What We’re Reading: Teaching Intersectionally

illustration by Clare Reid

Whether we find ourselves in face-to-face classrooms or unexpectedly virtual ones, teaching well involves a lot of on-the-job, and frequently self-directed, training. Very few of us who teach in colleges and universities were given formal pedagogical instruction in our graduate programs. Fewer still were given any help thinking through the way that teaching and learning (whether remote or in-person) are necessarily, and productively, complicated by the diversity of teacher and student identities. That’s why it’s so helpful to find an article like “The promises and challenges of teaching from an intersectional perspective” by Susan Jones and Charmaine Wijeyesinghe (New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2011); clear thinking like this can help you to train yourself.

The authors describe the four central principles of intersectionality: (1) centering the experiences of people with traditionally marginalized identities (with a particular focus on race), (2) complicating ideas about identity, (3) making power visible, and pointing out the structures that support and perpetuate that power, and (4) promoting social justice. In a teaching situation, this means all sorts of things: making sure the students encounter authors who represent a diversity of experiences and backgrounds in course materials, for example, as well as avoiding making assumptions about students based on a single dimension of identity, and pointing out and addressing power dynamics in the class and institution. The authors lay out a number of helpful ways that these ideas can be applied in learning environments, and they also raise and respond to concerns that people might have in moving toward this kind of teaching.

These issues are as important as ever, and could get lost in the clamor for technological training if we’re not careful. Luckily, this article serves as an excellent primer for teachers looking to develop or clarify their thinking around identity in their courses. Of course, if you want even more training, check out our slate of upcoming webinars, or reach out to us if you’d like to have a conversation!