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The University of Utah celebrated its first Day of Intersectionality on October 6, 2022 with a roundtable on student activism and an open discussion on intersectional pedagogy. The day of celebration and learning was hosted in partnership with the division for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and the School for Cultural and Social Transformation.  

Professor Kathryn Bond Stockton, Dean of the School for Cultural and Social Transformation (Transform), kicked off activities by reminding students of their role in creating the college. She noted that it was students’ activism and energy that led to Transform, which is now “the only free-standing college for intersectional inquiry in this country” and the recipient of a prestigious grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its intersectional studies collective.  

During the student roundtable, “Intersectionality in Practice: Student Leadership and Activism,” Somos Dreamers Co-Chair Xóchitl Juarez-Cardenas explained the importance of intersectionality to her as an undocumented person and said that “intersectionality is a form of liberation.”

Alongside four of her campus peers from the Black Cultural Center (BCC), the Dream Center, the LGBT Resource Center, and the Center for Equity & Student Belonging, the student activism event explored the ways intersectionality can be used to promote more authentic and meaningful forms of inclusive practice. 

Sara Cody of the BCC said, “when we think about intersectionality, …we have to think about power and discrimination and we have to choose to empower and include.”

Salvador Oregon-Torres of the Dream Center agreed, adding “thinking about different identities as lenses can be a helpful analogy in considering how various identities shape individual and group experiences.”

He insisted that we need to start seeing who might be excluded from the activities, classes, and events we help organize. 

Beyond an organizational level, the group discussed what it means to value intersectionality in our individual lives.

Olga Rodriguez of the LGBT Resource Center said “it wasn’t until recently where I really saw the full power of my voice as a queer Latina.” She said, “when you stand up for yourself and for other queer people of color, you truly see [your ability to affect change].” 

Cody added, “We have to protect everyone’s magic … to protect each other.” She explained that this is especially important where it concerns students, who are often looking for resources and community, and needing our support.  

In the session on intersectional pedagogy, “Intersectionality: What is It and How to Work Towards Intersectional Pedagogy Across All Disciplines,” Kilo Zamora of Transform’s Division of Gender Studies moderated the open discussion. The conversation featured Ramón Barthelemy, an assistant professor of Physics and Astronomy; Lisa Diamond, a Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Gender Studies; and Cydney Caradonna, a Ph.D. student in Educational Leadership and Policy. 

“When we think about intersectionality, there’s a lot of misconception,” Zamora said. “It’s been interchangeable with the idea of just intersecting identities… but that’s way too shallow.”

Zamora and his fellow panelists discussed the rich history of intersectionality, and the role of black and queer women, like those of the Combahee River Collective who came before professor Kimberlé Crenshaw established the term in 1989.  

For Barthelemy, incorporating intersectionality on a deeper level in his teaching means looking at the impact that physics has on society at large.

“A lot of my colleagues that talk about nuclear physics …don’t include the voices of the people who are actually impacted.”

Barthelemy raised the examples of the Japanese whose families died in Nagasaki and Hiroshima during the bombings, or “the indigenous Navajo community whose land was irradiated during the Manhattan Project.” He said we can’t just unlock these extraordinary new technologies and think it’s enough; “we need to ask—well, how did that affect lives?

Professor Lisa Diamond pointed to the example of the AIDS outbreak in the ‘80-’90s as one tragic example of how intersectionality informs us. During that crisis issues of race, region, economics, and social arrangement all operated to make specific groups more vulnerable than others.

“Interlocking systems of oppression are not just ideas… they become actual disease processes. You literally cannot look at disease without considering the cascading intersectionalities!” 

Caradonna, who teaches in a women’s prison as part of the Utah Prison Education Project, uses intersectionality as she works on balancing her perspective as an abolitionist with the current reality of her students’ lives.

“For me a big part of showing up in that space is recognizing their identity as incarcerated individuals, but not from a deficiency perspective.” Instead, she said, it’s important for her to “[recognize] them as fully functioning adults in that space. They are not someone whose feelings I need to protect.”  

There are still many areas where intersectionality has yet to be fully explored—and where it may yet offer us vital new ways to understand and build our practices.

“We haven’t started to fully understand neurodiversity,” Diamond offered. She said an essential piece of our work must include making sure policies go beyond physical disabilities to include neurodiversity. And in issues of race, class, gender, sexual identity, and citizenship status and language, researchers are continuing to explore the implications of intersectionality to deepen and expand our knowledge of human experience. 

To learn more about the new intersectional studies collective, sign up for the Transform newsletter or visit the School for Cultural and Social Transformation’s website.

IntersectX12 mark

The Day of Intersectionality is part of the IntersectX12 initiative. IntersectX12 is a reminder that we must strive to honor individuals’ intersecting identities not only during nationally recognized months, so we encourage you to honor, celebrate, and engage with our communities every day, 12 months a year. As members of underrepresented groups have made and continue to make countless contributions to our campus community, IntersectX12 serves as a year-round acknowledgment of the work being done to create an inclusive space where everyone feels they belong.

Experiences  Identity  Intersectionality  IntersectX12  Social Justice