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 sessions on study skills, time management, and the many resources available to you as Williams students. 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.

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 June 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

2020 Courses

As a SHSS student in 2020, you will take two 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 2020 courses are:

The Economics of Public Policy
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 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.

Government Responses to Pandemics
This course will draw on tools in political science to consider why responses to COVID-19 differed among national governments. Along the way, we will explore whether there is a relationship between the structure of government (democracy or not, parliamentary or presidential, federal system or unitary system) and responses to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Nation and Its Discontents
What is America? What is American? What and whom do these terms include and exclude? What defines us as a society, culture, nation? How we view this country depends on who we are, as individuals and as members of various groups, influenced by our race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, education, place, and religion. Being “American” has always been about something more than political citizenship. This course is an introduction to the interdisciplinary study of American society, culture, history, and nationhood.  We will ask critical questions of a wide variety of materials, and we will analyze notions of U.S. exceptionalism, empire, power, citizenship, labor, borders, racial and capitalist ideas, aesthetic form, and the role of the U.S. and its products in the world.

The Nature of Nature
“Nature” is one of the most commonly used words in English.  Its meaning, though, is elusive, referring sometimes to everything (“the natural world”), at other times to the fundamental properties of something (“the nature of conflict”), and at still others to normative judgments (the “naturalness” of certain forms of sexualit).  We’ll explore both the many ways in which stories about the natural world are used to justify assumptions about morality, social organization, and gender, and the differences in approaching “nature” primarily through language or through sight.  Throughout we’ll wonder: can representations of nature change our behavior toward the world? Course materials will include popular scientific writing, naturalist memoirs, and documentary films, ranging from Darwin’s On the Origin of Species to Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, to the monumental BBC series Blue Planet.   Required writing will primarily take the form of shared reading responses and a few exercises to be determined.


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 the 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 purely fun stuff: swimming, sports, excursions into the lovely natural environment surrounding the college, pizza parties, hanging out!

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does the program cost?
The program does not cost anything for 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 for spending money as well as a waiver of their summer earning expectation.

How long is the program and when does it run?
The program is 4 weeks long and runs from July 5 – July 31.

Where do students live?
The SHSS class lives in Wood 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 Wood House are three upper-class Resident Mentors who serve as academic resources, social directors, and general friends and mentors for the students.

Who is invited?
As mentioned in the cover letter, 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 to 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 and have recommendations sent to Robert Blay by March 1

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