Watch a Short Video About the Program

Program Description


The two-year MA in Critical Studies program combines the study of critical theory with the practice of creative research, so students learn not only to critique but also to intervene, reimagine, and remake. The program is designed to help students develop modes of thinking, writing, and creating that cross disciplinary boundaries. Critical Studies investigates the role critical theory and critical pedagogy can play in transforming institutions and ideologies.

Faculty fields of expertise include queer, feminist, and transgender studies, critical race theory, cultural studies, contemporary art criticism, art history, curatorial studies,  disability studies, environmental criticism, performance studies, media studies, film theory, literary criticism, and creative writing.

The required course sequence builds from identifying key questions and issues in critical theory and cultural studies, to providing students with the methodological, research, and writing skills they need to ask good questions and to investigate their self-selected areas of inquiry in a thesis project of their own design. The thesis writing occurs during the second year, resulting in both academic research and opportunities for public scholarship based on the student’s professional interests.

Students are supported by faculty and mentors to present research at academic conferences and symposia, facilitate public talks and workshops, publish writing, and develop plans to continue their intellectual and cultural work upon graduation.

Graduates of the Critical Studies program have gone on to pursue doctoral degrees, Fulbright fellowships, nonprofit work, arts administration, curatorial careers, teaching, and public scholarship.

Read more about our curriculum

See All Program News


MA/MFA Option

MA/MFA option through which MA students can add a third year in any of PNCA’s MFA programs to graduate with a dual MA/MFA degree. Learn more about the Dual Degree MA/MFA.

More Information

MA/MFA Dual Degree Options

MA + MFA Applied Craft and Design

Learn More

MA + MFA Collaborative Design

Learn More

MA+MFA Print Media

Learn More

MA+MFA Visual Studies

Learn More

Teaching Assistantships / Graduate Fellowships

Teaching Assistantships are an opportunity for students who are interested in teaching to gain valuable experience in a leadership role in the classroom during their time as a graduate student. Once enrolled, students have the opportunity to apply for Graduate Fellowship awards.

Learn More

The Talent Hub

The Talent Hub offers resources that include workshops, information sessions, one-on-one career advising, networking opportunities, and a strong alumni network to support your professional development.

Lynn Brown, Director

Learn More


Graduate Symposium

Each year the Hallie Ford School of Graduate Studies hosts a Symposium on a pressing critical theme. The event features an exhibition of student work, keynote speakers, workshops, and discussions led by Critical Studies students.

Learn More


We connect students with opportunities for paid work including on-campus positions and off-campus internships. Internship opportunities are also available to international students.

Learn More
Caldera interior

Thesis Writing Retreat

During the second year of the program students join faculty for a multi-day writing retreat including intensive study, dialogue, and community in the beauty and solitude of the Pacific Northwest.

Plotters, scanners, 3D printers, large-scale printers, and other facility equipment in the Make+Think+Code Technology and Research Lab Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA).


Students can span into technology, math and science to enrich their research by creating additional connections to programs such as the Art and Science Initiative and Make+Think+Code, the art and technology lab at PNCA.

Learn More

Credit-bearing international studies trips

Learn More

The English Institute

The MA in Critical Studies Program is an Institutional Sponsor of The English Institute, a major resource for developments in criticism, theory, and scholarship.

Learn More



Many forms of financial assistance are available to our students.

Merit scholarships are assessed based on the student’s personal history of scholastic achievement, as well as their contributions to culture and community. Consideration will also be given to traditionally underrepresented students and those who demonstrate financial need. No separate application is required for merit scholarships.

MA students can apply for Teaching Assistantships which afford students the opportunity to work in the classroom and gain pedagogical experience pending completion of a Critical Pedagogy class. TAs are compensated per semester once they are placed in a class.

Students are encouraged to apply for external scholarships. These can be found by searching online databases including the U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search tool, and sites such as Fastweb,, and Scholarshipsportal.

Leadership Scholarships for Black, Indigenous, and Non-Black Students of Color

One full tuition scholarship (renewable each year for up to 2 year for an MFA or MA student and up to 3 years for a Dual degree student) will be awarded to a Black/African American student.

One full tuition scholarship (renewable each year for up to 2 year for an MFA or MA student and up to 3 years for a Dual degree student) will be awarded to an Indigenous, Native American, or non-Black student of color.

Two scholarships of $5,000 each (renewable each year for up to 2 year for an MFA or MA student and up to 3 years for a Dual degree student) will be awarded to a Black, African American, Indigenous, Native American, or non-Black student of color.

Sample Readings

Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paolo Friere (1970)
Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks, (1994)
The Undercommons, Fred Moten and Stefano Harney (2013)

Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault (1975)
Essential Essays Volume 1: Foundations of Cultural Studies, Stuart Hall (2018)
Mythologies, Roland Barthes (1957)

Are Prisons Obsolete? Angela Davis (2003)
Black Skin White Masks, Frantz Fanon (1952)
Capital is Dead. Is This Something Worse?, McKenzie Wark (2021)
Terrorist Assemblages, Jasbir Puar (2007)

Black on Both Sides, C. Riley Snorton (2017)
Exile and Pride, Eli Clare (1999)
Living a Feminist Life, Sara Ahmed (2017)
Wayward Lives Beautiful Experiments, Saidiya Hartman (2019)

Black, White, and in Color: Essays on American Literature and Culture, Hortense Spillers (2003)
In the Wake, Christina Sharpe (2016) Lose Your Mother, Saidiya Hartman (2006)

Program Highlights

Visiting Scholars

Conversations are enlivened by visiting writers and scholars throughout the year. These visiting scholars and writers include Ocean Vuong, Maggie Nelson, Sarah Schulman, Walidah Imarisha, Shayla Lawson, C. Riley Snorton, Z. Nicolazzo, Allan de Souza, and Cheryl Strayed


Schedule a visit

Get in touch with MA in Critical Studies Chair, Shawna Lipton: to schedule a campus visit or to learn about the program today.

Email Request Info