Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Volume 3, Issue 1
fall 2012
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editors, Linda Hase & Craig Canfield
Layout Design, Nick Appleby

Alum Spotlight: Galen Sherwin

Photo by Jonathan Busky

If there was one course that was a turning point in my life, it was my first semester at Yale, Women’s Studies 101, with Professor Michaela Di Leonardo.  In that classroom I felt like I’d found a home—a place where I could explore and express the ideas, frustrations, anger, and inspiration that I had bottled up during high school. 

When I told my father of my decision to major in Women’s Studies, he worried aloud that my major would not help me in my career.  I’m happy to report that his fears were unfounded: I have had the privilege of spending my entire professional life fighting for women’s rights, and my studies at Yale have provided the framework for much of that work.

I started my career as an activist, doing political and grassroots organizing with the National Organization during the day, while working my “day job” in the theater. As I became more and more involved in organizing and political reform, I realized that I wanted more tools in my toolbox to fight the injustices I was seeing.  Because some of the fiercest and most effective leaders I met were feminist lawyers, I decided to go to law school, with the goal of making my career in public interest law.

Since graduating from law school, I have been able to apply my legal skills to the arenas of domestic violence, reproductive rights, and equality in education for women and girls.  After clerking for a federal district judge, I joined the Center for Reproductive Rights, where I litigated cases challenging state laws requiring parental consent for abortion for minors, and the New York Civil Liberties Union, where I drafted and advocated for legislation to reform the laws governing abortion in New York and fought to expand abortion access by advocating for provision of early abortion by family physicians and advanced practice clinicians. At the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, my current area of focus is fighting a new wave of single-sex education in public schools that is premised on the essentialist notion that boys and girls learn and develop so differently that they need to be separated and taught using radically different methods—a model that reflects and reinforces many of the same outdated gender stereotypes that I learned about in Nancy Cott’s Women’s History class.

Throughout my career, one of the key lessons I learned from my studies at Yale has proven true again and again: social change is best accomplished through a variety of strategies—grassroots activism, legislative reform, litigation, and policy reform—as well as the full-throated expression of a variety of viewpoints.  The voices of radical agitators are just as critical as those of moderate reformers inside the system, and these should be viewed as complementary, rather than competing positions working toward the same goal.

Galen Sherwin received her B.A. in Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies and Anthropology from Yale University in 1994.

Find us on