic films, and discussing these and other materials in seminar and conference sessions, students develop a comprehensive and multipatterned sense of the cultural dimensions of human lives. By studying the underpinnings of language, symbolic practices, race, gender, sexuality, policy and advocacy, medical systems, cities, modernity, and/or social organization across a range of Western and non-Western settings, students come to understand better how meaning is made. With seminar dynamics and content characteristic of graduate-level work, Sarah Lawrence’s anthropology courses take students in often unexpected and challenging directions.

Asian Studies

Asian studies is an interdisciplinary field grounded in current approaches to the varied regions of Asia. Seminars and lectures are offered on China, Japan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Indonesia. Courses explore Asian cultures, geographies, histories, societies, and religions. Visual and performing arts are included in the Asian studies curriculum. Faculty, trained in languages of their areas, draw on extensive field experience in Asia. Their courses bridge humanities, social sciences, and global studies.

Students are encouraged to consider studying in Asia during their junior year. The Office of International Programs assists students in locating appropriate opportunities. Recent Sarah Lawrence College students have participated in programs of study in India, China, and Japan.


At Sarah Lawrence College, economics is not taught as a set of techniques for working in a static field but as an evolving discipline. In the liberal arts tradition, Sarah Lawrence students approach the study of economics by addressing issues in historical, political, and cultural context. They analyze and evaluate multiple schools of thought as they relate to actual situations, exploring from an economic perspective such topics as globalization, growth and social policy, inequality, capitalism, and the environment. Students who have focused on economics have gone on to become union organizers, joined the Peace Corps, interned with United Nations agencies, gone to law school, and entered graduate programs in public policy and international development.

Environmental Studies

Environmental studies at Sarah Lawrence College is an engagement with human relationships to the environment through a variety of disciplines. Sarah Lawrence’s Environmental Studies program is a critical component of a liberal arts education; it is an intersection of knowledge-making and questions about the environment that are based in the humanities, the arts, and the social and natural sciences. Sarah Lawrence students seeking to expand their knowledge of environmental studies are encouraged to explore the interconnections between disciplinary perspectives, while developing areas of particular interest in greater depth. The Environmental Studies program seeks to develop students’ capacities for critical thought and analysis, applying theory to specific examples from Asia, Africa, and the Americas and making comparisons across geographic regions and historical moments. Courses include environmental justice and politics, environmental history and economics, policy and development, property and the commons, environmental risk and the rhetoric of emerging threats, and cultural perspectives on nature, as well as courses in the natural sciences.

Environmental studies, in conjunction with the Science, Technology, and Society program, offers an annual, thematically focused colloquium: Intersections: Boundary Work in Science and Environmental Studies. This series brings advocates, scholars, writers, and filmmakers to the College, encouraging conversations across the disciplines among students, faculty, and guest speakers, as well as access to new ideas and lively exchanges. Students may participate in internships during the academic year or in rural and urban settings across the country and throughout the world during the summer. Guest study at Reed College, the Council on International Educational Exchange, the semester in environmental science at the Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole), or other programs are available to qualified Sarah Lawrence students. Vibrant connections across the faculty mean that students can craft distinctive competencies while building a broadly based knowledge of environmental issues, problems, policies, and possibilities.


Geography is a fundamentally interdisciplinary field, often seen as straddling the natural and social sciences and increasingly drawing upon the arts and other forms of expression and representation. For these reasons, Sarah Lawrence College provides an exciting context, as the community is predisposed to welcome geography’s breadth and interdisciplinary qualities. Geography courses are infused with the central questions of the discipline. What is the relationship between human beings and “nature”? How does globalization change spatial patterns of historical, political, economic, social, and cultural human activities? And how do these patterns provide avenues for understanding our contemporary world and pathways for the future?

Two seminars are taught on a regular basis: Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development and The Geography of Contemporary China and Its Place in a Globalizing World Economy. In addition, a lecture course, Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development, provides students an opportunity to investigate these issues and their connections both in lecture and in group conference activities that include debates and special presentations.

As a discipline built on field study, students in geography classes participate in field trips—most recently, for example, to farming communities in Pennsylvania but also to Manhattan’s Chinatown, where students engage aspects of Chinese culture in walks through the community that expose the heterogeneity of China through food, art, religion, and language while simultaneously clarifying the challenges facing recent immigrants and legacies of institutions imbued with racism that are carved into the built environment. That is one of the overarching goals of contemporary geography: to investigate the ways that landscape and place both reflect and reproduce the evolving relationship of humans to each other and to their environments.


