Table Of Content
- About the author(s)/editor(s)
- About the book
- This eBook can be cited
- Advance Praise for Intersectionality & Higher Education: Research, Theory, & Praxis, Second Edition
- List of Figures and Tables
- Foreword (D-L Stewart)
- Preface (Donald “DJ” Mitchell, Jr.)
- Part One: Theory
- Chapter One: Intersectionality, Identity, and Systems of Power and Inequality (Charmaine L. Wijeyesinghe / Susan R. Jones)
- Chapter Two: Living Liminal: Conceptualizing Liminality for Undocumented Students of Color (Rose Ann E. Gutierrez)
- Chapter Three: Intersectionality: A Legacy from Critical Legal Studies and Critical Race Theory (Allison Daniel Anders / James M. DeVita)
- Chapter Four: Thinking Theoretically with and beyond Intersectionality: Frameworks to Center Queer and Trans People of Color Experiences (Antonio Duran / Romeo Jackson)
- Chapter Five: Intersectionality within the South Asian American Student Population: Breaking Down the “Asian Box” (Shadab Fatima Hussain)
- Chapter Six: Realizing the Power of Intersectionality Research in Higher Education (Samuel D. Museus / Natasha A. Saelua)
- Chapter Seven: Living Intersectionality in the Academy (Leah J. Reinert / Gabriel R. Serna)
- Part Two: Research
- Chapter Eight: Backward Thinking: Exploring the Relationship among Intersectionality, Epistemology, and Research Design (Daniel Tillapaugh / Z Nicolazzo)
- Chapter Nine: Metaphorically Speaking: Being a Black Woman in the Academy Is Like (Christa J. Porter)
- Chapter Ten: Challenges Conducting Intersectional Research with LGBQ Students: Reflecting on Studies Exploring Spirituality and Disability (Ryan A. Miller / Ashley P. Jones)
- Chapter Eleven: Identity Collisions: An Intersectional Analysis of Students’ Experiences in the McNair Scholars Program (Susan V. Iverson / Chinasa Elue / Kelly E. Cichy / Emily P. McClaine)
- Chapter Twelve: Intersectionality and Student Leadership Development: Advancing the Quantitative Research Agenda (Jasmine D. Collins)
- Chapter Thirteen: Gaps in the Rainbow: Finding Queer Women of Color in Higher Education (Cobretti D. Williams)
- Chapter Fourteen: Demographic Information Collection in Higher Education and Student Affairs Survey Instruments: Developing a National Landscape for Intersectionality (Jason C. Garvey)
- Part Three: Praxis
- Chapter Fifteen: No Longer Cast Aside: A Critical Approach to Serving Queer and Trans Students of Color in Higher Education (Meg E. Evans / Jason K. Wallace)
- Chapter Sixteen: When Sisters Unite: Overcoming Oppression to Persist and Thrive in a PhD Program (Patricia P. Carver / Tamekka L. Cornelius / Kristie S. Johnson)
- Chapter Seventeen: Intersectional Praxis in Higher Education and Student Affairs Supervision (Scott Burden / Jimmy Hamill / Chelsea Gilbert)
- Chapter Eighteen: Innovations in Student Affairs: Applying an Intersectionality Framework to Stakeholder Personas (Natesha L. Smith / Thomas J. Holvey / Nuray Seyidzade)
- Chapter Nineteen: Intersectionality as Praxis for Equity in STEM: A WiSE Women of Color Program (Dawn R. Johnson / Michelle M. Blum / Katharine E. Lewis / Sharon W. Alestalo)
- Editor Biographies
- Author Biographies
Figure 2.1. Conceiving a Frame of Liminality Interlaced in Racism, Nativism, and Xenophobia.
Figure 14.1. Primary Analyses Used across Tier-One Higher Education and Student Affairs Journals from 2010 to 2012.
Figure 14.2. Percentage of Quantitative Articles in Tier-One Higher Education and Student Affairs Journals that Included Demographic Variables.
Table 11.1. Identity Characteristics of Respondents.
Table 13.1. Participant Demographics.
Table 14.1. Higher Education and Student Affairs Survey Instruments Used Three or More Times across Tier One Journals from 2010 through 2012.
Table 14.2. Demographic Questions Included within 10 Widely Used Higher Education and Student Affairs Survey Instruments. ← ix | x →
Table 14.3. Comparison of Demographic Variables Included within 10 Widely Used Higher Education and Student Affairs Survey Instruments with Quantitative Articles in Tier One Journals that Included Demographic Variables.
Table 18.1. Questions to Consider.
Table 19.1. WiSE Women of Color in STEM Program Outcomes: 2014–2018.
Kimberlé Crenshaw, the original midwife for bringing the concept of intersectionality into academic discourse, said the following in a printed interview:
What’s exciting is that I really don’t remember a time when a political academic concept generated by people of [C]olor—and particularly a concept that is the home of women of [C]olor—has gotten this much elite attention. There’s a way in which the mad attention on intersectionality by the left and the right—the fight over what it means, the fight over how it gets deployed, who gets to use it—is a recognition that we’re sitting on some valuable conceptual real estate, and we just need to double down and figure out how to develop and protect it. (Guobadia, 2018, para. 13)
The concept of intersectionality in higher education and student affairs has reflected the phenomenon that Crenshaw notes above. Slow to the conceptual party—as fields such as critical legal studies, feminist studies, and ethnic studies had been entrenched in the use of and debates about intersectionality for nearly two decades—the field of higher education and student affairs has grabbed ahold of intersectionality and as a core idea in theory and practice. Broached in the early 2000s in higher education research by me, Susan Jones, and Charmaine Wijeyesinghe, intersectionality quickly became a “buzzword” bandied about in conference spaces, academic research, and graduate preparation classrooms.
Despite its ever-increasing popularity in the field, a certain “illiteracy” as Crenshaw noted accompanies its misuse generally (Guobadia, 2018, para. 9) as being merely about recognizing the multiple identities of individual students leading to critiques of intersectionality as representing excessive tribalism. Unfortunately, ← xi | xii → the misuse of intersectionality by student affairs researchers and practitioners has added fuel to the general illiteracy about the concept whose origins lay in the intellectual thought of Black women.
Due to an insular approach, some reviews of intersectionality begin with the work of White scholars in higher education, despite what those scholars have written themselves. Missing are its roots in the writing of nineteenth and early twentieth-century Black women, such as Anna Julia Cooper, let alone the academic work of Kimberlé Crenshaw and Patricia Hill Collins, or even later scholars such as Lisa Bowleg and Leslie McCall—all writing prior to the boom of intersectionality research in higher education and student affairs. Theoretical literature that seeks to employ an intersectional analysis has been misinterpreted and taught as being merely about multiple identities, while the label of intersectionality is applied inappropriately to theory and practice involving merely the convergence of multiple identities for individuals and student groups.
In contrast to these abuses, this text seeks to “double down and figure out how to protect and develop” (Guobadia, 2018, para. 13) intersectionality, defined by Crenshaw as
[S]imply a prism to see the interactive effects of various forms of discrimination and disempowerment. It looks at the way that racism, many times, interacts with patriarchy, heterosexism, classism, xenophobia—seeing that the overlapping vulnerabilities created by these systems actually create specific kinds of challenges. (Guobadia, 2018, para. 6)
From this starting point, how can intersectionality be useful in higher education theory and practice and why is it necessary? As Crenshaw noted, the interlocking systems and structures of oppression create overlapping vulnerabilities that are particularly felt for people at the crossroads of multiple minoritized social groups. These interlocking systems are apparent in higher education and student affairs as well. Here are just three examples.
First, at some institutions, students who sign up for mandatory on-campus housing well after the deadline for priority consideration, often end up in the oldest residence halls with the fewest amenities. From a neoliberal perspective, this is simply good business and should incentivize on-time submission of housing applications. From a single-lens perspective, perhaps only classism would be put at the forefront. However, when we consider that these students also tend to be people of Color, first-generation, and low-income, it becomes evident that no single-issue analysis will be sufficient to resolve the current situation. Not only classism is at play, but rather the intersection of neoliberalism, classism, racism, and college knowledge work to put these students in a unique predicament where there are certain sections of campus residences that are called “ghettos,” “the projects,” and worse.
Second, a building’s third-floor bathrooms are closed down for renovations. On that floor is the only ADA-compliant, all gender bathroom in the building. ← xii | xiii → Initially, no plan is in place to provide bathroom access in the building for people with disabilities, people who need relief assistance, and transgender people made unsafe in gendered restroom facilities. The closest ADA-compliant and all gender restrooms are in the building across the center mall. This is no mere oversight, but rather the function of interlocking systems and structures of ableism and trans-antagonism. These oppressive systems pull together not only two social groups, but also those who overlap across those groups.
Third, some institutions still close down the dining halls during holiday breaks and require an extra fee per night for those students who remain in the residence halls. Often international students are thought of as harmed by this policy and they are, yet initiatives are often put in place for those students to have home stays with local families. However, for low-income, emancipated foster youth, who are often racially minoritized, queer, and/or transgender, this policy creates a unique precarity. It is assumed that domestic students can go “home” during the break and have their housing and dining needs met by parents, other relatives, or other guardians. The interlocking systems of neoliberalism, classism, racism, and heteronormativity intersect in this case.
These three examples demonstrate that no single oppressive system creates inequitable and unjust conditions in higher education. Rather, if we are to build a truly socially just movement we must attend to the -isms within the -ism that may be our focus. As Crenshaw noted,
So when racial justice doesn’t have a critique of patriarchy and homophobia, the particular way that racism is experienced and exacerbated by heterosexism, classism etc., falls outside of our political organizing. It means that significant numbers of people in our communities aren’t being served by social justice frames because they don’t address the particular ways that they’re experiencing discrimination. (Guobadia, 2018, para. 7)
There is much research in higher education and student affairs that focuses on either racism or classism as the main issue that policymakers and college administrators need to address. Yet, to adapt Crenshaw, a class analysis that does not critique racism, heteronormativity, and neoliberalism does not recognize how queer people of Color are particularly affected by classist institutional policies and practices, then leaves out significant numbers of our students. In the same vein, a race analysis with no critique as Crenshaw points out above also leaves out the particular ways that people at the intersections of racism with other forms of oppression experience the college environment or are pushed out from it altogether. This is not intersectional praxis.
