Majors & Minors

Animal Studies

From our fascination with pets to the many other roles that nonhuman animals play in our world, student and faculty researchers at Southwestern explore animal behavior and advocacy.


Fay Guarraci

Professor of Psychology


Olin 121

Fay Guarraci

Professor of Psychology

Students and faculty in the SU animal studies minor tackle the foundational questions from classic studies of animal behavior: How do certain traits help organisms and their offspring survive in particular environments? How and why might animals be conditioned to respond to various stimuli? They explore animal communication, emotions, instincts, culture, and learning to better understand how animals—including human beings—behave and interact. But students and faculty in the minor are also helping to shape the lively new discipline known as critical animal studies, an interdisciplinary field that examines ethical theories of human–animal relations and then applies them through social activism and political advocacy.

Continuing the Paideia practice of making connections across different disciplines, the minor comprises courses across the sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities. Among other topics of inquiry, students

  • Explore the historical and cultural development of the categories of “the animal” and “the human.”
  • Engage in the scientific study of animals in their natural habitats.
  • Analyze representations of animals in history, literature, film, and pop culture.
  • Examine the relationship between the “animal” and other categories of social difference, such as race, gender, sexuality, class, and disability.  

Students seeking a focus on animals in their education will have the opportunity to examine animal physiology and ecology in a biology course as well as animal behavior in a psychology course. They will also critically analyze the use and understanding of animals in a social context in two other required courses.

Introduced in fall 2017, SU’s animal studies minor encourages students to invent new ways of thinking about human–animal interactions by connecting the perspectives of biology, psychology, neuroscience, veterinary medicine, and social justice. Graduates will be well prepared to explore 21st-century careers from ecological conservationist to wildlife rescuer, from animal protection lawyer to vegan fashion designer, from animal therapist to animal visual-effects artist.

Animal Studies is one of the Paideia Minors. Paideia provides intentional opportunities for students to integrate various academic disciplines and experiences, empowering them to develop versatile analytical abilities that lead them to become creative problem solvers who are well equipped to tackle complex issues. Paideia is not a traditional program but provides innovative, structured pathways that enable the acquisition of these invaluable skills.

All SU students are encouraged to graduate with Paideia Distinction by making Paideia a formal part of their studies. This requires completing either one of the Paideia Minors (or two High-Impact Experiences) and successfully completing a Paideia Seminar.

Graduation with Paideia Distinction formally recognizes students’ cultivated curiosity to learn, integrate multiple viewpoints, and create change. The Paideia skills that students develop make SU graduates highly sought-after by recruiters, employers, and graduate programs.

Learn more about the Paideia Seminar, how to apply for it, and how to graduate with Paideia Distinction.


Animal Studies News

Mister Squinty

Dogs Are Man’s Best Friend, but Cats Are a Pirate’s First Mate

Meet Southwestern University’s Cat Partners club and its furry, feline family.

Covid-19: Apocalypse or Dystopia?

Scholarly Perspectives on COVID-19, Part 8: Apocalypse or Dystopia?

Professor and Elizabeth Root Paden Chair in Religion and Environmental Studies Laura Hobgood shares how COVID-19 has shaped the conversation in her Apocalypse seminar.

“Tanzania was the greatest opportunity to see [the cats and other animals] in their natural habitat.” - Sarah Barton '20

On the Plains of Africa

Sarah Barton ’20 spent a semester studying wildlife management at the School for Field Studies in Tanzania.