3 tips to make sure your campus activism is intersectional

the voice and vision of a new generation

3 tips to make sure your campus activism is intersectional

March 26, 2018

Just because you have the whole rainbow, doesn’t mean your advocacy is intersectional.

When you are planning activism events/dialogues/programs/etc., there are many questions you should be asking yourself. What am I offering? Who will this help? How will this help them? Who might be missing from the conversation? If you're asking these questions and the answers include communities that face multiple marginalizations, then congratulations! You have begun the first steps of making the activism that you do intersectional activism!

Intersectionality may seem theoretical to some, and like something you only have to worry about sometimes, but an intersectional activism is meant to be utilized 24/7, because intersectional issues exist all the time. For me, I not only embody queer and trans identities, I also embody Blackness. My  identities help me recognize the ways in which I can make my organization on campus more intersectional by incorporating multiple perspectives that can be used to create dialogue and include voices that may have been silenced for years.

Because intersectionality is so great, we should take time to give credit to the person who gave us this concept and theory; Kimberlé Crenshaw, an incredible Black Womxn, coined the term in 1989 and now “intersectionality” is largely used in critical theories, especially Feminist theory, when discussing systematic oppression.

Is the work being done in your organizations, campuses, and activism intersectional? Check out these tips and reflect:

1. Recognize who is talking and who needs to be heard.

In spaces where you are discussing oppression or discrimination against people of color, dis/abled people, LGBTQ and other marginalized identities, do not allow the conversation to shift to centering white, able-bodied, straight and/or cisgender voices. The harassment and discrimination faced by people who embody marginalized identities is best understood coming from members of those communities. Sometimes, we think that even if we do not represent the community that is being discussed we can add valuable insight - and that may be true in some cases - but always look around and see who is speaking up the most and who might be left out.

2. Make sure your language and spaces are accessible.

Accessibility is key to success in all types of organizing. Here are some things to ask yourself. Are you offering subtitles for presentations or ASL translators? Is your event wheelchair accessible, is the language accessible, or is it based out of specific, elite knowledge? Are you choosing a location where everyone can attend, offering braille program agendas, or childcare provisions? If you are on a college campus, many of these resources are available to you, and it is your responsibility as a student advocate to ask for them so that your club meetings, presentations, events, and other gatherings are accessible to all members of your community. The more your program, event, and language is accessible, the more the conversation will become diverse with multiple outlets of voices.

3. Recognize difference.

Oftentimes, it is easy to believe that LGBTQ+ people share a common understanding of what it means to be queer, but this does not always reflect our realities. It is important to recognize that some members of the LGBTQ community experience multiple, marginalized identities all at once, beyond just their gender identity and sexual orientation. If you are planning an event or club meeting, make sure that you have checked what else is going on on-campus that day and make sure it doesn't conflict with another affinity group's event. If you don't accomodate properly, you may be asking your LGBTQ members to choose between their identities. For example, if the Black Student Union meeting takes place on the same night as your Pride meeting, try to schedule them at different times, and look to see if their club leaders would be interested in having a joint-meeting or building a coalition for Black and queer students. All experiences of identity, and particularly ones that involve multiple, intersecting identities, are valid, and it is critical that we recognize when someone’s experience as queer is different from ours.

Intersectionality may be the buzzword of the moment, but we have a responsibility as student leaders to honor its original intention. Do not shy away from recognizing that people experience the world differently based on their overlapping identities and lived experiences. Due to the way we have been socialized to continue feeding systems of oppression, we often feel it is not polite or appropriate to formally recognize our differences. We see this when people are uncomfortable naming another person’s perceived race or asking for someone’s preferred pronouns. However, we must recognize these identities in an effort to step beyond our assumptions that our experience is homogenous. We must recognize our identities and limitations in order to make spaces more intersectional and accessible.

Briannah Hill is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and a junior at the University of Colorado, Boulder studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. They are the co-president of the QTPOC club on campus where they advocate mainly for queer and trans youth of color.

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