If higher education and student affairs scholars and practitioners are going to promote social justice, then we must commit to an authentic practice of intersectionality. I have noted in previous research that perhaps the articulation of a truly intersectional perspective about one’s self and lived experiences may be a matter ← xiii | xiv → of gaining increasing complexity (Stewart, 2010). It may be the same for the field and those studying and practicing within it. However, growing up into intersectionality must happen if we seek to transform institutional policy and practice to be equitable and just. Through addressing theory, research, and praxis, this text is a vital element in doing what Crenshaw recommends, “developing and protecting” intersectionality (Guobadia, 2018, para. 13).
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado
Guobadia, O. (2018, August 31). Kimberlé Crenshaw and Lady Phyll talk intersectionality, solidarity, and self-care. them. Retrieved from https://www.them.us/story/kimberle-crenshaw-lady-phyll-intersectionality
Stewart, D. L. (2010). Researcher as instrument: Understanding “shifting” findings in constructivist research. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 47(3), 291–306.
For a majority of my life I thought I held anti-racist views, but unfortunately, I did not. I thought being an African American man who experiences racism the United States of America and who openly voices my concerns against racism was enough. It was not until I was introduced to the term intersectionality, coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, that I began to realize the limitation of my views on race and racism and truly started to become equity-minded and an advocate for moving further towards social justice. Crenshaw, a legal, critical race, and Black feminist legal scholar, first used the term intersectionality to highlight the lived experiences of Black women who, because of the intersection of race and gender are exposed to overlapping forms of oppression and marginalization, and are often theoretically erased from single-axis anti-discrimination laws (e.g., anti-racist laws, anti-sexist laws).
Crenshaw (1989) noted that Black women are not oppressed by just racism or just sexism since their lived experiences cannot be captured by simply stating that they are Black or they are women. On one hand, speaking about Black women in terms of race and racism ignores gender and sexism. On the other hand, speaking about Black women in terms of gender and sexism ignores race and racism. For Black women in particular, by highlighting marginalization or oppression in single-axis ways, they are erased in the process because their experiences as Black women (not Black and woman) are not fully acknowledged; and more importantly, the overlapping nature of racism and sexism as oppressive forces marginalizes them in unique ways (Crenshaw, 2015). In addition to race and gender, Black women also face other forms of oppression such as classism, heterosexism, and ← xv | xvi → transphobia which lead to further marginalization and erasures. What Crenshaw’s work taught me is that I was not anti-racist because I was not as, or at all, invested in fights against sexism, classism, heterosexism, transphobia/genderism, and xenophobia among other forms of oppression; and ultimately, one has to be invested in the fight against all –isms to truly be anti-racist since people of Color are heterogeneous and are often oppressed in multiple ways beyond racism and those ways overlap for those from multiple marginalized identities.
As another example, I often reference Susan B. Anthony who is considered one of the greatest feminists in United States history. Anthony is infamously known for stating, “I will cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.” In her quote, Anthony uses a single-axis approach to combating sexism while erasing Black women in the process by noting she would cut off her hand before advocating for voting rights for “the Negro” (which meant Black men at the time). Ultimately, while Anthony fought against sexism against White women, she oppressed Black women in the process by speaking against “the Negro.” While many argue Anthony was a feminist, as defined as advocating for equality among the sexes or for women’s rights, I argue against that claim since she communicated racist views or did not use an intersectional approach to her feminism; this highlights the constant fight for Black women to be seen, heard, and acknowledged, and what is often articulated in Black feminist thought (see Collins, 2000 for more on Black feminist thought).
While Crenshaw’s articulation of intersectionality was my primary introduction to recognizing overlapping systems of oppression, Black women in the United States have written and spoken about their experiences and the ways they have been uniquely oppressed since the 19th century. Anna Julia Cooper, Sojourner Truth, Audrey Lorde, bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins, and Bonnie Thorton Dill are some of these pioneers, and while intersectionality as articulated by Crenshaw is the focus of this text, their works must be acknowledged as intersectionality is further theorized and applied in new ways. Failing to recognize intersectionality has some roots in Black feminist thought is exactly what intersectionality originally articulates—Black women’s erasure.
Still, while intersectionality as articulated by Crenshaw has some roots in Black feminist thought, the concept is now used to discuss overlapping systems of oppression that influence populations beyond Black women and is used in diverse ways. Cho, Crenshaw, and McCall (2013) noted intersectionality is now engaged in three primary ways: (1) as a frame of analysis for research and teaching; (2) as a theory or methodology, which includes the ways in which intersectionality has been developed and adapted; and, (3) through intersectional praxis or interventions since intersectionality was never meant to be solely theoretical. Intersectionality has also been adopted “in disciplines such as history, sociology, literature, philosophy, and anthropology as well as in feminist studies, ethnic studies, queer studies, and ← xvi | xvii → legal studies” (Cho, Crenshaw, & McCall, 2013, p. 787), and more recently, the field of higher education (e.g., see Griffin & Museus, 2011; Mitchell, Simmons, & Greyerbiehl, 2014; Stewart, 2010, 2013). This second edition of Intersectionality & Higher Education: Theory, Research, & Praxis seeks to further document the uses of intersectionality specifically within higher education contexts.
I argue using Crenshaw’s articulation of intersectionality might be the most appropriate ways to shape higher education contexts in the future, particularly given the ways in which higher education of all forms shape societies across the globe. Cho, Crenshaw, and McCall (2013) note that some scholars argue centering Black women or the origins of intersectionality limit the applicability intersectionality. I contend just the opposite since intersectionality is not solely about multiple, intersecting identities; intersectionality is about overlapping systems of oppression and how those with multiple marginalized identities are made vulnerable in the process (Crenshaw, 2015). Similarly, Jones (2014) notes,
To only see intersectionality as being about identity is to ignore its historical and disciplinary origins and intent and thereby miss the mark of its full analytic power … intersectionality is only about identity when structures of inequality are foregrounded and identities considered in light of social issues and power dynamics. (p. xii)
Given this, intersectionality as a framework can, and I argue should, be used to articulate the experiences of people beyond Black women, and given this, my working definition for intersectionality is “the intersection of salient socially constructed identities and the extent to which individuals or groups are oppressed or marginalized as a result of interlocking, socially constructed systems of oppression associated with those identities” (Mitchell, 2014, para. 2) which highlights its capacity for broader use. I also recognize there are those who argue the intersections of race and gender must be present in intersectional analyses given Crenshaw’s original use of the term.
Further, since using intersectionality as a framework requires centering those who are the most marginalized or oppressed, those who are “singularly disadvantaged” (Crenshaw, 1989, p. 167) also benefit from dismantling multiple oppressions. For example, in a blog I wrote about using intersectionality as a framework for student success, I asked the following to highlight various forms of marginalization for students attending U.S. higher education institutions:
In what ways does having advising hours only during business hours marginalize some students?
In what ways do requiring multiple books for a class and the prices of books marginalize some students?
In what ways do limited or no gender-neutral restrooms marginalize some students?
I should have also asked, “What about the students who experience all of these marginalizations simultaneously?” By centering those students who deal with all of these oppressive policies and seeking to dismantle the various forms of institutional oppressions they face, it also benefits students who deal with one or some of these marginalizing practices. That is the potential power of using intersectionality to improve higher education across the globe.
Just as in the first edition of Intersectionality & Higher Education, this edition is organized in three sections: theory, research, and praxis. While some of the chapters from the first edition of the text are included in the present edition, this updated edition includes new pieces articulating and applying intersectionality while ensuring attention to the origins of intersectionality are aptly acknowledged and applied. Still, as Bowleg (2008), McCall (2005), and Stewart (2010) all note, conducting research and scholarship on intersectionality is not easy; “scholars and practitioners must view [scholarly works] as living documents that are fallible and open to correction and revision” (Stewart, 2010, p. 305). Perhaps echoing Stewart, I encourage readers to read these chapters, not just as intersectionally-focused and social justice-centered, but also as snapshots of where authors are in their current understandings and applications of intersectionality recognizing that their understandings and applications could shift later on. My understanding of intersectionality has definitely shifted since the first edition of this text and, as a result, my editorial approach to the second addition was much different; however, I am thankful for this shift, and as a result, I am able to co-present to readers, Intersectionality & Higher Education: Theory, Research, and Praxis (2nd ed.).
Crenshaw’s articulation of intersectionality pushed me to grow and to acknowledge that systems of oppression overlap and not acknowledging these overlaps erases. Still, me changing as an individual is not enough since intersectionality is not about individuals; systemic and societal changes are the changes that are most important, and this is where I hope this text makes a contribution by using intersectionality as the frame of reference. Higher education institutions across the globe are becoming more diverse; nevertheless, those who inhabit higher education institutions are being erased by overlapping systems of oppression that are often operationalized through marginalizing and oppressive structures, policies, practices and campus cultures. The collection of chapters presented in this volume are presented to move us further from this erasure. As Crenshaw (2015) noted, “We simply do not have the luxury of building social movements that are not intersectional, nor can we believe we are doing intersectional work just by saying words” (para. 12). The purpose of this text is to move us as global citizens, educators, and change agents toward social justice using intersectionality as a guide. ← xviii | xix →
Bowleg, L. (2008). When Black + lesbian + woman ≠ Black lesbian woman: The methodological challenges of qualitative and quantitative intersectionality research. Sex Roles: A Journal of Research, 59(5–6), 312–325.
Cho, S., Crenshaw, K., & McCall, L. (2013). Toward a field of intersectionality studies: Theory, application, and praxis. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 38(4), 785–810.
Collins, P. H. (2000). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness and the politics of empowerment (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory, and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989(8), 139–167.
Crenshaw, K. (2015, September 24). Why intersectionality can’t wait. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/09/24/why-intersectionality-cant-wait/?utm_term=.55e1fa267f79
Jones, S. R. (2014). Foreword. In D. Mitchell, Jr., C. Y. Simmons, & L. A. Greyerbiehl (Eds.), Intersectionality & higher education: Theory, research, & praxis (pp. xi–xiv). New York, NY: Peter Lang.
McCall, L. (2005). The complexity of intersectionality. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture & Society, 30(3), 1771–1800.
Mitchell, D., Jr. (2014, November 21). Intersectionality to social justice = theory to practice [Web log post]. Available at https://www.naspa.org/constituent-groups/posts/projectintersections-post-1
Mitchell, D., Jr. (2016, May 31). How to start a revolution: Use intersectionality as a framework to promote student success [Web log post]. Available at http://videos.myacpa.org/how-to-start-a-revolution-by-donald-mitchell
Mitchell, D., Jr., Simmons, C., & Greyerbiehl, L. (Eds.). (2014). Intersectionality & higher education: Theory, research, and praxis (1st ed.). New York, NY: Peter Lang.
