My introductions to Intersectionality

I first learned about intersectionality while I was training to be a resident assistant at Michigan State University. We were talking about identities and assumptions and the leader of our training introduced the term. As soon as I heard it I felt it was the perfect way to think about identities. It reminds you that you are composed of multiple identities and that others are too. I also feel that the term reminds you that you can find connection with other people who may seem to be extremely different from you. I have moved away from residential life but I still think about intersectionality frequently.

Mainly I think about intersectionality with regard to its connection to life experiences. As a graduate teaching scholar I spend a lot of time reading about pedagogy and theories related to learning. I feel that good teaching requires the instructor to embrace intersectionality in their classroom. The revelation came to life for me when I learned about Paulo Freire’s The Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Critical Pedagogy. Critical pedagogy is a style of teaching that connects classroom material with student’s past life experiences (read more here). Most recommended teaching techniques in critical pedagogy revolve around discussion where students are asked to connect their own life experiences to the classroom. This teaching style makes the most sense for me because it is how I learn. I need to find a connection to the material- either to my own interests or with respect to something I can apply in the real world. For example the semester I realized I loved metabolism was when I was taking courses in biochemistry, nutrition, and toxicology. It was a really hard semester but half way through I had a light bulb moment where I realized the material I was learning about in each class was just a variation of what I learned in the others. I saw the relationship between the disciplines under the larger umbrella of studying metabolism.

Applying intersection in the future

With regards to intersectionality in the traditional sense- “the complex cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap or intersect” (Merriam-Webster, 2019), I don’t do a lot with that currently. I would like to though. Intersectionality is not a topic that gets brought up much in the world of science. It has a lot of potential too though- there is a lot of discrimination in the scientific world, both in the past and in the present:

Race- and gender-based bias persists in US science

(More) Bias in Science Hiring

Gender discrimination holding women back in veterinary practice

I think if we integrated more training in issues surround diversity and inclusion- such as intersectionality- to science graduate programs and professional programs (medical, veterinary, pharmacy, etc.) we would be able to cut down on discrimination present in science today.


Intersectionality. 2019. In Retrieved October 7, 2019, from

4 Replies to “Intersectionality”

  1. Thank you Sarah for your blog post. You gave this definition of intersectionality “the complex cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap or intersect”, but in you opened it up and really brought a different light to it. In your opening paragraph, I like how you took it in a different manner than the real definition. You looked at intersectionality in the manner that we are all composed of different identities and that actually allows us to make connections between each other. If more people were taught to look at the connections rather than discriminate against the differences, then the world would be a lot more inclusive.

  2. Hi Sarah! Thank you for your thoughtful post. I love that while you may have moved away from working in student affairs, you still find meaning in the things you learned while employed within that field of work. I enjoyed learning more in your post about critical pedagogy. Time and time again, students ask us as educators to “connect the dots” for them per se, and help them to see how the classroom content shows up in practice. I certainly learn better when I am provided opportunities to think about how what I’m learning in class actually informs my future career. I’d be curious to hear how you would suggest implementing effective and recurring diversity and inclusion trainings into science graduate and professional programs at Virginia Tech.

    1. Bre,
      I think that teachers should integrate discussions about diversity into their lessons throughout the semester. For example a class focused on genetics could integrate in a lesson discussing the fact that there is not genetic basis to races being superior or really different at all. Additionally, introduction or first year experience classes would be a great time to talk about diversity issues within our own discipline, such as in animal science we could discuss the history of the VT plantations and how we use them for some of campus facilities now, or could talk about stereotypes that exist and that they may encounter later on – to prepare students to be advocates for diversity throughout their time at VT.

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