The War Against (In)visible Intersectionality On College Campuses

fighting intersectionality on campus


Apr. 14 2017, Published 3:00 a.m. ET

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continue to play out both on our campuses and classrooms through the assumption of prescribed identity. In other words, we simply assume the identities of those we encounter on a daily and weekly basis along with the perceived battles fought. For instance: women’s health issues may not impact all women in the same fashion. Ethnicity, socioeconomic privilege, and sexual orientation complicate how women perceive threats to their bodies and access to health care.

Concurrently, women’s health issues don’t just impact women: partners and spouses shoulder the burden that family-related issues carry. If the scope of impact isn’t wide enough, friends, family, and co-workers serve in various capacities as support systems for those impacted by said issues. There’s a pattern here, women’s issues don’t impact all women exhaustively or only women exclusively; cue intersectionality.

While headlines plaster the notion of intersectionality among a number of feminist movements across the United States, this identification ideology is not new. Historical notions place the term on reserve for those experiencing marginalized oppression as expressed by authors such as Kimberle Crenshaw and Audre Lorde.

Intersectionality embodies a variety of identity components such as gender, ethnicity, nationality, and sexuality; however the term has evolved to absorb those not traditionally included in the discussion, such as varying mental and physical abilities. Although some of our identity components may remain static and visible, other invisible identity components remain as such until we feel safe or comfortable to disclose with those around us such as our sexual orientation or religious beliefs. Other components of our identity may change as we find appropriate with how we express ourselves through performance.

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For many students being on a college campus is the first interaction with multiple walks of life differing from their own. The human experience takes a number of different forms, but what’s unique about college is that everyone is here for the same purpose – to get a step closer to achieving your professional goals. We’d like to think that prejudices and presumptions are checked at the door, but that’s simply not true.

These various mindsets walk into our classrooms and they may never change. We have to be respectful of that informed choice. If anything, college ought to serve as the canvas for both students and faculty alike to learn from one another. A belief cannot be invalidated solely on your notion of what is moral or just, regardless of how strong your convictions may be.

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Intersectionality is all around us: in the classrooms the common thread is that we are all students; in some instances that’s all we have in common. Diversity ought to be embraced and celebrated through discussions, events on campus, and through active listening. The perception of a lack of commonality may also continue to perpetuate isolating divisions on our campuses. Agree to disagree, but regardless of your politics of personal agenda we have more in common than you think.

At the end of the day only you can identify yourself. What we can do is realize that these systems of both perceived and lived oppression are far more interdependent than perhaps anticipated.

Attending college and obtaining a college degree is a privilege not afforded to and by all, which may in itself be where the privilege ends for many students. Figuring out how to meet your tuition bill, juggling two jobs to cover your ever-increasing rent, carving time in your schedule to eat and not feel guilty for sleeping when you could be writing your term paper are all incredibly taxing on the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual fronts.

Studies argue that college remains a critical point for mental health among young adults, yet the issue of mental health continues to remain taboo both on and off campus. We are all in this, whatever it might be, together.

Instead of allowing intersectionality to maintain a negative connotation associated with perceptual notions of oppression, we can use the crosshairs of identity for good. Sure, issues of immigration and citizenship may not impact you directly, but it does impact the girl who sits behind you in your afternoon lecture. Her family, livelihood, and safety are all on the line – concepts that you as a woman, student, and human being can relate to on one level or another.

Even if you don’t see it, we are all fighting our own battles or maybe we’re fighting the same battle in our own way. You may not owe anyone your advocacy, but with the ever-changing shift of identity politics, paying it forward certainly doesn’t hurt.

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