Museus, S. D., & Griffin, K. A. (2011). Mapping the margins in higher education: On the promise of intersectionality frameworks in research and discourse. In K. A. Griffin & S. D. Museus (Eds.), Using mixed-method approaches to study intersectionality in higher education. (New Directions for Institutional Research, No. 151, pp. 5–13). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Stewart, D. L. (2010). Researcher as instrument: Understanding “shifting” findings in constructivist research. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 47(3), 291–306.
Stewart, D. L. (2013). Complicating belief: Intersectionality and Black college students’ spirituality. In T. L. Strayhorn (Ed.), Living at the intersections: Social identities and Black collegians (pp. 93–108). Charlotte, NC: Information Age.
We would like to thank those who made the publication of the second edition of Intersectionality & Higher Education: Theory, Research, & Praxis possible. First, we thank all of the chapter authors who helped shape this volume through their writings and blind peer reviews. Second, we thank Dr. D-L Stewart for contributing the Foreword. Third, we thank Patricia Mulrane, Monica Baum, and Jackie Pavlovic—at Peter Lang—for all that they brought to the production of this volume. Finally, we thank a host of family, friends, and colleagues, whose love and support keep us going each day.
The concept of identity has received attention in many facets of higher education, including teaching (Adams, Bell, & Griffin, 2007; Goodman & Jackson, 2012; Jones & Wijeyesinghe, 2011), research (Cross, 1991; Helms, 1990/1993; Stewart, 2008, 2009; Torres, Jones, & Renn, 2009) and student affairs practice (Abes, 2016; Jones & Abes, 2013; Jones & Stewart, 2016; Wijeyesinghe, 2017). Knefelkamp, Widick, and Parker (1978) noted that the developmental orientation of the college student personnel field, in particular, emphasized “the importance of responding to the whole person, attending to individual differences, and working with the student at his or her developmental level” (p. viii). Over the years, the ways in which the “whole person” has been conceptualized has shifted, with varying emphases on the parts and the whole (Torres et al., 2009), and although the social world and its contexts have always been considered in identity theories, exactly what constitutes context has evolved to also include larger structures of inequality.
In this chapter, we focus on two areas increasingly linked in theory, research, and practice in higher education: models of social identity development (the parts) and the framework of intersectionality (the whole). We begin by exploring how intersectionality addresses themes often seen in the study and representations of identity. Next, we focus more specifically on the implications of applying an intersectional lens to models grounded in individual identity narratives. We conclude the chapter by identifying several issues and questions, referred to as tension points, that have arisen in our work and teaching related to identity and intersectionality. ← 3 | 4 →
INTERSECTIONALITY AND PSYCHOSOCIAL PERSPECTIVES ON IDENTITY
The question of “Who Am I?” has been the bedrock of identity research and models for decades. The study of identity in higher education emerged primarily from the psychological tradition of Erik Erikson (1959/1994), who described the psychosocial nature of identity development. From this perspective, identity evolves through a complex pattern of interaction between internal stages of growth and external social forces. Reflecting the sociocultural norms of his time, Erikson’s conceptualization of these social forces or contexts led to very narrow views of individuals from nondominant groups. This realization led subsequent scholars in student development, racial identity development, and other fields to investigate social identities as significant contributors to understanding the whole person.
The term social identity has its roots in social psychology and the work of Tajfel (1982), who highlighted the role of intergroup dynamics and perceptions of group membership in understanding identity. Tajfel defined social identity as “that part of the individual’s self-concept which derives from their knowledge of their membership in a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership” (p. 2). Understanding identities as socially constructed means that “their significance stems not from some ‘natural’ state, but from what they have become as the result of social and historical processes” (Andersen & Collins, 2007, p. 62). Contemporary understandings of psychosocial identity, or how individuals see and understand their experiences in relation to various groups or roles they inhabit, incorporate specific attention to socially constructed groups that are tied to larger systems of power, privilege, and inequality. As Weber (2010) noted, “[A]t the individual level, race, class, gender, and sexuality are fundamental sources of identity for all of us: how we see ourselves, who we think we are. They are, in fact, so fundamental that to be without them would be like being without an identity at all” (p. 119).
Intersectionality is gaining currency among higher education scholars and practitioners because it acknowledges an individual’s multiple social identities, thus creating a more complete portrayal of the whole person. While Dill, McLaughlin, and Nieves (2007) noted that “to a large extent, intersectional work is about identity” (p. 630), it is not only about identity (Collins & Bilge, 2016; Jones & Abes, 2013). Although Nash (2008) referred to “intersectionality’s theoretical dominance as a way of conceptualizing identity” (p. 3), the framework does not seek to unveil how each person within a marginalized group or many groups develops their own sense of self under systems of oppression. It also does ← 4 | 5 → not foreground individual identity narratives (Collins, 2015). Instead, intersectionality highlights how people—as members of multiple groups of individuals—experience marginalization and inequality, even in movements designed to further social justice and institutional change. Clearly, individual voices inform the understanding and analysis of how inequality as well as privilege are experienced. Honoring the day-to-day experiences of each person, however, is not a core function of intersectionality.
Intersectionality attends to identity by placing it within a macrolevel analysis that ties individual experience to a person’s membership in social groups, during a particular social and historical period, and within larger, interlocking systems of advantage and access. This complex view of identity more fully describes how individuals, as members of social groups constructed and affected by larger systems, experience their lives, interactions, and various contexts (Dill & Zambrana, 2009; Holvino, 2012). In describing her model of “simultaneity,” Holvino (2012) indicated that such an orientation toward identity
attends to the ways in which race, gender, class, sexuality, and nation are not just about a personal and individual identity, but about the social and institutional processes that determine opportunities, which also produce and reproduce racial, gender, class, and other social differences. (p. 172)
An intersectional perspective also forms a foundation for understanding the interconnections between systems of power and privilege in which personal narratives related to identity develop, evolve, and are understood. Therefore, not only are the experiences of social groups complex and mutually constituted, so are the systems of power and privilege, such as classism, ageism, Christian hegemony, and racism, that so strongly shape personal and group experience. Extending the perspective that identity at the individual level embodies multiple social locations that interact and influence each other to larger social systems allows us to see how forms of oppression interface, support, and reinforce each other, as well as the experience of individual people based on their respective identities (Holvino, 2012). For example, Suzanne Pharr’s (1988) classic book, Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, provides compelling analysis of how the interconnectedness of two systems of oppression, homophobia and sexism, combine with economic issues to create institutional heterosexism. In terms of interventions, Matsuda suggested a technique of “ask[ing] the other question” (as cited in Nash, 2008, p. 12). She wrote “When I see something that looks racist, I ask, ‘where is the patriarchy in this?’ When I see something that looks sexist, I ask, ‘Where is the heterosexism in this?’” (Matsuda, as cited in Nash, 2008, p. 12). This strategy forces an analysis of how these systems reinforce one another and connects privilege and oppression in more complex ways. ← 5 | 6 →
INTERSECTIONALITY AND MODELS OF IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT
Several insights are revealed when psychosocial approaches to identity development are examined in the context of intersectionality. First, psychosocial theories often focus on experiences and developmental tasks facing a person or the experience of a person based on one social axis, such as race. Intersectionality complicates identity (Collins & Bilge, 2016; Dill & Zambrana, 2009), because it highlights the intricacies of individuals’ experiences when they embody multiple identities simultaneously. In addition, intersectionality acknowledges the diversity within social groups, often overlooked in earlier identity theories that described experiences based on a single social identity. Given this complexity and diversity, the question arises as to whether new identity models can legitimately attend to one “Black experience,” or a single experience of gay or lesbian students, since individuals who share one common social identity (such as race, or gender, or faith identity) may differ across several others. Those differences often include multiple locations of privilege and subordination (Collins, 1991; Weber, 2010) that must be acknowledged and integrated into interventions that promote equity and social justice (Kendall & Wijeyesinghe, 2017). For example, if a campus organization sponsors a program on the lives of Latino/a students on campus, the event and the chosen speakers should address a range of experiences in addition to those attributed to race, ethnicity, and nationality.
Second, several identity models link an individual’s multiple social group memberships and the salience that the individual attaches to each social identity at different life stages or in different contexts (Cross & Fhagen-Smith, 2001; Jones & Abes, 2013; Wijeyesinghe, 2012). While context and salience are reflected in how each person experiences identity in daily life, intersectionality does not directly and purposefully address the concept of salience at the level of each individual’s experiences. As opposed to understanding social identities as discrete parts of an individual, each with its own level of personal significance, intersectionality encourages the consideration of multiple identities, notwithstanding the salience individuals attach to them personally. Core tenets of intersectionality addressing the unveiling of power, recognizing interconnected structures of inequality, and promoting social justice, may be helpful in expanding how we view the concept of salience. People may feel drawn to various movements for social change—such as women working to address sexism in the work place—based on the salience they attach to their various social identities. If such actions do not also recognize the interconnection among race, class, and other social memberships, interventions may address the needs of ← 6 | 7 → only some of the people within that entire social group, such as White women in the aforementioned example.
Last, linking personal identity narratives to larger systems of domination helps individuals understand the connection between the social groups they inhabit and their day-to-day experiences within society, as well as concepts of privileged and marginalized positions. People working in social justice education often encounter individuals who deny that they receive any social benefit from being, for example, White, male, heterosexual, or economically advantaged. Intersectionality is useful as an awareness building tool, in that through it, peoples’ experiences transcend the lens of individual and personal, to that of a socially constructed group, differentially influenced by access to power and privilege. Increased recognition of the connection between personal identities and social systems that either support or confront oppression is an essential component in engaging people in social justice work (Bell, 1997; Goodman, 2011). Understanding how these systems shape opportunity and experience at the individual level is a cornerstone of anti-oppression work (Adams et al., 2007; Goodman, 2011) and can serve to motivate individuals to engage in actions toward a more just and equitable society, another cornerstone of intersectionality.
