Summer Humanities and Social Sciences Program

The Summer Humanities & Social Sciences program(SHSS) is a five-week program for talented incoming first-year students with a passion for the humanities or social sciences who are from underrepresented minority groups and/or who are first-generation college students. SHSS combines classes taught by Williams professors with an introduction to the many resources available to Williams students. Throughout the program, students engage with faculty, academic staff, and peer advisors to introduce students to a wide array of intellectual, research, and writing opportunities. SHSS students will be matched with program faculty for first-year academic advising, so there is ample time to discuss course selection and future academic opportunities. Learn more about SHSS from students who have gone through the program.

The program has two main goals. First, it provides students with a preview of the Williams experience and familiarizes them with some of the extraordinary academic opportunities the college offers. Second, we hope that the glimpse of research and teaching afforded by our faculty and resident mentors will inspire some of our students to consider a career in one of the academic fields of the humanities and social sciences.

How to Apply

To apply for the SHSS program, simply complete this Interest Form. Regular decision admits by May 3. Because we are committed to working closely with individual students as well as the whole group, the number of openings in SHSS is limited to 24. Typically, we have more students applying to the program than we can accommodate; therefore, we choose participants by lottery. We try to do the lottery as quickly as possible, and we will let you know by email whether or not you are selected. Please forward any questions about SHSS to Robert Blay at [email protected]

SHSS video by Eddy Varela, Class of 2020

2022 Courses

As a SHSS student in 2022, you will take four courses.   Your work in SHSS courses is assigned grades, so that you may get a sense of where you stand, but these grades do not count toward your GPA, nor is any college credit granted for SHSS courses. The 2022 courses are as follows:

The Economics of Public Policy
Sara LaLumia – Professor of Economics
This course will use tools of microeconomic and macroeconomic analysis to explore issues related to economic policy-making in the United States.  Under what circumstances should the government intervene in a market economy? We will discuss the government’s role in correcting externalities, which are created when costs or benefits spill over to parties not directly involved in a transaction.  For example, what is the government’s role in responding to climate change? We will also discuss the government’s role in redistributing income through taxes and spending programs (as illustrated by the Earned Income Tax Credit), and in stabilizing the economy during a recession.

The Self in Society
Christina Simko- Associate Professor of Sociology
We often think of the transition to a residential college as a process of self-discovery. In admissions essays, applicants tell stories about the unique experiences and perspectives they will bring to a new academic community. Even more, as incoming first-years, many of us are buoyed by the hope that living independently and pursuing our distinctive intellectual and extracurricular interests will help us to understand “who we really are.”

Sociologists take a less individualistic view of the self, however: underscoring how our identities are shaped by broader systems of meaning and hierarchies of power. In this course, we will use a sociological perspective to critically interrogate the systems and structures that shape our identities: our inclinations and interests; our preferences and proclivities; and even our most private self-understandings. We will pay particular attention to how the categories of race, class, and gender influence both our subjective sense of self and our more objective “life chances.” In doing so, we will juxtapose “classic” sociological statements on the self by thinkers such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Erving Goffman with more recent work such as Karida Brown’s Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia and Tey Meadow’s Trans Kids: Being Gendered in the Twenty-First Century. Throughout our five weeks together, we will explore the paradox that sociology “frees us by freeing us from the illusion of freedom,” as the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu put it. That is, understanding the systems that shape and constrain our lives is the first step in projects of critique, resistance, and social transformation.

Fashion Studies: A Global Affair 
Christophe A. Koné- Associate Professor of German
Fashion is a global phenomenon and the study of fashion is by nature interdisciplinary since it touches on so many fields of study such as foreign languages, culture and literature, art history, sociology, anthropology, psychoanalytical theory, and economics to name a few. A course on FashionStudies presents the advantage of introducing students to all these disciplines offered in the College’s curriculum. Is fashion meant to be inclusive or exclusive? How do fashion designers address racialized beauty standards, body positivity, gender expression, and cultural appropriation in their collections? How do they satisfy the demands of high fashion and street fashion? How does the fashion industry respond to the climate crisis? These are some of the questions the seminar will explore by focusing on fashion designers from Northern America, Europe, Africa, and Asia. The goal of this course is to teach students how think critically about fashion and how to look and read a fashion show. Students will learn to regard fashion as a mirror, in which the obsessions, aspirations, and anxieties of our time are being both reflected and distorted.

