Kim Case (University of Houston-Clear Lake)
Please note: Instructors are welcome to use or adapt these teaching ideas for their own classes, provided the use is noncommercial and appropriate credit is given.
To help students: (1) understand intersectionality and the ways that multiple identities can interact to create social inequalities, (2) become more aware of intersectionality in their own life, and (3) develop prosocial teaching skills by educating others about different types of intersectionality
Intersectionality is a feminist sociological theory that describes how biological, social, and cultural categories such as gender, race, class, ability, and other dimensions of identity interact to create social inequality. In this action teaching assignment, known as the "Intersections of Identity Education Project," students learn about intersectionality and carry out a public education project that teaches others about the ways that intersectionality can lead to social injustice. These projects, which are developed with feedback from community members whose identity they concern, include videos, documentaries, games, workshops, handouts, and other educational materials. Once students have developed these materials and activities, they use them in a public education project and then write a paper connecting their project to course readings, theory, and concepts. The paper also includes feedback from the community and a discussion of what the student learned.
In 1989, Kimberle Crenshaw introduced the term "intersectionality" as a feminist sociological theory that describes how biological, social, and cultural categories such as gender, race, class, ability, and other dimensions of identity interact to create social inequality. Patricia Hill Collins (2000) also discussed a "matrix of domination" that explains how inequality and oppression are a function of complex identities in both privileged and oppressed groups. In a graduate course I teach entitled Psychology of Gender, Race, and Sexuality, students learn about intersectionality, apply the concept to their own life, and carry out a public education activity that teaches others about the ways that intersectionality can lead to social injustice. This example of action teaching, which I call the "Intersections of Identity Education Project," encourages students to develop their own educational brochures, websites, videos, blogs, and workshops that apply intersectionality to personal social identities and lived experiences while sharing knowledge with peers and the wider community.
The Intersections of Identity Education Project involves five basic steps, as given below.
STEP 1: Identify a Topic — In order for the students to effectively educate others, they first need to understand intersectionality and its application to real world social identities. Once they understand how intersectionality operates, they choose a topic as the primary focus of their project.
STEP 2: Select a Target Audience — With a topic chosen, students investigate options with regard to appropriate target audiences. For example, they explore community organizations for possible collaborations and reflect on essential considerations such as access issues. During this step, students narrow down the audience options and choose a target population.
STEP 3: Determine Access Needs — Students make contact with the target audience. For many students, this step leads to discussions with the target group to make sure the project meets the needs of the community. For others, they develop a plan for recruiting discussion participants to make sure effective public education takes place.
STEP 4: Develop and Implement an Education Plan — Students design their projects, creating videos, documentaries, games, workshops, handouts, etc., for public education. Students then conduct public education activities, making the materials they've developed available to the target community audiences.
STEP 5: Student Reflection — Each student writes a 5-7 page project reflection paper that connects the project to course readings, theory, and concepts. The reflection describes how they chose their topic and target audience, gained access and recruited participants, and implemented the public education activity. It also includes feedback from the community and a discussion of what the student learned.
Examples of Student Projects
One male student connected with a community group to provide workshops on masculinity, homophobia, and human trafficking to boys in juvenile detention. Another student contacted a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group and developed brochures for distribution to migrant domestic workers to inform them of their legal rights (brochures that reached more than 1,000 workers by the end of the semester). A third student created a video about forms of privilege and used the video to facilitate discussion about the topic via social networking. Other projects included a documentary emphasizing how Asian women and men are portrayed in popular films; a board game designed to teach players about oppression, privilege, and intersectionality; a website about income, race, neighborhood geography, and access to nutritional food; and an art project with a poster that explained how social identity affects opportunities, and art paper requesting comments.
When students evaluated the experience, they often said that their learning would last well beyond the course. One student wrote that the project helped her realize "we can change things one person at a time." Another recognized the value of real world applications of theory and proclaimed that "applied knowledge is key!" Two other students described their project this way:
"As an aspiring college professor, I... wanted to create something for my own future classroom. The handout included several board game-themed pictures (e.g., Monopoly, Risk) and interactive games such as a crossword puzzle to emphasize the multidimensionality of the matrix of domination. I offered my handout to sociology, women's studies, and education faculty to share with their students. I provided copies and asked them to post the handout online for their classes. Several instructors on our campus took the offer and used the handout in their courses. It was really intimidating to put my project out there [but] extremely exciting and motivating! I will never forget the lesson I learned not to be afraid to exhibit my work, and I will always remember feeling that I can help make a difference in education. What a lesson in self-efficacy this class brought to my life!"
"I... chose to create a video on the intersection of race, class, and the educational system. I distributed the video via email to many of the education faculty on campus with a brief note describing my class project and its potential relevance for their students. To reach a broader audience, I also posted the video to Facebook and wrote a blog to discuss the topic, inviting others to post personal stories involving race, class, and education. I found it to be quite rewarding compared to traditional final projects that require students to simply stand in the front of the class and present on something the class has talked about all semester."
As these comments suggest, the assignment helped students accomplish the goals of understanding intersectionality theoretically and in applied practice. Students committed themselves to creating change and became fully engaged in designing projects with maximum impact. The assignment's connection to raising awareness beyond the classroom walls brought intersectionality to life for many students. For those who chose to provide workshops and create brochures for outside organizations, this project also incorporated service learning. Some students reported that they planned to continue their public education activities and outreach after the course ended. The intersectional framework calls for applying theory to practice for social action, and student projects that educated the public achieved that goal. By taking the role of educator for these projects, students gained a deeper understanding of the complexities of identity and challenged overgeneralizations and stereotypes about social groups.
Tips on Implementation
When incorporating this project into an undergraduate course, instructors may wish to set deadlines for each step and provide detailed information and feedback for improvement along the way. An undergraduate version of this project might also work well by pairing students rather than having students carry out individual projects. In addition, instructors may need to help students identify target groups, contact community members, and gain access to the desired audience. Finally, given that students will be communicating with the public, it's useful to help students understand what to expect and teach them effective communication skills.
There are a number of free software programs and web resources that students might find helpful in carrying out their project, including Google Sites, Blogger, Xtra Normal, Soundslides, Camtasia (shareware), and Audacity. If the instructor can provide loaner equipment (e.g., video cameras and digital cameras), this will help ensure that interested students can create their own multimedia educational materials.
This action teaching project could be used or modified for use in a wide range of undergraduate or graduate courses on diversity (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, aging), cross-cultural or multicultural psychology, social psychology, self and identity, prejudice and stereotyping, or social stigma. In fact, the project could be used in virtually any course related to social justice by changing the main topic from "intersections of identities" to another core concept or theoretical framework.
Suggested Readings on Intersectionality
Collins, P. H. (2000). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment (10th anniv. 2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.
Crenshaw, K. (2012). On intersectionality: The essential writings of Kimberle Crenshaw. New York: The New Press.
Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory, and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 139-167.
Doetsch-Kidder, S. (2012). Social change and intersectional activism: The spirit of social movement. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Lykke, N. (Ed.). (2010). Feminist studies: A guide to intersectional theory, methodology and writing. New York: Routledge.