Intersectionality, a term developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989), is a theory that asserts that identities develop and exist at the intersections of socially constructed axes of experiences (Cole, 2009; Collins, 2008). In other words, a person’s identity at the intersection of gender, race, ethnicity, social class, ability, nationality, and citizenship status identities, to name a few, represents a distinct positionality that is lateral (rather than hierarchical), developed in mutual context, and distinctive.
Intersectionality theory calls for a movement away from singular definitions of identity to an understanding of identity development and experiences that is contextualized within larger societal frameworks of privilege and oppression and the ways that these mechanisms operate in people’s lives, particularly the lives of people with marginalized identities (DeBlaere et al., 2017).
Intersectionality theory was initially used to critically examine the experiences of women of color (Crenshaw, 1989). For instance, rather than attempting to understand their marginalization experiences in the context of sexism and/or racism, intersectionality theory called for the acknowledgement of the gendered racism experiences of women of color in general (Collins, 2008) and in STEM areas of the academy in particular (Dickens et al., 2020).
Moreover, intersectionality theory highlights that these experiences vary between women of color due to their racial/ethnic differences, social class, ability status, and sexual orientation. The utilization of intersectionality theory to understand and investigate the experiences of all people, but particularly the experiences of underrepresented minority (URM) women, has begun to permeate the social sciences and been specifically identified as critical to intervention development and evaluation with URM in STEM careers (Armstrong & Jovanovic, 2015; Dickens et al., 2020; Miriti, 2020).
Intersectionality theory informed each of Georgia State’s ADVANCE-IMPACT initiatives. It is explicitly discussed and presented as foundational to understanding recruitment, hiring, facilitating an inclusive climate, and mentoring. Importantly, by focusing on the experiences of individuals who have been historically rendered invisible due to their intersecting identities (Purdie-Vaughns & Eibach, 2008), all faculty experiences are better understood and commonalities between various constituencies can be highlighted (Cole, 2009).
Cole, E. R. (2009). Intersectionality and research in psychology. The American Psychologist, 64(3), 170-180.
Collins, P.H. (2008). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York: Routledge.
Crenshaw, K. W. (1989). Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine. University of Chicago Legal Forum, (1989, 139–168.
DeBlaere, C., Watson, L. B., & Langrehr, K. J. (2017). Intersectionality applied: Intersectionality is as intersectionality does. P. Mathis & C. Travis (Eds.), Handbook of the Psychology of Women. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Dickens, D., Jones, M, & Hall, N. (2020). Being a Token Black Female Faculty Member in Physics: Exploring Research on Gendered Racism, Identity Shifting as a Coping Strategy, and Inclusivity in Physics. The Physics Teacher 58(5), 335-337.
Miriti, M. N. (2020). The elephant in the room: Race and STEM diversity. Professional Biologist, 70(3), 237-242. https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/biz167
Purdie-Vaughns, V., Eibach, R.P. Intersectional Invisibility: The Distinctive Advantages and Disadvantages of Multiple Subordinate-Group Identities. Sex Roles 59, 377–391 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-008-9424-4
A Brief Explanation of Intersectionality: http://openbooks.library.umass.edu/introwgss/chapter/intersectionality/
Video on Intersectionality in Addressing Equity & Inclusion in the Workplace
Click here to watch directly on YouTube: https://youtu.be/O1islM0ytkE
Fact Sheet on Intersectionality, Association of Women in STEM: https://provost.gsu.edu/files/2023/03/AWIS_FactSheet_Intersectionalityv4.pdf