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Intersectionality: A Guide to Learning About Others

“Bigger than you or me. Discussions are healthy. Ignorance is not.”

― Amandla Stenberg

There is a lot of change going on in the world right now, and one of the best ways to keep up with news and be respectful towards our environment is to learn. Learn about yourself, learn about others, learn about anything - learning is key. That is why it is important to attempt to understand others’ identities, so that we can develop more genuine relationships, and respect our peers. Understanding someone’s identity is helpful, so that you can aim to understand their experiences in life. Not any two people have the exact same background, so there is always lots to learn - especially at a school as big at Virginia Tech, with so many different people.

What is intersectionality?

According to dictionary.com, intersectionality is defined as: “the theory that the overlap of various social identities, as race, gender, sexuality, and class, contributes to the specific type of systemic oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual”. This idea was first brought to the table by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a legal scholar, in her 1989 essay “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color”, according to a recent Care2 article. Crenshaw went on to become a Professor of Law at UCLA, specializing in studies of race and the law.

The social identities component of intersectionality include, but are not limited to:

  • Class

  • Race

  • Gender

  • Sexuality

  • Ability

  • Nationality

A good example of intersectionality in identity is this passage from this USA TODAY article: “A white woman is penalized by her gender but has the advantage of race. A black woman is disadvantaged by her gender and her race. A Latina lesbian experiences discrimination because of her ethnicity, her gender and her sexual orientation.”

The whole point of intersectionality within the idea of feminism is to make sure that the idea of feminism stays inclusive, since women are so diverse and have so many different parts of their identity that matter, especially when it comes to several issues such as the wage gap, reproductive rights and more.

 

What does this mean?

Intersectionality is all about making feminism inclusive. This means that anyone who considers themselves to be a feminist should account for all women in their definition of a “feminist”, including those of different identities, when they advocate. Not all women are the same, so this is just something to consider when speaking to others, posting on social media, or otherwise publicly stating an opinion. Is your language inclusive? Is it helpful at furthering all women? These are some things to consider when learning more about intersectionality and putting it into the context of everyday life.

Why is it relevant?

Intersectionality is relevant to the college-aged audience because it is essential to pick up this understanding while you are already in an educational environment, with so many diverse people around you. Virginia Tech is a school with an undergraduate population of near 30,000 students. We have students from Virginia, surrounding states, other parts of the United States and students studying here from other countries. On top of every person’s identity simply being different because they’ve had a different life, identity is made up of so many of these factors, which we need to understand. While primarily an issue for those who identify as women, intersectionality affects everyone on this campus in totality. Experiences from those who are and have been oppressed make a difference.

How to learn more

There are so many great resources for learning about intersectionality here at Virginia Tech! The first and best resource for direct information would be the cultural centers on campus in Squires. We are fortunate to have a hub of diversity in one place, with several identity-based centers, where you can find literature and people to help guide you to even more resources. These spaces include: American Indian & Indigenous Community Center, Asian Cultural Engagement Center, Black Cultural Center, El Centro (Hispanic & Latino Cultural Center), Intercultural Engagement Center, and the LGBTQ+ Resource Center.

These centers are staffed with directors and other campus advocates to help foster an inclusive community. The centers are open to the Virginia Tech student body, so people are welcome to come visit, and people that identify as the respective center’s identity stop by to pass the time, to host meetings and to study. Remember, every day people of marginalized identities do not owe you an explanation for who they are. Anyone would feel uncomfortable if someone random walked up to them and asked “So, what’s it like to be [female/latina/bisexual/etc.]?”, so don’t. A lot of people are willing to educate you and talk about themselves, but not everyone is, and that’s okay. Go into these spaces equipped with respect and an open mind.

Additionally, there are clubs and others groups on campus that represent other identities. A good way to get in touch with these organizations is to check GobblerConnect and join their respective ListServs. To name a few: United Feminist Movement, Hokie Pride, Disability Alliance and more. A good idea when considering learning more about an identity is to also check local resources beyond campus, so be sure to look into Blacksburg and Christiansburg community groups.

Some other helpful online resources to check out:

 

Where to put learning into practice

Once you have learned about intersectionality, you can make a difference on a personal level. You can take this information and put it into practice on our campus, and continue to learn and to use it once you join the workforce and beyond.

Listen to others, and consider what they are saying about their experiences and who they are. Remember that it is not your choice on whether their experience is valid. Do not interrupt, belittle, or otherwise attempt to shut down a person who is speaking about their identity. It can seem like second nature, when the world is full of distractions, but try to maintain eye contact and stay off of your phone when having a genuine conversation with someone.

Overall, intersectionality is something that affects all of us as Hokies, and women in general, with equal treatment among genders. Take some time to learn more about inclusion to make sure that you are in-the-know on the best ways to learn about the people around you and make the conversation more honest.

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Kaitlyn Horinko

Virginia Tech '19

Kaitlyn can usually be found 15 minutes early to wherever she's going, with Starbucks in hand. She is passionate about social media and finding new ways to advocate for mental health, and enjoys making playlists, road trips, and writing in her free time.
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