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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 Six: Realizing the Power of Intersectionality Research in Higher Education


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As postsecondary institutions have become more diverse, higher education scholarship has increasingly focused on diversity-related topics. For example, higher education research on the benefits of diversity, campus racial climates, and racialized campus cultures has become more common (e.g., Harper & Hurtado, 2007; Museus & Jayakumar, 2012). It is important to acknowledge, however, that this research can simultaneously contribute to a common diversity and equity agenda, while rendering particular identity groups voiceless within that narrative. If higher education research aims to increase understanding of all students in higher education and inform ways to maximize the likelihood that they will thrive, it is important for postsecondary education scholars to seek to excavate the voices of all marginalized populations and generate authentic understandings of these groups. In this chapter, we highlight intersectionality as a valuable conceptual lens and analytical tool for achieving these ends (Museus & Griffin, 2011).

Intersectionality has been described as an “analytic sensibility…a way of thinking about the problem of sameness and difference and its relation to power” (Cho, Crenshaw, & McCall, 2013, p. 795). Intersectionality was first introduced in the legal field but has been adopted and has informed discourse in multiple disciplines—including gender studies, ethnic studies, sociology, and education—allowing researchers to excavate many voices and experiences marginalized by dominant narratives (e.g., Cole, 2009; Museus & Griffin, 2011). As a concept, intersectionality suggests that the confluence of systems of...

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