In light of the analysis thus far, one may begin to wonder: can models of psychosocial identity development capture core tenets of intersectionality, and are these models examples of intersectional practice? We believe that identity development models can integrate several themes drawn from intersectionality. Jones and Abes (2013) noted that “identity models informed [emphasis added] by intersectionality offer better ways of capturing the complexity of identity and portraying the full range of factors, contextual influences, social identities, lived experiences, and structures of power that contribute to a holistic interpretation of identity” (p. 154). Examples of such models include the Intersectional Model of Multiple Dimensions of Identity (Jones & Abes, 2013), the Intersectional Model of Multiracial Identity (Wijeyesinghe, 2012), and Simultaneity (Holvino, 2012). To varying degrees, these models acknowledge the interplay among multiple social group memberships (such as race, gender, class, age, sexual orientation) and the fluid nature of identity. In addition, they all specifically reference the impact of larger social, political, institutional, and historical contexts on how individuals develop and experience their identities. Authors of new models exploring individual narratives from an intersectional framework should continue to investigate several areas: how various social group memberships and identities interface and mutually constitute others, how a more universal and omnipresent conception of salience can exist alongside a sense of personal connection to various identities, and how to represent the influence and confluence of all identities in models that primarily focus on one (such as gender, sexual orientation, or race). ← 7 | 8 →
TENSION POINTS: ISSUES AND QUESTIONS RELATED TO THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN IDENTITY AND INTERSECTIONALITY
A number of questions emerged as we considered the relationship between identity and intersectionality, how each informs the other, and the issues that arise when we attend to individual narratives, identity, and larger structures of inequality. We use the term tension points to describe these questions and issues, and we explore some of the more pressing ones in this section of the chapter. Fundamentally, these tension points reflect, or are informed by such questions as the following: how can evolving conceptualization and application of intersectionality assist in understanding, mapping, researching, and teaching about social identity? Is intersectionality experienced at the individual as well as the social group level? And what, if anything, do psychosocial models that highlight the experiences of individuals offer intersectionality, and how can they inform the development of intersectional interventions in higher education practice?
As we noted throughout the chapter, an intersectional perspective of identity requires the connecting of individual lived experience to larger structures of privilege and oppression. Therefore, there may be limits to the extent and the ways that intersectionality can be applied to the experience of individuals, even when psychosocial models of identity development include references to larger social systems, power, and privilege. As theorists and practitioners, we are faced with the following question: can identity truly be an individual experience when people embody social identities that carry meaning in society and result in differential access to resources and control of various domains that fundamentally influence a person’s life, regardless of whether the person acknowledges the existence or influence of those identities?
Psychosocial identity models that incorporate intersectional themes, like those examples mentioned in the previous section, can enhance our understanding of key concepts such as social group memberships and social location, institutional power and privilege, and oppression and liberation. This knowledge lays the groundwork for discussions that move beyond individual experiences to how systems of power and privilege support and intersect and the need to create interventions that reflect multiple social locations and concerns.
Tensions between managing the individual experience of identity and further reaching aspects of intersectionality should be considered when planning and implementing actions for social change. Dill et al. (2007) noted that “in the discussion surrounding identity, it is the tension between intersectionality as a tool for ← 8 | 9 → illuminating group identities that are not essentialist, and individual identities that are not so fragmented as to be meaningless” (p. 631). Attending to the mutually constituting nature of forms of oppression is not the same as treating them as the same or as so intertwined that the ways in which they differ become unrecognizable or disappear. Therefore, theories and change efforts must acknowledge common aspects and interconnections, while also attending to areas where experiences of identity and forms of inequality differ. Intersectionality, with its emphasis on individual and social location within multiple groups, pushes researchers, faculty, and practitioners to acknowledge the diversity within socially constructed groups, while avoiding the obscuring of real differences between manifestations of oppression by applying intersectionality uniformly (Luft, 2009).
In relation to identity, intersectionality illustrates how we embody all of our social identities and experience the world based on larger, interconnected systems that respond to these identities, at all times and in all circumstances. Weber (1998) pointed out the following:
Race, class, gender, and sexuality simultaneously operate in every social situation. At the societal level, these systems of social hierarchies are connected to each other and are embedded in all social institutions. At the individual level, we each experience our lives and develop our identities based on our location along all dimensions, whether we are in dominant groups, subordinate groups, or both. (p. 24)
Tension may arise when individuals feel that their lived experience reflects one, or only some of their social identities, as when a gay, White man who is economically privileged feels that his identity is grounded primarily in his sexual orientation and resists considering how his race, economic position, and gender afford him social power and privilege. Intersectionality frames all identities as being mutually constituted, meaning that social identities are not discrete entities that are isolated from the influences of all others. Therefore, while the man described here may define himself and view the world primarily through the lens of sexual orientation, his class, race, emotional and physical ability, faith background, and other social groups also influence his particular experiences as a gay man. Thus, his experiences of being gay would be different if one or more of his other identities changed, for example, if he were Asian or economically disadvantaged. Scholars and practitioners may encounter challenges to operationalizing core tenets of intersectionality when there are the perceived gaps between the lived experience of identity salience by the individuals with whom they are working and the perspective that all identities are at play at all times. ← 9 | 10 →
Tension related to salience also occurs at the systems levels of analysis. At a broader social level, intersectionality highlights that it is not possible to grasp an understanding of the complex interplay of power, privilege, and social structures if we view forms of oppression as singular and separate units (like racism, ableism, sexism, classism), or if the focus is only on those forms of oppression that feel most salient to an individual, in a specific setting, or at a certain point in life. A more intersectional level of awareness recognizes
that each of us simultaneously experiences all of these dimensions, even if one is foregrounded in a particular situation, and can help us see the often obscured ways in which we benefit from existing race, class, gender, sexuality social arrangements, as well as the ways which we’re disadvantaged. Such an awareness can be key in working together across different groups to achieve a more equitable distribution of society’s valued resources. (Weber, 1998, p. 25)
Decades after Lorde (1983) so aptly highlighted that there is no hierarchy of oppressions, individuals may still feel that there is, based on how they live and experience their range of social identities.
Privileged and Oppressed Identities
Intersectionality centers the voices of people and groups previously overlooked or excluded, especially in the analysis of inequality and efforts to remedy specific social problems. An ongoing debate among intersectional scholars and observers of the popularity of the framework foregrounds the question of definition—what exactly is intersectionality and who is intersectional (Kendall & Wijeyesinghe, 2017; Nash, 2008; Warner & Shields, 2013)? Stated another way, is intersectionality a general theory of identities or a theory focused only on those people from multiple marginalized social groups? Nash (2008) argued, “In its emphasis on black women’s experiences of subjectivity and oppression, intersectional theory has obscured the question of whether all identities are intersectional, or whether only multiply marginalized subjects have an intersectional identity” (p. 9). If intersectionality is applied as a general theory of identity, all people may locate themselves within its purview. However, if intersectionality is primarily grounded in the experiences of individuals with multiple marginalized identities, those people with privileged identities are outside of the framework. Of course, many individuals inhabit both privileged and oppressed identities, so these boundaries may not be so clearly drawn.
What seems critical to us is what Nash (2008) advocated for as “a nuanced conception of identity that recognizes the ways in which positions of dominance and subordination work in complex and intersecting ways to constitute subjects’ experience of personhood” (p. 10). The question of whether intersectionality ← 10 | 11 → applies to everyone reinforces a point made earlier, that intersectionality is not simply about multiple identities, which we all have, but multiple identities connected to groups and structures of power, thus, paving the way for a “both/and” approach. Considering the application and relevance of intersectionality to people and groups who receive social advantages begins to draw some boundaries related to privileged and oppressed identities.
The purpose of intersectionality is not simply to locate individuals within a matrix of domination and privilege. Instead, intersectionality sheds light on the ways that some people within social groups receive benefit while others are disproportionately targeted and constrained by certain social-structural situations (this was Crenshaw’s  initial analysis of the inutility of a gender-only lens when investigating domestic violence against women). Yet, individuals who hold multiple privileged identities can use an intersectional analysis in ways that are productive and contribute to a more socially just society. The task then becomes less about locating oneself within an intersectional framework and more so about using intersectionality to understand the experiences of others and the social structures that perpetuate privilege and oppression.
From discussion, research, and application of intersectionality in various settings, we may develop a greater awareness of how intersectionality captures the lived experiences of people who hold multiple privileged identities or how experiences related to these identities are mediated by any targeted groups to which these individuals belong. Caution is advised, however, so that the core tenet of intersectionality related to foregrounding the experience of marginalized groups remains central to its understanding and application and to prevent it from becoming a lens that is co-opted to reinforce and re-center the experience of those people and groups with privileged identities.
In closing this chapter, we reaffirm that identity and intersectionality are relevant to each other and can be used to explore questions and areas unanswered by foundational theories within the fields of student, racial, and social identity development. As authors of two models that are informed by intersectionality, we see psychosocial models that incorporate aspects of the framework as tools to enhance our understanding of the experiences of individuals and groups on campus. Yet, as new theories and approaches evolve, we also pay homage to the context, goals, and contributions of existing theories, especially those models that paved the way in the early years and formed the foundation for research and theory building related to identity.
Intersectionality is a powerful tool for understanding, constructing, and de-constructing: the experience of identity, the complex and mutually constituting ← 11 | 12 → nature of social identities, the relationships between identity and larger social systems, and the interwoven nature of manifestations of social oppression. While centering the interconnections inherent in intersectional analysis, we also must honor the unique aspects of various social identities, systems of inequality, and efforts to enact social justice. The journey of writing this chapter has led us to see that in relation to identity and intersectionality, the situation is not one of “either/or” when it comes to the exploration of individual narratives or narratives of larger group experiences influenced by social systems. Instead, we appreciate how these two levels of analysis inform each other, contribute to our understanding of identity, stretch our thinking, drive model building, and guide our work. Thus, our efforts as theorists, researchers, and practitioners becomes less about “capturing” intersectionality via models and more about using the complexity and connections in the framework to more fully understand the lived experience of individuals within the context of their social groups, oppression and inequality, and interventions for social change.
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Theoretical frameworks and conceptual models provide a frame in which to view, understand, and interpret the world. Frames, however, are filtered realities based on exposure to varying social and cultural contexts (Goffman, 1974). Thus, frames are social constructs that influence how people communicate their perceived or imagined realities. What if society does not have a frame to understand—better yet, recognize a fundamental reality—that exists regarding a specific student population within higher education institutions? This has been the case for undocumented students in higher education who have been living in the shadows until former President Barack Obama passed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012 that provided a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation while also being able to apply for a work permit in the United States (Suárez-Orozco, Yoshikawa, Teranishi, & Suárez-Orozco, 2011; Teranishi, Suárez-Orozco, & Suárez-Orozco, 2015). Prior to DACA, the United States did not have a policy for undocumented individuals that made them feel unapologetic and unafraid to come out of the shadows. Policies such as DACA influenced a set of emerging research on the educational experiences of undocumented students beyond high school. Society, however, still possesses limited frames in understanding the nuanced experiences compounded by the layers of oppression that manifest in the daily realities for undocumented students in higher education.
