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Intersectionality & Higher Education

Theory, Research, & Praxis

Donald Jr. Mitchell, Charlana Simmons and Lindsay A. Greyerbiehl

Intersectionality is a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. A scholar of law, critical race theory, and Black feminist thought, Crenshaw used intersectionality to explain the experiences of Black women who – because of the intersections of race, gender, and class – are exposed to exponential forms of marginalization and oppression. Intersectionality & Higher Education documents and expands upon Crenshaw’s ideas within the context of U.S. higher education. The text includes theoretical and conceptual chapters on intersectionality; empirical research using intersectionality frameworks; and chapters focusing on intersectional practices. The volume may prove beneficial for graduate programs in ethnic studies, higher education, sociology, student affairs, and women and gender studies alike.
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Chapter One: Intersectionality, Identity, and Systems of Power and Inequality


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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; Torres, Jones, & Renn, 2009) and student affairs practice (Jones & Abes, 2013; Renn, 2004). 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, Jones, & Renn, 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,...

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