The history curriculum covers the globe. Most courses focus on particular regions or nations, but offerings also include courses that transcend geographical boundaries to examine subjects such as African diasporas, Islamic radicalism, or European influences on US intellectual history. Some courses are surveys—of colonial Latin America, for example, or Europe since World War II. Others zero in on more specific topics, such as medieval Christianity, the Cuban revolution, urban poverty and public policy in the United States, or feminist movements and theories. While history seminars center on reading and discussion, many also train students in aspects of the historian’s craft, including archival research, historiographic analysis, and oral history.


The study of politics at Sarah Lawrence College encompasses past and present thinking, political and interdisciplinary influences, and theoretical and hands-on learning. The goal: a deep understanding of the political forces that shape society. How is power structured and exercised? What can be accomplished through well-ordered institutions? And how do conditions that produce freedom compare with those that contribute to tyranny? Questions such as these serve as springboards for stimulating inquiry. Rather than limit ourselves to the main subdisciplines of political science, we create seminars around today’s issues—such as feminism, international justice, immigration, and poverty—and analyze these issues through the lens of past philosophies and events. We don’t stop at artificial boundaries. Our courses often draw from other disciplines or texts, especially when looking at complex situations. Because we see an important connection between political thought and political action, we encourage students to participate in service learning. This engagement helps them apply and augment their studies and leads many toward politically active roles in the United States and around the world.


Psychology—one of the largest programs at Sarah Lawrence College—offers students a broad array of courses at all levels, covering areas from experimental to social and developmental psychology. In small seminars, students read primary sources and explore issues through discussion and research, often making important connections between psychology and other fields.

Using the College’s resources—including a new Child Study Lab and a computer psychology laboratory—students design and conduct experiments, analyze data, and post results. At the campus Early Childhood Center, students have the opportunity to explore firsthand the development of young children by carrying out fieldwork in classrooms for children ages two through six and/or by carrying out research in the Child Study Lab located in the same building. The lab has a room dedicated to conducting research, complete with one-way mirror and video and audio equipment. An adjacent room provides space and equipment for students to view and transcribe videotapes and to analyze the outcome of their research projects. These facilities provide a range of opportunities for conference work in psychology.

Fieldwork placements with organizations in New York City and Westchester County, as well as in the College’s own Early Childhood Center, expand the opportunities for students to combine their theoretical studies with direct experience beginning in their first year. Sarah Lawrence College prepares students well for graduate programs in psychology, education, or social work; some enter the College’s Art of Teaching program as undergraduates and receive a BA/MSEd after only five years of study.

Public Policy

Sarah Lawrence College’s Public Policy program addresses the most pressing public policy issues of our time, including promoting peace, protecting the environment, providing education and health services, and safeguarding human and workers’ rights. Supported by the College’s Office of Community Partnerships, students partner with unions, community organizations, and legal groups in the New York City area as a required element of their course work, gaining direct experience that they can relate to theoretical issues. Students also participate in international fieldwork, including at a labor research exchange in Cuba, a health-care worker conference in the Dominican Republic, a community organizing project to help establish a medical clinic for residents of the impoverished community of Lebrón in the Dominican Republic, and a study trip to the US/Mexico border area of El Paso/Juarez. This combination of study and direct experience exposes students to various approaches to problems and builds an enduring commitment to activism in many forms.


Class, power, and inequality; law and society (including drugs, crime and “deviance”); race, ethnicity, and gender issues; and ways of seeing—these are among the topics addressed by Sarah Lawrence College students and professors in sociology courses. Increasingly, social issues need to be—and are—examined in relation to developments in global politics and economics. Students investigate the ways in which social structures and institutions affect individual experience and shape competing definitions of social situations, issues, and identities. Courses tend to emphasize the relationship between the qualitative and the quantitative, between theoretical and applied practice, and the complexities of social relations rather than relying on simplistic interpretations, while encouraging student research in diverse areas. Through reading, writing, and discussion, students are encouraged to develop a multidimensional and nuanced understanding of social forces. Many students in sociology have enriched their theoretical and empirical work by linking it thematically with study in other disciplines—and through fieldwork.


In Depth

Charles Paccione '13

As a pre-med student and violinist, Charles is pursuing all of his passions: science, philosophy, Asian studies, and music. He is actively engaged in an exciting and original research project exploring the benefits of meditation in the medical field.

Abbie Heffelfinger
Abbie Heffelfinger
Economics and Sociology | Chapel Hill, NC

Among Abbie Heffelfinger’s goals for the future: “working to create systemic change rather than placing band-aids.” At Sarah Lawrence, she has acquired both academic knowledge and practical experience to make that possible. “The classes I’ve taken have been about figuring out how economic systems and theories work in the real world,” she says. Referring to courses such as “Environmental Policy and Development,” she describes herself as “obsessed with economics.” Other courses and volunteer work have given her hands-on exposure to outreach. In “Poverty and Public Policy,” she had a service learning placement at A Different Start, an organization in Yonkers through which she mentored and tutored teen pregnant and parenting mothers. “It made the books we were reading very tangible,” she says.