Intersectionality, presented by Kimberlé Crenshaw (2016), acknowledges, examines, and dissects the intersecting layers of oppression that Black women face that have “slipped through [our societal] consciousness because there are no frames for us to see them.” Crenshaw posits intersectionality to be used as a ← 15 | 16 → frame “[acknowledging] the ways multiple social realities, structured by the dominant norms and values of institutions, converge to produce distinct, overlapping moments and experiences of disadvantages that are often rendered invisible by the majority” (as cited in Nguyen & Nguyen, 2018, p. 150). This chapter uses intersectionality as an analytical tool to conceive the overlapping and intersecting layers of oppression, subordination, and subjugation of undocumented Students of Color in higher education. I intentionally capitalize Students of Color, Immigrants of Color, and People of Color to challenge and reject conventional grammatical norms and reclaim this population’s sense of identity, knowledge, and agency. Within these overlapping states of oppression, I explore and conceptualize liminality and its positive, unintended consequences for these students.
This chapter focuses on how racism, nativism, and xenophobia manifest in the daily realities of undocumented Students of Color. I recognize that undocumented students who may not racially identify as White but phenotypically pass off as White—thus receiving advantages of Whiteness (Harris, 1993)—have challenges as well due to their undocumented status. My focus, however, is on Students of Color due to the layer of racism and racist nativism these students experience because of the historical social construction of race (Omi & Winant, 2015) in the United States. Immigrants of Color experience heightened anti-immigrant sentiments as immigrants and systemic racism as People of Color. These racist, nativist, and xenophobic attitudes are covertly expressed in practices and policies. Moreover, this chapter contributes to a new sociocultural frame—offering an additional lens to conceptualize liminality—that complicates an understanding of a population rendered invisible and oppressed by social structures. Overall, this conceptual model can untangle a complex social phenomenon like immigration, so researchers better understand educational trajectories and outcomes of undocumented youth.
This chapter is organized into four sections: (1) defining intersectionality and adapting its methodological approach within the context of developing this conceptual model; (2) providing an overview of the literature on liminality in social sciences and educational research; (3) introducing a conceptual model in examining racism, nativism, and xenophobia in the liminal status of undocumented Students of Color; and (4) discussing implications for future research in higher education.
DEFINING AND ADAPTING INTERSECTIONALITY
Intersectionality has foundational roots in Black feminist thought and pedagogy (Collins, 2009; Crenshaw, 1989). The concept provides a reference frame to examine overlapping forms of oppression and marginalization that is not captured from a single-axis analysis. Although I discuss the identities of undocumented Students ← 16 | 17 → of Color in regard to their race, ethnicity, immigrant identity, and citizenship status, intersectionality is not to be a “totalizing theory of identity” (Crenshaw, 1991, p. 1244). In other words, the theory is not about adding identities and comprehensively naming it intersectionality, but rather dissecting the overlaps and intersections of social categories that shape the life experiences of individuals (Núñez, 2014). Nguyen and Nguyen (2018) clarify how a single category conceals “institutional structure and culture” and these “[byproducts] of multiple social dominance” (p. 159). I adapt intersectionality to be used as an analytical tool to examine “the intersection of salient socially constructed identities and the extent to which individuals or groups are oppressed or marginalized as a result of interlocking, socially constructed systems of oppression associated with those identities” (Mitchell, 2014, para. 2).
I use Mitchell (2014), Núñez (2014), and Nguyen and Nguyen’s (2018) analytical application of intersectionality in research to examine racism, nativism, and xenophobia for undocumented Students of Color as they experience liminal status. Intersectionality becomes a frame to acknowledge multiple social realities and overlapping, interlocking systems of oppression (Nguyen & Nguyen, 2018; Núñez, 2014) constructed by “dominant norms and values of institutions” (Nguyen & Nguyen, 2018, p. 150) to reproduce racial and social hierarchies. While enduring a state of liminality, this conceptual model argues for an asset-based reconceptualization of an ambiguous transitional and perpetual state of being as solely negative. Although interlocking systems of oppression in combination with socially constructed categories that have real or imagined consequences exist for undocumented Students of Color, these students, in their liminal status, develop ways of surviving and thriving in the midst of heightened anti-immigrant sentiments and public discourse (Muñoz & Espino, 2017; Muñoz & Maldonado, 2012) which change throughout the course of time in historical, political, economic, and social contexts.
LIMINALITY IN LITERATURE
In his research on tribal rituals of initiation and its processes of separation, transition, and incorporation, social anthropologist Victor Turner (1967) refers to a liminal space as “neither here nor there; [people] are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremony” (p. 95). Thus, liminality is a state of being in between worlds, spaces, and experiences which are often ambiguously defined. Ybema, Beech, and Ellis (2011) expound on Turner’s premise by operationalizing liminality in two social contexts: (1) transitional liminality and (2) perpetual liminality. Transitional liminality refers to a transformational change from one identity to another. Perpetual liminality refers to an individual experiencing in-between occupying two identities for a prolonged time. ← 17 | 18 →
Due to Plyler v. Doe in 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that K–12 public education cannot deny students access to education based on their immigration status. The court’s decision has consequentially socialized undocumented students to be included socially, culturally, political, and legally. They are U.S. citizens in heart and mind (Pérez, 2012). Students’ legal inclusion, however, changes when students transition into adulthood at 18 years old (transitional liminality) and decide to pursue higher education. Policies and practices, specifically financial aid regulations, contribute to inaccessibility and limited opportunities in higher education for undocumented students. Undocumented young adults reconcile with (social and cultural) inclusion and (political and legal) exclusion (Gonzales, 2016). Thus, they experience perpetual liminality in a continuous flux of belonging and not belonging. This proposed conceptual model aims to explore the liminal space—an in-between (Beech, 2011; Turner, 1969), ambiguous space where the intersection of salient socially constructed identities collide and how interlocking oppressive structures result in further marginalization of these groups (Mitchell, 2014).
Educational researchers have used the term liminality or liminal status to refer to an ambiguous transitional state for undocumented students (e.g., see Gonzales, 2016; Gonzales & Burciaga, 2018; Pérez, 2012; Suárez-Orozco et al., 2011; Teranishi et al., 2015; Torres & Wicks-Asbun, 2014). For undocumented students enrolled in higher education, liminality shows up in two ways: (1) educational institutions serving as a liminal, transitory state until they graduate and (2) their status as an undocumented student due to the ambiguity of their liminal identity. Liminality cannot be limited to solely referencing social identities and processes of transition. For undocumented Students of Color, liminality exposes interlocking systems of oppression they experience in higher education institutions that shape their life trajectory.
DISCOVERING LIGHT WITHIN DARK, COMPOUNDED FORMS OF OPPRESSION THROUGH LIMINALITY
Undocumented Students of Color are at the epicenter of this discussion due to their distinct ways in experiencing overlapping layers of oppression through racialization, criminalization, and demonization in public discourse. Intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1989, 1991) provides a tool to analyze their intersections that can unveil hidden mechanisms operating in the reproduction of inequities in society. An intersectional lens clarifies what has intentionally been obscured by those in power who want to stay in power. This proposed model recognizes the interlocking systems of oppression based on nativist, racist, and xenophobic ideologies which have material consequences that insidiously discriminate ← 18 | 19 → through institutional policies and practices. I draw on Pérez Huber and colleagues’ (2008) theoretical framework on racist nativism, Kim and Sundstrom’s (2014) conceptual analysis on xenophobia and racism, and Higham’s (1955) work in nativism in conjunction with Sundstrom’s (2013) philosophical analysis of xenophobia. While important to distinguish the differences between racism, nativism, and xenophobia, they cannot be understood in isolation (Kim & Sundstrom, 2014). At the intersection of their work is a frame to examine how xenophobia is rooted in racist nativist sentiments and disguises racism, anti-Black discourse, and Islamophobia through nationalism. Race is entangled and at the epicenter of this tripartite overlap due to its social construction in the United States.
Higham (1955) defines nativism as an “intense opposition to an internal minority on the grounds of its foreign connection” and “influence originating abroad threaten[s] the very life of the nation from within” (p. 4). Golash-Boza (2015) defines racism as having two parts: an ideology and its practices. Entrenched in the ideology is that “races are populations of people whose physical differences are linked to significant cultural and social differences and that these innate hierarchical differences can be measured and judged” (Golash-Boza, 2015, p. 131), and practices consist of micro- and macro-level “[subordination] of races believed to be inferior” (Golash-Boza, 2015, p. 131). Xenophobia derives from Greek origins; xenos meaning “stranger” or “foreigner,” and phobos meaning “fear.” Kim and Sundstrom (2014) expand upon this definition of fearing strangers or foreigners and define xenophobia as civic ostracism, an “idea associated with a distinct set of attitudes, beliefs, and affects that are about national inclusion and exclusion” (p. 30). All definitions encompass an ideology separating groups based on presumed inferiority, foreignness, and nativity in a society to justify practices that exclude, ostracize, and subordinate. When used separately or in pairs, these ideologies have the ability to shelter one form of oppression. For example, Islamophobia is a form of xenophobia but has been justified through nationalism (i.e., protecting a national identity). Therefore, prejudice against immigrants is disguised as patriotism, so if discrimination happens to Immigrants of Color who also identify as Arab, Muslim, or Sikh, ostracization through nativist and xenophobic reasoning are justified but conceals racism. Scholars have produced literature connecting concepts in pairs and analyzing their ideological weight and meaning, yet a conceptual model identifying the overlap and intersections between the three concepts remain nonexistent.
