Golden thread: Intersectionality and celebrating diversity

Beatriz Acevedo

Category: Anglia Learning & Teaching

1 September 2021

Exploring intersectionality and celebrating diversity was one of the 'six golden threads' running through our 2021 Engage learning and teaching conference. As part of the conference, we asked 130 members of staff questions about their understanding and experiences of intersectionality using Padlet. Their responses were enlightening and gave us a lot to think about.

Although as human beings we are complex, diverse, and hold different roles, institutions and self-discipline try to put us into identity boxes. Each of us carry a heritage, a set of talents, traits, and values, that are related to our own life story.

Suddenly, in an institutional or educational setting we become reduced to a single identity: teacher, students, practitioners… where do we leave our other dimensions or multiple identities: artist, entrepreneur, sister, daughter, father, community leader, activist, family member?

What is intersectionality?

The thread on intersectionality refers to the analytical framework developed by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989, to identify the different factors of advantage and disadvantage, that intersect with each other. She introduced the idea of intersectionality to understand that apart from the challenges of gender, there are further aspects such as ‘race,’ social class, age, ability, religion etc., that can play a role when being advantaged or not.

This notion of intersectionality invites us not only to see the problems created by the different layers of our identity but how these complexities make us unique and powerful.

What our participants said

This shift in the understanding of intersectionality was an interesting element of the thread, not only as a challenge, but as an integrative aspect. One of the participants revealed how their ‘hybrid’ heritage that labels them as “different” or “Other” is perhaps a superpower, a “secret side” that allows them to navigate, understand and adapt into different cultural settings. To acknowledge this uniqueness and make sure that we are not allowing prejudices to cloud our experience of the other, and ourselves, is an art.

Moreover, the important thing here is how we are acknowledging, enhancing, and promoting this diversity of identities, this complexity of our students’ and colleagues' experiences, this potential to come together, from different places to become and to belong.

Adventures ahead

Another interesting aspect of the golden thread Padlet was the question about embracing uncertainty, and how shifting the narrative from challenge to adventure can change the way we are going through new times or changes.

This sense of adventure and possibility has been the main legacy of this conference. The key speaker regaled us with a candid and empowering message, without skirting thorny topics such as diversity, representation, equality, social justice. Likewise, the students’ takeover of the conference became an absolute hit and an eye opener in terms of the way we “talk” about certain issues, and the real changes in terms of curriculum, themes, visibility, and role models.

In all, this is one of the most exciting conferences in education, going beyond the common places, the papers, the conceptual frameworks, to dare to talk with courage, with passion and with questions that we all need to keep responding and asking!

Want to explore?

A list of wonderful resources was listed in this thread, thanks to the generosity of participants:

The Urgency of Intersectionality. Ted Talk by Kimberlé Crenshaw. 18 minutes of inspiration!

Diversifying the Curriculium. A list of resources about seeing differently, co-designing the curriculum, challenging what we know, hidden black and bipoc history, decolonisation of the curriculum, weaving different experiences and identities, and focusing on social change.

Zanele Muholi: Identity and Resisatance. An article about how art and activism can make visible the identities of black LGBTQIA in the work of Zanele Muholi, working in South Africa and beyond. Similar works on identity and feminism, can be found in the work of Paula Rego, now exhibiting in Tate Modern.

Resources on Intersectionality. A great resource courtesy of our champion and Anglia Learning and Teaching colleague Linda Brown on intersectionality.

Las Claves de Ochy Curiel. Feminismo decolonial. Walking the talk, a resource from Ouchy Curiel on decolonising feminism, in Spanish!




Find out more about the Engage: annual learning and teaching conference

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