History of Graduate Studies
Sarah Lawrence, a coeducational, liberal arts college, has been heralded since its inception as an important experimental ideal transformed into reality. When it was founded in 1926, most American colleges were governed by fairly rigid academic orthodoxy — requiring a prescribed set of courses, using large lectures as a standard mode of instruction, and discouraging students’ contact with teachers. In contrast, Sarah Lawrence President Constance Warren wrote in 1937: "Sarah Lawrence was the pioneer college...to shift the base of college education from the acquisition of a well-ordered body of information to the flexible use of materials and knowledge for each individual student’s optimal development." The essence of the enterprise, Warren wrote, "is individualized education, adapted to the different capacities, interests and objectives of individual students, to the best of the faculty’s ability to understand, recognize and satisfy such differing needs."
Still guided by this philosophy, Sarah Lawrence bases its educational programs on a close collaboration between teacher and student in which the teacher helps the student chart a course of study suited to his or her needs and aspirations. Students shape their own education to make it most productive to themselves, fusing personal questions with scholarly inquiry and blending the full range of intellectual, artistic, and scientific traditions to which women and men have turned to explore and enhance the human experience.
In this spirit, the College integrated from the start the disciplined study of the creative and liberal arts, believing that the former was not ornamental but essential to the development of a person’s growth. Sarah Lawrence was among the first colleges to move teaching outside the classroom — promoting fieldwork, internships, and community performance as vehicles to put theory into practice and develop pragmatic and productive connections to the world.
The master’s programs at Sarah Lawrence focus on continued development, in the liberal arts tradition, of "mature, well-rounded individuals, specialized in a manner appropriate to their talents, inspired in their learning by an idea of humane culture and aware of their responsibilities in a democratic society." These programs are designed to prepare graduate students to meet the demands of a constantly changing, complex society while maintaining the fundamental values of humanistic education. They integrate scholarship and practical knowledge, and are envisioned as an alternative to highly specialized, research-oriented doctoral study.
Sarah Lawrence College expanded its scope to include graduate education in 1949, drawing on the talents and leadership of its faculty to design individualized courses of study for graduate students. Initially, Dance and Theatre and Early Childhood were primary areas of study; many students went on to become artists and teachers. In the 1960’s, the College began developing specific graduate programs in response to newly emerging social conditions identified by faculty; Women’s History, Human Genetics, and Health Advocacy were the first programs of their kind in the country. Today, graduate studies exemplifies ideal practice in existing fields and expands inquiry and the capacity for action within critical interdisciplinary terrains.
For graduate studies, as for the College at large, respect for each student’s intelligence, imagination, initiative, and individuality remains the central value in teaching and advising. At the heart of each master’s program are the intimate faculty/student discourse and individualized learning that have long distinguished Sarah Lawrence among institutions of its kind. Both the educational form and the content encourage students to think across boundaries, to adopt an interdisciplinary stance, and to test their ideas and values in the conviction that genuine accomplishment is realized only through active learning. Our graduate students become continual hypothesizers and problem solvers. They can think and act creatively, constructing knowledge instead of reiterating it.