For undocumented Students of Color, intersectionality acts as a reference frame to acknowledge their multiple social realities reproduced by socially constructed categories and unveil overlapping systems of oppression in regard to racism, nativism, and xenophobia (see Figure 2.1). Their undocumented status adds a complicated layer in their reality within a liminal state of being. ← 19 | 20 →
The concept of liminality requires reframing since it has been traditionally defined in literature as an ambiguous, in-between state and often perceived in negative terms due to an association with fear and uncertainty. The state of being liminal for undocumented Students of Color can also function as a source of growth, sustenance, and building block for resilience. Occupying and living in multiple worlds where an undefined, ambiguous space exists cultivates divergent thinking (Anzaldúa, 1999) to maneuver through and around systemic and systematic barriers in this liminal space. In experiencing liminality, undocumented Students of Color tap into a new consciousness (Anzaldúa, 1999) that enriches their creativity, nurtures their sustenance, and builds their resilience. For example, undocumented students can also be in mixed-status families where they develop and prepare a contingency plan if government authorities imprison or deport family members. This type of pedagogical strategy of survival is a part of parental racial-ethnic socialization of families with members with undocumented statuses (Suárez-Orozco, Abo-Zena, & Marks, 2015). In terms of educational institutions, a study by Pérez (2012) of undocumented Latinx students in higher education revealed that educational ← 20 | 21 → institutions serve as a means of hope and reason for them to survive despite barriers. Muñoz and Maldonano (2012) found that undocumented Mexicana students develop positive self-identities fueling their persistence through college despite oppressive discourses of race, gender, and class in the classroom and contemporary United States. According to Suárez-Orozco (2015), undocumented youth “actively attempt to construct an identity that empowers them to believe in their self-worth” (p. 26) rather than be confined and defined by their undocumented and liminal status. Liminality forces undocumented Students of Color to develop strategies of survival within oppressive structures, like higher education institutions, where their networks share resources with one another; sharpen their ability to assess people and situations (i.e., who to trust and disclose information); and learn ways to cope with stigma, frustration, fear, and anxiety (Suárez-Orozco, 2015).
In addition to experiencing race and racism due to phenotypical characteristics society attributed to a particular racial category, immigrants can be characterized by accent, generation status, and citizenship status. Through an intersectional lens, these characteristics offer a way for researchers to critically examine how Immigrants of Color continue to be racialized, criminalized, and demonized with a compounded layer of being undocumented.
Researchers need an analytical nexus to explicitly connect racism, immigration, and higher education. Historically, the literature on these topics exists in separate vacuums. Immigration literature has focused on assimilation theories and perspectives based on the experiences of White Europeans which neglect the racial impact for Immigrants of Color when they are encouraged to assimilate in the United States (Sáenz & Douglas, 2015). Moreover, immigration studies have traditionally focused on demographic aspects of immigration and has not incorporated social processes into the analysis (e.g., social construction of race and citizenship; Sanchez & Romero, 2010). The exclusion of race in immigration literature becomes problematic as Immigrants of Color experience overlapping layers of subordination and subjugation through their racialized and criminalized experiences in the United States. Thus, they become targets in institutionalized forms of violence (e.g., raids, midnight searches, city ordinances, and changes to social services legislation; Sanchez & Romero, 2010).
Institutionalized forms of discrimination are embedded within policies and practices of institutions and act as hidden mechanisms that maintain racial and social hierarchies. Johnson (2009) recommends scrutinizing immigration law and connecting it to race and immigration scholarship—as it has not been done enough—because historically, it has been designed and continues to operate to ← 21 | 22 → prevent poor and Noncitizens of Color from immigrating to and from the United States. There is a necessity in explicitly connecting racism, nativism, and xenophobia in educational research to illuminate the ways undocumented Students of Color experience systemic and systematic oppression in our educational structures (Fan, 1997; Garcia, 1995; Gordon & Lenhardt, 2007; Johnson, 2000, 2009, 2011; Martínez, 2012; Romero, 2006, 2008; Sáenz & Douglas, 2015; Sanchez & Romero, 2010). As the immigrant population in the United States continue to be non-Europeans and are primarily Immigrants of Color, intersectionality provides a promising reference frame to explore, analyze, and identify how historically marginalized groups continue to be oppressed in our institutional structures like higher education.
Future research should include exploring the experiences of Black immigrants, who continue to be an increasing population in the United States in recent years. Primarily, immigration research and discourse has focused on the experiences of Latinx and Asian populations, and these conversations need to expand to immigrants from African, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern countries. While the experiential knowledge of Immigrants of Color includes pedagogies of migration (Benavides Lopez, 2016), this research comes from Chicanx and Latinx immigrants. More research needs to be conducted to understand the nuanced ways undocumented Students of Color know and learn pedagogical strategies to survive and thrive in hostile sociopolitical contexts where they are racialized, criminalized, and demonized in addition to navigating higher educational spaces. This conceptual model leads back to the theoretical realm of research where researchers can continue to ask questions that have not yet been asked to shed light on the unique, nuanced experiences of undocumented Students of Color to provide them the necessary support in all facets of life.
Cherrie Moraga (2015) wrote, “It is in the nightmare that the dream is found” (p. 34) when interpreting one of Audre Lorde’s poems. When using intersectionality to examine the interlocking systems of oppression for undocumented Students of Color and having a frame to conceive their liminal space, researchers can begin to untangle complex social phenomenon to understand educational trajectories and outcomes of immigrant youth situated within a continuum of historical, political, economic, and social contexts. Furthermore, frames can uncover what has been rendered invisible. Reframing concepts illuminate connections where frames intersect and align (Snow & Benford, 1988) to transform society and reimagine future possibilities. Researchers need to continue to theorize—even in the absence of information—by retooling traditional methodologies and reconceptualizing concepts in research to expand frames of reference. Given the recent sociopolitical climate in the United States, research needs to acknowledge historical and social connections—bounded by a common thread that sustains White supremacist ideology and practices. This chapter uses intersectionality to analyze interlocking ← 22 | 23 → systems of oppression for undocumented Students of Color that can unveil hidden mechanisms operating in the reproduction of inequities. In doing so, society can continue to untangle complex social phenomenon and contribute to an understanding of issues like immigration and globalization. Thus, society can transcend thinking beyond disciplinary boundaries to transform future research, policy, and practice in higher education for all students.
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Activists, scholars, and researchers in education studies (Bettie, 2003; Patel, 2013), higher education (Abes, Jones, & McEwen, 2007; Mitchell & Means, 2014; Strayhorn, Blakewood, & DeVita, 2008, 2010), human rights (Raj, Bunch, & Nazombe, 2002), political science (Berger, 2004), and women’s studies (Collins, 2008; Davis, 1983; Lorde, 1984) have studied experience at the intersection of multiple identities and have argued for understandings and practices that acknowledge them. In this chapter, we argue that studying the legacies of critical legal studies, critical race theory, and, in particular, intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1991a, p. 58), a term first used by Kimberlé Crenshaw, can guide research about multiple targeted identities in productive ways. Crenshaw (1991b), an African American Woman, legal scholar, and critical race theorist, argued that dominant social patterns and systemic inequities affect the lived experience of groups and individuals who embody multiple targeted identities and that such patterns and inequities often produce “intersectional disempowerment” (p. 1245). Crenshaw’s conceptions of intersectionality deepen opportunities for activists, scholars, and researchers in higher education who are committed to studying racial and social justice, to theorize about experience at the intersection of multiple targeted identities and to strategize against dominant social patterns and systemic inequity.
Not only because Crenshaw (1991a) emphasized the importance of “the experiences and concerns of Black women” (p. 58), but also because too often White scholars committed to racial and social justice “tokenize” (Thompson, 2003, p. 13) the work produced by scholars of Color, we trace intersectionality to its first use ← 27 | 28 → by Crenshaw and her applications.1 Our aims are to situate the relevancy of intersectionality racially, historically, and politically, and to encourage White activists, scholars, and researchers interested in ideas produced by scholars of Color to study the context of the work produced by scholars of Color before applying it to their own. Thompson (2003) warned that, “taking the work of people of Color seriously requires studying their projects, not just quoting the occasional point that coincides with what we were going to say anyway” (p. 13). Personally, as White scholars, applying Crenshaw’s ideas means, too, representing the historical and political context from which she worked and celebrating the lived experiences she and her colleagues endured as they confronted predominantly White law schools, White colleagues, and White, conventional legal scholarship.
This chapter begins with introductions to the history, politics, and context of critical legal studies (CLS). Specifically, we address Crenshaw’s critique of neoconservative influence on antidiscrimination law and the ways her critique informed her ideas about intersectionality and the field of critical race theory (CRT). We follow these sections with Crenshaw’s (1991b) work on structural, political, and representational intersectionality. Lastly, we offer as example our application of Crenshaw’s ideas to DeVita’s (2010) study of Black, gay men in higher education. Ultimately, we argue that the application of Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality requires understandings of its historical and political context and offers activists, scholars, and researchers ways to critique the reproduction of power in the everyday subjugation of multiple targeted identities (Anders, DeVita, & Oliver, 2012; DeVita & Anders, 2014). In doing so, we invite readers to discern between scholarship that reflects Crenshaw’s conception of intersectionality and scholarship that represents intersections of identity.
The privilege that Whiteness provides in “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” (hooks, 1992), precludes any claim we (Anders & DeVita) might make about intersectionality and our own identities. Although Crenshaw did not exclude the possible application of intersectionality to analyze intersections of targeted and privileged identities (for example, the lived experiences of White women in higher education or White gay men in higher education), we argue that multiple targeted identities must remain prominent and centered in applications of intersectionality. As White folks, using intersectionality to theorize about our own lives would mean altering Crenshaw’s arguments about multiple subordinations in order to fit our own needs. Other language and concepts exist for us to refer to our experiences. For example, “intersections of identity” reflects the general concept without misappropriating or co-opting the history and politics of Crenshaw’s conceptions or applications of her term. Our approach is not prescriptive, as we believe each individual scholar must face the burden of application (DeVita & Anders, 2014). For us, keeping multiple targeted identities prominent and centered in empirical studies that utilize Crenshaw’s work is what is important. We do not suggest that ← 28 | 29 → scholars count the number of multiple targeted identities to evaluate the applicability of Crenshaw’s work but instead clarify the ways that multiple targeted identities remain prominent and centered in their analyses.
CRITICAL LEGAL STUDIES
According to Crenshaw, Gotanda, Peller, and Thomas (1995), in the 1970s civil rights lawyers faced “attacks on the limited victories they had only just achieved in the prior decade, particularly with respect to affirmative action and legal requirements for the kinds of evidence required to prove illicit discrimination” (p. xvii). During the same time, in law schools across the United States, groups of predominantly White, neo-Marxist scholars began to organize with colleagues, teachers, and practitioners to challenge presuppositions of legal doctrine and critique the ways it legitimated and reproduced systemic inequities. Critical legal studies scholars argued that dominant ideologies affect the construction of legal doctrine. Specifically, critical legal studies scholars analyzed legal doctrine “to reveal both its internal inconsistencies (generally by exposing the incoherence of legal arguments) and its external consistencies (often by laying bare the inherently paradoxical and political worldviews embedded within legal doctrine)” (Crenshaw, 1995, p. 108). CLS scholars explicated the ideology and politics of court decisions rendered in the name of legal doctrine. Together with a network of “New Left activists, ex-counter-culturalists and other varieties of oppositionists in law schools” (Crenshaw et al., 1995, p. xvii), critical legal studies scholars encouraged students and left-leaning faculty to produce scholarship that confronted the myths of apolitical legal doctrine and a neutral legal system. Such analyses provided opportunities for scholars to identify ways that the practice of law creates, legitimates, and reproduces “an unjust social order” (Crenshaw et al., 1995, p. xviii).
