My Students Learned About Intersectionality, and They Built Empathy Too
February 22, 2022
With the help of an IFYC Racial Equity and Interfaith Cooperation Grant, Mona Ibrahim, a professor of psychology, added a unit on intersectionality in her Psychology and Culture course at Concorida College in Moorhead, Minnesota. Students read and viewed some key resources on intersectionality selected to help them understand how an oppressed aspect of one’s identity often intersects with other oppressed aspects of identity, and how that might compound the oppression that an individual may experience.
Students wrote journal reflections on each one of the intersectionality resources and had the opportunity to discuss these resources in the online forum for the course. Students who posted on the forum received feedback comments from the professor and from their peers. Students also had that opportunity to share their personal reflections and questions on the topic during the weekly class meetings.
To assess the success of this initiative, we qualitatively evaluated the frequency and quality of students’ reflections with respect to intersectionality. In addition, we also used quantitative survey items both at the beginning of the course and at the end of it, after students had learned the intersectionality unit, to assess students’ understanding of the concept of intersectionality.
American Civic Life
American Civic Life
American Civic Life
Analyses of the students’ journal entries revealed that 100% of the students showed correct understanding of the concept of intersectionality in their journal entries. Additionally, in their journals, 56% the students discussed how the course resources helped expand their prior understanding of intersectionality, and another 56% of the students related what they learned about intersectionality to their own multiple identities.
Importantly, 66% of the students explicitly discussed plans to implement their learning about intersectionality and translate it into action in their daily lives in order to become more responsibly engaged in the world.
Examples of student journal entries include:
“Crenshaw’s TED talk was quite influential… when everyone shouted these women’s names I got goosebumps from how impactful it was to see and hear that. It is so devastating to see how many scenarios are overlooked because of those who land at that intersectionality between race and sex.”
“I thought the quote ‘Sharing power instead of hoarding power among ourselves actually gets us further faster and enables us to do it together’ could be extremely relevant to our life today in a political sense … a great connection that could be integrated to make our world more peaceful.”
“I think intersectionality is so extremely important and something that a lot of people don’t think about … We are complex beings that contain multitudes and we should think of ourselves that way and approach every issue with that in mind.”
Quantitative survey data also revealed a statistically significant improvement in student understanding of intersectionality at the end of the course. The intersectionality resources improved student understanding of intersectionality at the end of the course by almost two standard deviation units compared to their understanding of the topic at the beginning of the course.
Later in the course, students watched the first season of “Little Mosque on the Prairie,” a Canadian sitcom about the lives of Muslim individuals with intersectional identities. To assess the degree to which the intersectionality resources provided for students are likely to have an impact on how they empathize and relate to others in the world, we examined the relationship between understanding of intersectionality and identification with characters in the show.
Correlational analyses indicated that students who understood intersectionality more clearly were likely to identify more strongly with characters in the episodes. This large correlation indicates that 52% of the variability in the level of student identification with the characters in the sitcom can be accounted for by the variability in their level of understanding of the concept of intersectionality. This finding was validating, as it indicates that the intersectionality resources that students learned are likely having an impact on how students empathize and relate to others in the world.