I am a female Filipino immigrant who grew up in a middle-class family. It is easy to dissect those identities separately, to understand how each individual identity, my Filipino background, my status as an immigrant, being a female, being part of a middle-class family, can impact, oppress or privilege my life. But looking at each identity individually would not be looking at me. This is where intersectionality comes in. Intersectionality seeks to understand how many identities -- including race, gender, class and citizenship -- overlap to create one unique experience.
Feminist movements -- be it the original Suffragettes or today's fourth wave of feminism -- receive lots of criticism for not being intersectional enough. After all, experiencing sexism is different for a white woman than it is for a black woman. Thus, it is important to acknowledge and understand how intersectional identities can affect a single issue. When enacting policy to fix the wage-gap, we must also acknowledge that black women get paid less than white women, and that black men get paid less than white men.
Unsurprisingly, as today's college students become more active and integral to social justice movements, intersectionality has become a hot topic of conversation in colleges. It helps us better understand why we are where we are and how we need to better our current situation. But the study of intersectionality in universities is not fully developed. Here are four Clark University students talking about their intersectional identities and whether or not intersectionality should be taught in colleges.
1. Jasmine Butler, Clark University 2021
"Intersectionality is something I hold rather close to my heart. When I first learned of the term, I began to feel whole in a unique way. I have always held multiple layers to my identity, many of which I did not have the 'proper' terminology to describe until as of late.
Growing up, I felt confused because I didn't fit into one box. I grew up in a poor urban area, but attended public magnet schools. I spent my time after school practicing the elitist sport of rowing and nights rapping along to trap music with my younger sister. I lived what I thought to be a conflicting life because I was told by society that I had to choose one or the other.
Intersectionality has taught me that I do not have to exist within one truth. It has taught me that I and others have many layers that deserve to be respected. Intersectionality has shown me that no one belongs in a box. We are all fluid and all parts of our identity should be celebrated.
Teaching intersectionality teaches humanity. It is dehumanizing to not acknowledge the complexities people possess and how they affect one's experience with the world. Universities have a responsibility to cultivate knowledge around intersectionality or they are committing a violent act against their students. When intersectionality is not taught, universities produce students who lack empathy and appreciation for the diversity of the world, as well as an absence of desire to challenge the injustices they or others may experience."
2. Alex Dunhom, Clark University 2021
"Not only is intersectionality worth teaching in college, it is perhaps one of the most important things to learn while pursuing higher education. Respecting those of a different ethnicity, gender, religion and ability (or any other difference) is not only a mindset, but a skill that can help students succeed in their professional lives. Programs like Clark University's ACE (a summer program aimed at empowering and preparing incoming first-years of color) and first-generation students and multicultural organizations like Diversability (for the disabled community), OPEN (for the LGBT community), and LASO (for the Latin-American community) create an environment designed for everyone to thrive and feel cheered on, rather than just tolerated or ignored."
3. Jacob Hunnicutt, Clark University 2021
"You realize early on that the prototypical gay man is always white, tall and thin - a description I fit almost to a T. Beyond the white suburban face of the gay movement, however, is a different reality. Black and Asian men in particular have been among the most misrepresented and demeaned members of the community. Women who grew up in socially conservative households—particularly, though not exclusively, black women—have some of the most trying legacies and are among the strongest people.
The typicality of gay white men and women being the face of this generation's gay youth is not only disingenuous to those marginalized by the internal and external elements of the gay community, but also untruthful for the members of our diverse generation of young peoples. As a member, I'd aim to recognize the hardships of those around me and be cognizant of the fact that the roof I have, the paved roads I walk and the safety I feel at night are luxuries not shared by all and transcend the boundary of sexual orientation. The lessons of a gay kid from the South who goes to church every Sunday should not be overshadowed by those of a gay white kid who grew up in suburban New England.
This nation has not lived up to its creed of inclusivity and the promise of an American dream is unfilled for the disenfranchised, discriminated and unacknowledged. I think colleges should teach about intersectionality, but consider the lack of a codified definition of the term. I think it would be more effective to teach intersectionality in the elementary and middle school level. Concepts such as privilege and prejudice will receive backlash, but the students will have to grow up with privilege and prejudice regardless. While we must start young, the collegiate level must confront the dark remnants and pervading barriers to inclusivity and intersectionality.
4. Hannah J. Smith, Clark University 2019
"I proudly fall at the intersection of Black and Woman, two historically marginalized groups of people in America. Black women who lie at the crossroads experience forms of racial bias also from a gender lens and gender bias from a racial lens.
In many instances, the only people approaching the conversation [about identity] are those who are the most marginalized. I approach every conversation guided by my experience as a black woman. In conversations surrounding feminism, white women must approach the conversation not only as women, but as white women, while also including other, less-obvious facets of their identity.
In the classroom, it should not always fall on the most marginalized students to educate their peers about their personal experiences in the communities with which they identify, as had been asked of me recently. Those with the most privilege or perceived privilege may not always realize that factors beyond their control can determine many of their experiences, but I do not want my peers with outward advantage to be apologetic for something [that is] predetermined. I would ask they join me in approaching each conversation cognizant of their identities and how they intersect, including and sometimes especially in academia. This, I believe, is how structural hierarchies are broken down."
The study of intersectionality is still developing, but, as these testimonies show, it is incredibly important. I hear the concerns of those who say teaching intersectionality might increase tribalism, that it can foster a competition of 'who is the least privileged,' or that movements will be so distracted trying to be inclusive that they lose their main goal. Yes, intersectionality is imperfect, but that is exactly why we must work together to find a cohesive way to approach intersectionality issues. That's why we must promote the conversation and explore how we can all be more inclusive.
Lead Image Credit: Nynke Vissia via Flickr