For many CLS scholars, Antonio Gramsci’s (1992) work on hegemony elucidated the enduring power of the law, the limits of rights-based approaches in reform movements, and the dominance of an economic system that continued to exploit laborers. As do other institutions of the state, the legal system legitimates and reproduces hegemonic relationships of power. Belief in the myth of an apolitical and neutral system of law contributes to the system’s reproduction (Crenshaw, 1995; Kairys, 1998). Both the dominant and the dominated reify the law’s centrality and the order of the state by consenting to the power of the law and to their own subjugation to it. Critical legal scholars criticized “mainstream legal ideology for its tendency to portray American society as basically fair, and thereby to legitimate the oppressive policies that have been directed toward racial minorities” (Crenshaw, 1995, p. 110). They established the Conference on Critical Legal Studies and challenged the rising neoconservative rhetoric of equal opportunity in the 1970s. ← 29 | 30 →
Neoconservative agendas touted equal process and equality of opportunity arguments. Then and now, neoconservatives and many neoliberals argue that equal process, or access to equal protection under the law, addresses the axis of economic and racial inequity in the United States. Neoconservatives maintain that equal process is a sufficient doctrine; moreover, they contend that, “equal process is completely unrelated to equal results” (Crenshaw, 1995, p. 105). Decoupling equal process from equal process outcomes allows neoconservatives to ignore evidence of disparity along economic and racial axes, to reproduce the myth of color blindness, and to de-legitimate claims of discrimination based on race.
Crenshaw (1995) confronted the neoconservative rhetoric and argued that if color-blind policies were “the only legitimate and effective means of ensuring a racially equitable society, one would have to assume not only that there is only one ‘proper role’ for law but also that such a racially equitable society already exists” (p. 105). As the United States fails to reflect such histories, Crenshaw critiqued both the de-coupling of equal process from equal process outcomes and the myth of color blindness:
Society’s adoption of the ambivalent rhetoric of equal opportunity law has made it that much more difficult for black people to name their reality. There is no longer a perpetrator, a clearly identifiable discriminator. Company Z can be an equal opportunity employer even though Company Z has no blacks or any other minorities in its employ. Practically speaking, all companies can now be equal opportunity employers by proclamation alone. Society has embraced the rhetoric of equal opportunity without fulfilling its promise. (pp. 106–107)
According to Crenshaw “only in such a society, where all other social functions operate in a nondiscriminatory way, would equality of process constitute equality of opportunity” (p. 106). In a society where groups of people have been treated differently, as is the case of the United States, advocates for the idea of color blindness deny the histories of exploitation, oppression, and disenfranchisement and their effects. Moreover, they silence interpretations of the world that center the relationship of ontology to epistemology. That is to say, the ways one is located and positioned in the world and the ways one is classed, gendered, and raced, affect one’s way of experiencing and knowing the world (Butler, 1999; Crenshaw, 1991b; Collins, 2008; Freire, 2000; hooks, 1992; Noblit, 1999; Noddings, 1992; Scott, 1999). Crenshaw signified Black experience as a meaningful and tactical response to neoconservative strategies designed to disrupt advocacy for economic and racial justice:
The lasting harm must be measured by the extent to which limited gains hamper efforts of African-Americans to name their reality and to remain capable of engaging in collective action in the future … If the civil rights constituency allows its own political consciousness to be completely replaced by the ambiguous discourse of antidiscrimination law, it will be difficult for this constituency to defend its genuine interests against those whose interests ← 30 | 31 → are supported by opposing visions that also employ the same discourse. The struggle, it seems, is to maintain a contextualized, specified worldview that reflects the experience of blacks. The question remains whether engaging in legal reform precludes this possibility. (p. 107)
Crenshaw urged African Americans to name their own realities in order to remain “capable of engaging in collective action” (p. 107). The challenge, she wrote, would be “to maintain a contextualized, specified worldview that reflects the experience of blacks” (p. 107). Crenshaw’s critiques of neoconservative influence on interpretations of antidiscrimination law and her advocacy for the centrality of Black experiences in political action historicize her work on intersectionality. Ultimately, both the critiques she provides and the emphasis she places on experiences and identities in African American communities inform the development of CRT.
CRITICAL RACE THEORY
According to Crenshaw et al. (1995), although CLS scholars disrupted conventional thought and teaching in many law schools through analyses of hegemony in legal doctrine, questions of racial power were not part of the dominant discourse in CLS. The absence of analysis regarding institutionalized racism and experiences of coercion and threat by targeted groups and individuals remained unexamined (Crenshaw, 1995; Delgado & Stefancic, 2001). In the 1970s, “race crits” (Crenshaw et al., 1995, p. xxii) began discussing racial power within CLS and the historic dismissal of rights-based arguments in CLS. Although race crits agreed that rights discourse was indeterminate, many believed that a “rights discourse held a social and transformative value in the context of racial subordination that transcended the narrower question of whether reliance on rights could alone bring about any determinate results” (Crenshaw et al., 1995, p. xxiii). As analyses of racial power expanded in CLS the differences between CLS and analyses emphasizing contexts of race and racism eventually produced a body of scholarship that reflected what scholars think of now as critical race theory.
CRT was named such in order to specifically locate it at the intersection of critical theory, race, racism, and the law. Activists and scholars in the CRT movement sought
to understand how a regime of white supremacy and its subordination of people of Color have been created and maintained in America, and, in particular, to examine the relationship between that social structure and the professed ideals such as “the rule of law” and “equal protection.” (Crenshaw et al., 1995, p. xiii)
They sought not merely to “understand the vexed bond between law and racial power but to change it” (Crenshaw et al., 1995, p. xiii). In contrast to positions in ← 31 | 32 → the civil rights movement, many of which embraced incrementalism, critical race theorists questioned “the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law” (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001, p. 3).
According to Delgado and Stefancic (2001), CRT scholars argue that, “racism is ordinary, not aberrational” (p. 7) and the history of White supremacy and White dominance in the United States creates a racial hierarchy that serves the social and material purposes of Whites. CRT scholars argue that White elites acquiesce to change for racial justice only when the change produces benefit for them. CRT scholars studying this process named the response of White elites to targeted groups: interest convergence.
In an ongoing debate among CRT scholars, racial realists argue that racism is permanent; racial idealists do not. Many racial realists analyze issues of structural determinism. Some study the reproduction of legal precedent, others the diversity and at times conflict of Black interests in civil rights cases. Others analyze relationships of power always already present in everyday and judiciary contexts and critique the notion that empathy will generate equity amongst competing narratives of reality. Still others study the relationship between court decisions and the maintenance of the racial hierarchy in the status quo. Many CRT scholars critique liberalism, because neoconservative and neoliberal agendas that perpetuate the rhetoric of color blindness limit redress, and therefore, allow condemnation of only the most “egregious racial harms” (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001, p. 22). Relatedly, CRT scholars critique the ways rights-based tactics failed to produce substantive change. Other CRT scholars analyze the way “society invents, manipulates, or retires when convenient” (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001, p. 7) particular constructions of race. Many CRT scholars study ways race is socially constructed and deployed and differential racialization, or the ways “dominant society racializes different minority groups at different times in response to shifting needs such as the labor market” (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001, p. 8).
Related to differential racialization is Crenshaw’s (1991a, 1991b) concept of intersectionality. Crenshaw’s commitment to strategies for collective action amidst neoconservative and often neoliberal policymaking underscores the importance of analyses at the intersections of lived experience, identity politics, and context. The analysis and representation of lived experience of targeted groups and individuals generate evidence against a majoritarian history of the United States. CRT scholars, many of whom are racial realists, reexamine “America’s historical record,” in order to confront and replace “comforting majoritarian interpretations of events with ones that square more accurately with minorities’ experiences” (Delgado and Stefancic, 2001, p. 30). Celebrating and encouraging ontological and epistemological understandings of race and racism from the perspectives of targeted people, many CRT scholars pursue the production of counternarratives and legal ← 32 | 33 → storytelling. Analyzing the ways dominant groups, in this case elite Whites in the United States, position groups of people racially, culturally, and economically for their own purposes allows targeted groups to build collective action and deploy tactics against the prevailing economic and social order.
Kimberlé Crenshaw (1991a, 1991b) is recognized as the first scholar to name and theorize the term intersectionality. She used intersectionality to conceptualize the intersections of race and gender in her analyses of antidiscrimination in legal cases, for example, cases where Black women and non-English-speaking immigrant women of Color were plaintiffs. Crenshaw criticized the courts for forcing Black women and non-English-speaking immigrant women of Color to articulate discrimination along only one category of identity. Crenshaw argued that “the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism” and that “any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated” (p. 58). The experience of racism and sexism is neither discrete nor summative for women of Color. Women of Color do not experience racism in the same ways that men of Color do, nor do they experience sexism in the same ways that White women do. Procedurally, the courts denied the existence of everyday lived experience at the intersection of multiple targeted identities. Antidiscrimination law failed to account for the experiences of women of Color.
In Mapping the Margins, Crenshaw (1991b) conceptualized structural intersectionality, political intersectionality, and representational intersectionality. To illustrate structural intersectionality, Crenshaw represented the issue of domestic violence and analyzed the issues of gender and race at the intersections of employment and housing, access and relationships to court advocates, and English as the language of the court in domestic violence cases. She examined the qualitative differences between women who have racial, economic, and linguistic privilege, and those who do not.