World Music in Action 
Tendai Muparutsa – Artist in Residence in African Music Performance, Lecturer in Music, Director of Zambezi, Co-Director of Kusika
The core of this course is exploring the background, performance, and reception of world music in the United States. In the seminar/ lecture approach, we will read articles, and book chapters, and watch and listen to music excerpts on YouTube and other media. The regions of interest include Southern Africa and West Africa and their impact on the United States colleges and university’s world music experiences. We will make references to other parts of the world and discuss stylistic, performance, instrumental, and dance differences. To cap this course, we will have a hands-on exploration of marimba, drums, and dance, and students will learn to play and arrange music for these instruments.

Climate and Environmental Justice
José A. Constantine- Associate Professor of Geosciences
Economically challenged communities and communities of color are disproportionately affected by environmental contamination and disturbance.  Although environmental racism caused by industrial pollution has been made clear for some time, the integrated stresses of climate change and industrial contamination are now triggering new challenges to life in underprivileged communities.  In this course, we will investigate how climate change is altering landscapes and the natural processes that support them.  We will also consider the communities who are grappling with the unjust distribution of resources to mitigate climate impacts and who have been disproportionate bearers of environmental risk.  Ultimately, we will develop an understanding of the consequences of climate change that is grounded in environmental geography and social justice.

Other Academic Activities

Writing Workshop sessions will provide an opportunity to focus on developing skills and practices that are key to success in college-level writing. The content of the sessions will address specific demands of writing assignments required in the SHSS courses.

  • Librarians and Information Technology Specialists will help you learn how to navigate the various network and computer tools available at Williams, as well as all the other resources in the library and around campus.
  • Faculty from various fields will give guest lectures designed to introduce you to some of the subjects you can study at Williams.
  • Once a week we will convene to discuss topics related to success at Williams. Various members of the staff as well as upper-class students will be invited to help introduce you to college life.
  • Resident Mentors often initiate discussions of cultural events and workshops or brainstorming sessions on various aspects of college life.

Recreational and Cultural Activities

  • The group, together with faculty, staff, and Resident Mentors, attends performances and exhibitions at the various cultural venues in the Berkshires, which may include the Williams College Museum of Art, the Clark Art Institute, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MassMoCA), the Williamstown Theater Festival, Shakespeare and Company, and Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
  • Finally, there will be plenty of time for the purely fun stuff: swimming, sports, excursions into the lovely natural environment surrounding the college, pizza parties, and hanging out!

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does the program cost?
The program does not cost anything to participants. The college will pay for room and board and round-trip transportation to Williamstown for students who are selected. All texts and supplies will be provided and students will receive a $250 stipend.

How long is the program and when does it run?
The program is 5 weeks long and runs from June 25 – July 30.

Where do students live?
The SHSS class lives in  Perry House, a “row house”, often picked into by upper-class students during the school year. Everyone has a single room. Living with the pre-frosh in Perry House are four upper-class Resident Mentors who serve as academic resources, social directors, and general friends and mentors for the students.

Who is invited?
We invite students who have expressed an interest in the humanities and/or social sciences and whose family background makes them underrepresented in the academic world. More specifically, our invitation list, which we get from the Admission Office, includes any first-generation college student and/or anyone who self-identifies as African-American, Latina/o, or Native American. Every year Williams becomes more diverse in all kinds of exciting ways. We hope that SHSS will be one way to ensure that its participants thrive academically and socially.

This is my last summer at home before college. Why would I do this program?
SHSS requires a great deal of commitment from all its participants. We work very hard, it’s very intense, and we expect a lot of everyone involved. However, SHSS alumni report acquiring more confidence, a set of friendships with peers, and a foundation of relationships with faculty that stand them in good stead for the rest of their college careers and beyond. SHSS students often go on to assume leadership positions on campus. All students will have one of their SHSS professors as their first-year advisor and often these advising relationships last throughout a student’s time at Williams. SHSS continues into the first year in other ways, too, with follow-up activities and reunions.

Apply to be a Resident Mentor

Please submit your application by February 26.

Finalists will be interviewed and Resident Mentors are chosen before spring break.