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Intersectionality & Higher Education

Theory, Research, & Praxis

Edited By Donald Jr. Mitchell, Jakia Marie and Tiffany Steele

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 Twenty-One: Theory to Practice: Problematizing Student Affairs Work through Intersectionality


← 248 | 249 → CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

Problematizing Student Affairs Work through Intersectionality


I call myself a mixture of different things. I don’t think anybody is one particular self…one particular group…there is a lot of hidden things in people’s backgrounds. They might look one way, but that has absolutely little or no bearing on their actual [experiences]…. I think a lot of people want to limit and kind of put people into boxes. (Sonic, a Latina college graduate reflecting on her identities)

For many students, their social identities are far more complex than signifiers imply, yet they are typically labeled based on just one of their social identities. For example, many student affairs practitioners understand the lived experiences and struggles of students from one particular social identity but may not necessarily consider students’ multiple social identities that are interlocking and intersecting. Unfortunately, working with students based on just one of their social identities has not resulted in increased levels of academic success. Intersectionality provides an important lens to examine both the complexity of individual identities grounded in multiple oppressions (Reynolds & Pope, 1991) as well as a framework for understanding educational inequities and pursuing social justice (Dill & Zambrana, 2009). This social justice agenda requires a challenging of essentialized and deficit-based understandings of social identities. More specifically, community cultural wealth (CCW) holds that individuals from nondominant communities draw on nondominant forms of knowledge, skills, and resources...

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