Vera Kelsey-Watts
Vera Kelsey-Watts
Economics and Public Policy | Wayland, MA

Diving head-on into economics courses, working as a resident adviser in campus housing, serving as a peer mentor, participating in Student Senate, and advocating with the SLC Worker’s Justice group—all of these experiences have prepared Vera Kelsey-Watts to realize her vision for a better world—and for her own future. “My immediate plan is to work for The Food Project, a nonprofit that does sustainable agriculture and education around issues such as race, class, poverty, and justice.” Having participated with the organization as a youth, she’ll be returning as a program administrator. After that, she plans to apply for Marshall and Rhodes scholarships and pursue graduate studies in economics. “With an economics degree, I’m hoping to work with progressive public policy think tanks to make real and substantial changes in monetary and fiscal policies in the United States,” she says.

Max Mallory
Max Mallory
Decatur, GA

With a focus on theatre all three years—and an agent in New York City—Max Mallory might have been content to pursue only acting. Yet at Sarah Lawrence, he knew he could do more. “I started exploring my interest in law, which combines the performance aspect, the improvisational aspect, with the more intellectual context of law and litigation,” he says. Juggling rehearsals with academic work, Max has molded his program of study into something that he knows will make him happy. “I’ll still be able to do what I love—perform and interact with audiences,” he says.

Max certainly manages his time well, acting in an average of four plays each semester, playing on the basketball team, singing with Vocal Minority, studying abroad in Florence, and doing several summer internships—including one with a law firm.

Julia Bates
Julia Bates
Sociology and Political Economy | Baltimore, MD

Through Sarah Lawrence’s Office of Career Counseling, Julia Bates found a research internship at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, DC, which had received a grant from the Ford Foundation to look at social services for immigrant women. “The internship was extremely educational,” says Bates. “I got to see how policy works and observe all the different players—think tanks, religious organizations—and sit in on a lot of events.” Another internship advocating for a community in the northwest Bronx, along with involvement in the Solidarity Club and SLC Students for Workers Justice, have strengthened her background in social justice issues. Next? An immersion program in Mexico, then a doctoral program in sociology.

Rachel Ann Franks
Rachel Ann Franks
Visual Arts, Economics, and Italian | Salt Lake City, UT

Rachel Ann Franks had no idea what she wanted to study at Sarah Lawrence—so she did what any curious person would do: exposed herself to a broad range of disciplines. “I studied Italian my first two years, which prepared me to study abroad in Bologna. I’ve studied visual arts every year, along with architectural theory and studio courses. And I’ve made a point of taking economics courses, which provide a different kind of work.”

The College’s open curriculum enabled her to craft a balanced academic program, and proximity to New York City made other learning experiences possible—including an internship with MTV’s News and Documentary department. “In New York there is always something to do and somewhere you haven’t been,” she says. As she nears graduation, she’s confident her wide exploration will pay off. “My options are completely open, and while that is scary, it is also liberating.”

Brandon B. Davis
Brandon B. Davis
Brooklyn, NY

“For someone like me who is going into marketing, psychology is the most important subject,” says Brandon Davis. With that premise, he launched into Sarah Lawrence psychology courses—as well as sociology and economics— to acquire understanding of basic marketing concepts. “All of my courses bleed into each other, and I find myself making lots of connections between them,” he says, echoing the experience of many students at the College.

Supplementing his course work with internships in new media marketing, Brandon has gained experience setting up meetings with potential advertisers for a company that owns a large-scale network of Web sites and has served as a research assistant for the Institute for Research and Professional Development.

His education and experience have already paid dividends. “I’ve started a business venture called Cutlass Media—a blog network consisting of three content sites,” he says. “Since we’re marketing to a college-age demographic, all my staff are college students—some from Sarah Lawrence.”

Ingrid Loveras
Ingrid Loveras
Rockville Centre, NY

As a research assistant to one of the College’s top faculty members, Ingrid Loveras helped organize the International Black Power Studies Symposium while only a second-year student. “It was a huge event,” she says, “and a new and challenging experience for me.” Her work with the Office of College Events led to a summer job after the symposium—and her involvement with issues of social justice led to a greater interest in public policy. Now, with courses on poverty in America and the psychology of race and ethnicity behind her, Ingrid is motivated to study abroad on the College’s program in Cuba. “I’ve learned new ways of thinking of our neighbors and common relationships held with the United States,” she says, “and I’m so fortunate to be able to study in Havana.”

For the past two summers, Ingrid has worked at a law office on Long Island assisting a paralegal with medical malpractice cases. “It’s fascinating work,” she says. “When I think of all the writing we do at SLC, I know I’m well prepared for the study of law.”