Crenshaw’s (1991b) work on political intersectionality assessed the ways identity politics affect experiences of and participation by women of Color in collective action. Crenshaw demonstrated political intersectionality by analyzing the ways dominant political agendas and social movements separate the politics of women of Color into two (minimally) different subordinated groups: people of Color in pursuit of racial equity and women in pursuit of gender equity. Because collective action for antiracist practice and policy is central to Crenshaw’s work, finding ways to analyze and navigate productively identity politics across multiple targeted identities is paramount. ← 33 | 34 →
As an analytical tool, representational intersectionality demands the inclusion of multiple targeted identities and the discourses produced around and through them when the representation occurs of a single targeted identity. Crenshaw (1991b) warned: “when one discourse fails to acknowledge the significance of the other, the power relations each attempts to challenge are strengthened” (p. 1282). Representational intersectionality offers scholars a way to analyze the absences between the everyday experience of multiple targeted identities and the ways media produce representations of women of Color for consumption.
Structural Intersectionality and LGBTQ Populations in Higher Education
Crenshaw’s (1991b) structural intersectionality emphasized the ways that the everyday discourses, policies, and practices of an institution target the experiences of women of Color and immigrant women differently than those of a dominant group, in this case, White women. In higher education, ideally LGBTQ (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) individuals of Color will encounter systems of support that celebrate their identities. However, too often these institutions fail to support students holistically. For example, according to Strayhorn, Blakewood, and DeVita (2008, 2010), many college campuses develop cultural centers to provide support for targeted students. Typically, these centers reflect only one axis of identity (e.g., Black cultural centers and LGBTQ centers). Even on campuses where collaboration is encouraged, supported, and realized, these centers represent the ways campuses have been structured to recognize the issues faced by students from specific targeted groups at the expense of individuals who must navigate multiple targeted identities. The resources, though important, are inadequate when students who embody and enact multiple targeted identities must negotiate everyday campus politics and potential discrimination.
Indeed, research on the experiences of Black gay males at predominantly White institutions (PWI) conducted by Strayhorn et al. (2008, 2010) found that Black gay males seldom felt comfortable in either of the spaces established to support their identity affiliations: a Black cultural center and a LGBTQ center. Black gay male undergraduates at PWIs frequently experienced homophobia in the Black cultural center and racism in the LGBTQ center. Experiences with discrimination in both places forced them to choose the least oppressive space. The development of separate resource centers is directly linked to tensions associated with a lack of systemic support for a particular group (i.e., Black or LGBTQ), thus it should not be surprising that the distance established between physical spaces produced equally disparate social and political climates (Bentley Historical Society, 2007). Individuals who identify as non-White and LGBTQ are forced to endure targeting of their identities by institutional structures in ways individuals who identify as White and LGBTQ or non-White and straight do not. ← 34 | 35 →
On many campuses, it is not feasible to alter the physical spaces (i.e., distinct cultural centers) that have been established. Thus, programming and other initiatives must provide support to address structural intersectionality. Educational programming focused on LGBTQ topics (e.g., safe zones, safe spaces) should be inclusive of discussions that examine the intersections of LGBTQ identities with other targeted identities (e.g., race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status). The failure to include other axes of identity reifies the whitewashing of LGBTQ identities and further marginalizes racial identities.
Additionally, a common feature of educational programs is the issuance of a card or sign, which indicates that the individual has completed the training and is a “safe resource” for LGBTQ people (Consortium, 2013). This sign becomes a public proclamation that an individual is an LGBTQ ally, presumably with the ability to support all LGBTQ individuals, including those with multiple targeted identities. However, programs that reflect the neoconservative myth of color blindness ignore the explicit experiences and needs of non-White LGBTQ individuals and affirm a White normative view of LGBTQ topics on campus. Such programs re-center White privilege and limit the potential support for LGBTQ individuals of Color.
Political Intersectionality and LGBTQ Populations in Higher Education
Paying close attention to political intersectionality may improve communication and resources in higher education and open new spaces for collective action. For example, the policies and initiatives supported by LGBTQ groups are whitewashed often by a lack of attention to the experiences and needs of non-White LGBTQ individuals (Teunis, 2007; Ward, 2008). Ward’s (2008) research on an LGBTQ community center revealed numerous practices that aligned with White normative culture. The center “was sustained by its mainstream and corporate approach to diversity” (p. 582). Similarly, Teunis (2007) characterized various LGBTQ organizations’ foci on marriage equality and military service as political agenda items that primarily privileged White, gay individuals. Teunis described the absence of attention to the intersections of identity in the pursuit of marriage equality this way:
In the struggle for marriage equality, spokespersons are very generally white women and men who display little or no concern for critical political issues that face gays and Lesbians of colour. That these struggles promote whiteness is not due to the inherent nature of the issues, but rather due to the manner in which they are promoted and in which they usurp all other concerns that drive the community. (p. 268)
Similar tensions face LGBTQ cultural centers on college campuses. First, although centers exist on over 200 campuses across the United States and Canada ← 35 | 36 → (Consortium, 2013), only three such centers exist at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs; Human Rights Campaign, 2013). The prevalence of centers at PWIs suggests that services and support for LGBTQ individuals, educational programming for heterosexual individuals, and LGBTQ-inclusive programs for all individuals are more likely to be present at PWIs, and therefore, more likely to reflect policy and practice generated in and reproduced by White normative culture.
While a meaningful campus resource, the creation of a center based along a single axis of identity at a PWI likely primes White potential L, G, B, T, or Q identified-students for leadership roles. As Teunis’ (2007) and Ward’s (2008) findings suggest, White LGBTQ leadership must actively center experiences of LGBTQ people of Color in order to produce an inclusive platform in agenda setting. Institutional inclusion and inclusive organizing are paramount as Crenshaw (1995) wrote:
The struggle for blacks, like that of all subordinated groups, is a struggle for inclusion, an attempt to manipulate the elements of the dominant ideology in order to transform the experience of domination. It is a struggle to create a new status quo through the ideological and political tools that are available. (p. 119)
An intersectional approach to support individuals with multiple, targeted identities would include an examination of the ways in which different identity groups could align resources and energies to benefit from a common goal. “Alliance means action” is one theme that we (Anders & DeVita) have produced from in vivo coding and pattern coding (Saldaña, 2011) from an interview study with LGTQ-identified faculty, staff, and students in higher education. Participants articulated a distinction between heterosexual individuals, who only identify as an “ally” through the posting of a safe zone or safe space placard, and those who engage in activities, events, and policy changes that support LGBTQ communities. One participant, a White male faculty member who identified as gay, discussed his frustration with passive “allies,” arguing that shared ideology and active political engagement was the tactic LGBTQ communities and their allies needed to use. As he explained: “We need to join in what is called ideology politics. Joining with people of like minds, of like visions of the world, from different identity groups.” He and other participants discussed the need to work toward equal rights that demonstrate support for LGBTQ individuals on campus, such as partner benefits, gender neutral bathrooms, and inclusive policies and practices across all parts of higher education.
Relatedly, racial inequity persists on college campuses (Liptak, 2013). One such initiative is the development of an “anti-racism” working group as part of the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals (Consortium, 2013). The consortium is an international organization comprised of administrators who work at institutions of higher education. The inclusion of an “anti-racism” ← 36 | 37 → working group centered issues of antiracism within the consortium. Such inclusion is one example of how individuals and professional entities can begin to diversify political agendas and collective action.
Representational Intersectionality and LGBTQ Populations in Higher Education
Often in higher education, faculty and staff fraction into separate spaces in acknowledgement of LGBTQ individuals of Color. Consider the following examples: (a) end of year recognition ceremonies that honor students of Color (e.g., Black graduation ceremony) and LGBTQ students (e.g., Lavender graduation); (b) separate commissions or committees that give voice to faculty, staff, and students of Color, and LGBTQ faculty, staff; and (c) educational programming and events (e.g., film series, speaker series) that invite individuals to discuss issues of race/ethnicity or LGBTQ topics—and that may or may not be cosponsored by multiple offices or student organizations. In each of these examples, the representation of a single axis of identity is reified. Institutional structure, campus organization, and professional practice reinforce monolithic conceptions of identity. Unfortunately, everyday practice rarely includes critical consideration of individuals. Often targeted individuals are supported partially but never holistically.
Consider the additional example of center hiring practices and the diverse populations of individuals that center directors and staff must represent. At LGBTQ centers, student affairs professionals and students assume that the leadership must identify as Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. Often the LGBTQ center leadership then becomes the people who represent all LGBTQ issues for the campus. Similarly, student affairs professionals and students assume that the leadership at a Black cultural center must identify as Black or African American. The Black leadership becomes, too, the people who represent all Black issues for the campus. Certainly, targeted group experiences inform practice in campus centers. Here we are not arguing that the recruitment and retention of LGBTQ-identified staff and staff members of Color is not important; it is important. Rather, we are emphasizing Crenshaw’s (1991a, 1991b) point that individuals with multiple targeted identities must work against multiple systems of oppression. Critiquing contemporary analyses of representation, Crenshaw (1991b) argued that
[D]ebates over representation continually elide the intersection of race and gender in the popular culture’s construction of images of women of Color. Accordingly, an analysis of what may be termed “representational intersectionality” would include both the ways in which these images are produced through a confluence of prevalent narratives of race and gender, as well as a recognition of how contemporary critiques of racist and sexist representation marginalize women of Color. (p. 1283) ← 37 | 38 →
Administrators and student affairs professionals need to work against monolithic representations of targeted groups and complicate their understandings of how multiple systems of oppression affect students, faculty, and staff who embody multiple targeted identities.
CONCLUDING THOUGHTS ON CRENSHAW’S INTERSECTIONALITY
In this chapter, we introduced brief histories of critical legal studies and critical race theory. Crenshaw’s (1991a, 1991b) work on intersectionality stemmed from a rich history of neo-Marxist work on hegemony and the law, oppositional debate between neoconservatives and critical scholars on antidiscrimination law and equal process, the subsequent creation of color blindness by neoconservatives as a political tool, and the CLS critique of it as a myth. Centering the importance of ontology and its relationship to epistemology and in particular African American experience in her own work in CRT, Crenshaw reminded us to theorize carefully as well as tactically when we engage in racial justice work. Applying her concept of “intersectionality” means working with not only the legacies of CLS and CRT and the theoretical sophistication of political, structural, and representational intersectionality but also with the lived experiences Crenshaw and her colleagues endured as they confronted predominantly White law schools, White colleagues, and White, conventional legal scholarship. We invite readers to work with memory and care as they apply Crenshaw’s work to their own.
1. For a different interpretation of Crenshaw’s emphasis on the lived experiences of women living at the intersection of multiple targeted identities see McCall (2005) and Nash (2008). For a conceptual critique of the binary position between poststructuralism and essentialism, as represented in McCall (2005) and Nash (2008), see Moi (1999).
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