Northwest’s Diversity and Inclusion Office hosted its second intersectionality workshop for students Oct. 12.
Associate Provost of Diversity and Inclusion Justin Mallett picked up where Adam Gonzales, former diversity and inclusion coordinator, left off with the fundamentals of intersectionality and how to use it in practice on campus and in the Maryville community.
Intersectionality is defined as the interconnection of social categories such as race, class and gender as they apply to a given individual or group.
“The only way you can really get close to the personal experience through intersectionality,” Mallett said.
Mallett explained the three different types of intersectionality: structural, representational and political.
Political intersectionality focuses on the ways people belong to at least two marginalized groups and so often have to engage with different political agendas. Mallett shared the example of his biracial wife’s white uncle sharing his opinion at Thanksgiving dinner that “Barack Obama would ruin the United States of America” while Mallett and his wife sat quietly with their approval of the president and historical election.
This situation is not unique for underrepresented minorities, Mallett said. He said this year marginalized voters have one of the clearest choices they’ve ever had.
“I think there are concerns over voter suppression or their vote not being validated,” Mallett said. “There needs to be a change and they are going to take the better option.”
Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator N’ninah Freelon said a win this November for Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris would be “groundbreaking” for minorities both in gender and race.
“Little Black kids used to say ‘I want to be president,’ and people saw that as a pipe dream," Mallett said. "Obama changed that."
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion sent a survey out to all students regarding the racial climate on campus. This survey started in 2011, with only a select number of white students and underrepresented students polled. This year it went out to all students.
Mallett said this use of research and the importance of being proactive is leading the University to keep track of data including graduation rates for underrepresented students.
Starting this year, the University will publish an annual report online with updates on the climate at Northwest. Enrollment and GPA retention numbers, spending and other undetermined factors will also be included. Mallett said he is hopeful there will be progress to report.
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion began in 2016 following racial unrest at the University of Missouri in 2015. Freelon saw that as a reactive decision by Northwest but said she believes the University is making the transition from reactive to proactive.
“Our goal is to be completely transparent in everything we do,” Mallett said. “Change doesn’t happen overnight, but if we can listen and have one-on-one conversations, we will make progress.”
Junior Jordan Unger is an underrepresented student on campus, openly identifying as a gay man. He said his experience at Northwest has been positive.
“People come up to me and ask me questions, and I think because of the way I present myself with my rainbow fanny pack, it actually takes away room for negative experiences because I let stuff roll off my back, and I’m confident in who I am,” Unger said.
When Mallett asked the workshop audience if Northwest was a diverse campus, Unger didn’t hesitate to answer yes, citing the large international student enrollment this semester. Mallett agreed the University would say Northwest is a diverse campus, but there are still implicit biases to correct.
“I might see Jordan’s pack and think he’s LGBTQ, but he could also just be a strong ally,” Mallett said. “Ask the questions, get to know someone.”
Kimberlé Crenshaw, a professor of law at UCLA and Columbia Law School, discovered that the dominant approach to discrimination tends to focus on exclusions occurring within a single identity. She focused primarily on the experiences Black women in the ’80s trying to obtain jobs. Crenshaw found that simply adding racism and sexism together does not address the ways in which Black women are marginalized, which led her to name the concept of intersectionality.
Mallett concluded the presentation with the challenge of being able to have a conversation around intersectionality without discussing race. According to Mallett, there are other conversations that need to happen on and off campus.
“We only think in the singular,” Mallet said, pointing to his skin. “We don’t think in any other concept. We tell our faculty all the time if you’re willing to make yourself vulnerable and tell your story, you may find closer relationships than you think.”