Alexis Gordon
Alexis Gordon
Lansdale, PA

Sometimes you just know things intuitively. When Alexis Gordon visited Sarah Lawrence, she says, “I knew I belonged here the minute I stepped on campus.” Other times, true discovery requires some exploration. “After my freshman year, a class called ‘Language Development’ opened me up to a passion I didn’t even know I had.”

In that course, Alexis learned about how children naturally acquire language. The following semester, she took “Language, Mind, and the Brain,” which involved fieldwork at SLC’s Early Childhood Center. “That’s when I became aware of my love of working with children and my desire to be a teacher.”

A summer internship as a teaching assistant at Columbia University helped confirm her direction, and in her senior year, Alexis enrolled in Sarah Lawrence’s graduate Art of Teaching Program. “It’s allowing me to extend the Sarah Lawrence pedagogy into elementary schools,” she says. “Eventually I’d like to open my own [progressive] school.”

Amanda Ota
Amanda Ota
Belmont, MA

Amanda Ota chose Sarah Lawrence because she wanted to do something meaningful with her education. As a sophomore, she’s already realizing that goal: along with a friend, Amanda traveled to India on a Davis Peace Project grant. “We were inspired by learning about microinvesting and women’s empowerment in an economics course,” she says. “We worked with women and children, teaching them sustainable farming techniques.”

Yet her travels won’t end there. As part of the International Honors Program’s “Cities in the 21st Century” urban studies program, Amanda will spend a semester traveling to cities in Vietnam, Brazil, South Africa, and the United States. While serving as chair of the Student Senate on campus, Amanda created the Peer Mentor Program, and she has been co-chair of Help Students Vote!, dedicated to increasing voter registration. She also held an internship with the election campaign for the mayor of Boston. After graduation? “I’d love to do an internship at the White House,” she says.

Mark Goodman '83
Mark Goodman ’83
Partner: Debevoise & Plimpton, New York City

Before he came to Sarah Lawrence, Mark Goodman thought of law as dry and not particularly interesting. But during his second semester, a constitutional law course changed his mind.

Since he graduated from the New York University School of Law, Goodman has worked at a major Manhattan firm where he participated in high-profile cases such as those involving flag burning and the death penalty argued before the United States Supreme Court, and business disputes over billion-dollar mergers and acquisitions. He has also served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in New York City.

Rahm Emanuel ’81
Rahm Emanuel ’81
Mayor of Chicago and former White House Chief of Staff

Pushed by the intellectual rigor of studying Supreme Court decisions—along with dance, his initial interest at Sarah Lawrence—Rahm Emanuel took his work ethic into the public sphere after graduation, rising from Clinton campaign fundraiser to senior adviser. After successfully running for a congressional seat from Illinois, Emanuel was chosen by President Barack Obama to help the White House achieve the goals of an even more challenging agenda. Now he serves the City of Chicago as its first new mayor since 1989.

Joy Vida Jones ’71
Joy Vida Jones ’71

In her first year at the College, Joy Vida Jones intended to prepare for medical school, but by graduation she found herself prepared for almost anything. “At Sarah Lawrence I learned how to learn,” she says. “That’s more important than what you learn.” She chose law school.

A pivotal course for Jones was “American Institutions,” taught by Gerda Lerner—who later established the women’s history program at Sarah Lawrence. “She taught us to do research at the graduate level using primary sources. It was the most helpful thing once I got to law school.”

“The ongoing nature of conference work at Sarah Lawrence gave me realistic expectations with respect to the work world, which is also an ongoing process,” she says. Through that process, Jones became a partner at Rogers & Wells (now Clifford Chance), one of the world’s largest law firms.

Before law school, Jones worked for Black Enterprise magazine as director of public affairs and at the African American Institute as program officer. For four years in the early nineties, she took a break from her law career to pursue a business venture: managing jazz musicians. Now she’s back in the law as a corporate attorney specializing in finance and real property. She currently serves on the board of directors for Twenty-First Century Foundation, a national grant-making body for Black community initiatives and youth development.

Robert Rhodes ’90
Robert Rhodes ’90

Robert Rhodes isn’t just the principal of Millennium High School in lower Manhattan. He also designed its academic program, based on progressive techniques he first experienced at Sarah Lawrence.

After graduation, Rhodes taught at an alternative high school for at-risk youth in Queens, then at Manhattan’s School of the Future, where he became the assistant principal. “I enjoy helping young people develop their passion for learning and teaching them to pursue their own ideas,” he says.

At Sarah Lawrence, he focused on social science, with a sprinkling of science and math. He loved the close relationships between students and teachers, and has implemented a system akin to donning at his own school.

History and the Social Sciences