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Intersectionality, Orlando, and Higher Education

We cannot always understand the forces of the universe – nor do I think we should. Why events occur, what coalesces and emerges in the constant processual unfolding of lived experience, how we process cognitively, emotionally, psychologically, socially that which we are living through requires a certain presence – and openness.  The world, as Karen Barad (2007) states, is only momentarily intelligible.

I’m still processing Orlando.  But in the midst of this chaos, confusion, pain, grief, anger, and (love? hope? solidarity?), the universe once again (revealed? aligned?) disparate entities providing me some space(s) of momentary intelligibility.


Intersectionlity book coverIt so happens that this summer I am in learning community with doctoral students at Sam Houston State University. Together we are exploring “The College Student,” and one of the texts we are working with is Intersectionality and Higher Education: Theory, Research, and Practice (Mitchell, Simmons, & Greyerbiehl, 2014).  This week, we read several chapters, but I would like to focus on Chapter 3 (Anders & DeVita, 2014) and Chapter 6 (Museus & Saelua, 2014) – because these chapters, it seems to me, appear to tie into Orlando in some profound ways.

Anders and DeVita (2014) discuss the historical development of critical race theory, and its tie to intersectionality theory.  Part of this chapter’s discussion centers the difficult time we have, in research and practice, actualizing intersectionality in higher education.  Anders and DeVita discuss the intersection of sexual orientation and race~ethnicity in this regard, noting how “often in higher education, faculty and staff fraction into separate spaces in acknowledgment of LGBTQ individuals of color” (p. 41).  As a result, often “the representation of a single axis of identity is reified” and thus “targeted individuals are supported partially but never holistically” (Anders & DeVita, 2014, p. 41).

In the immediacy of Orlando, this is what began happening in the national media, as well as within the higher education and student affairs community.  We began discussing this event in monolithic terms – as an attack on the gay community.  This is to be expected, as a majority of the individuals who died in the attack were or are assumed to be gay men.  Pulse is a hangout for members of the GLBTQ community.

It was only after the initial shock that the national media, and others within the higher education and student affairs community, began talking in intersectional terms, highlighting how it was not simply gay or assumed to be gay individuals who died or were injured. Many of those who died or were injured were also Latinx, over half of whom were from the Puerto Rican community.  There are also among those killed or injured women, mothers, and likely those who self-identify outside gender binaries.

While we must account for fragmented social identities, we must also seek to understand how we care for and account for intersectionalities, both in Orlando and on our campuses.  Anders and DeVita (2014) discuss why this matters on campus – LGBTQ cultural centers must account for the unique experiences of people of color; racial and ethnic cultural centers must account for the unique experiences of LGBTQ students.

Accounting for this intersectionality in how we care about students and people holistically is beginning to be accounted for in the national media, although I would argue that it is alternative media who is covering these perspectives more thoroughly at present.  Democracy Now! had on, in recent days, Isa Noyola of the Transgender Law Center to discuss the intersections of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and immigration in relation to Orlando.  Additionally, Amy Goodman interviewed Daniel Leon-Davis and, importantly, Imam Abdullah, one of the first openly gay Muslim imams in the Western world.  We must remember to account for how Orlando intersects with religion and spiritual belief systems.  How do we care holistically for our Muslim community members who may be struggling with this tragedy – and the complex intersections of sexuality, gender, ethnicity, and immigration status that became entangled in this unfolding situation?  As Anders and DeVita (2014) remind us, we collectively “need to work against monolithic representations of targeted groups” (p. 42) in our journeys of solidarity; and in this case, healing.

Sexualization, Sexual Violence, and Domestic Violence

Museus and Saelua’s (2014) chapter discusses the complicated nature of sexualization and sexual violence on campus, particularly the intersections of ethnic identity with such violence.  This chapter focuses specifically on Asian Pacific American and Pacific Islander communities.

However, the larger points from the chapter might also be discussed in relation to Orlando.  We cannot, in my mind, disentangle the complicated power relationships between gender, masculinity, violence, sexual violence, and potentially internalized sexual violence in this case.  While the media speculates about the murderer’s sexual identity, and whether he was facing a sexual identity crisis, it is important to recognize that his understanding of gender expression in society was likely influenced by normative or “toxic masculinity,” and this lead not only to the massacre itself, but to the domestic violence perpetrated against his first wife.  We will likely never know whether the murderer was facing a sexual identity crisis – and it may not matter – because the violence he perpetuated had sexual undertones in some manner and fashion.  He was killing people he perceived to be gay, sexually deviant, gender non-conforming, or whatever term you wish to utilize.

These perspectives are all embedded in systemic systems of power based on normative conceptualizations of gender and sexuality, with foundations in many arenas: not just the Muslim religion, but many world religions, including (radical) Christianity; and within US culture as a whole.

Momentary Intelligibility

We were discussing these chapters in “The College Student” this week – why? Well, this just happened to be how the universe unfolded.  I was delayed in returning home from a wedding in Nebraska and thus had plenty of time to listen to the interviews Amy Goodman conducted on Democracy Now! following Orlando.  Intersectionality undergirds all of these conversations, and it should undergird how we discuss, process, heal, love, and hope following Orlando.  We need to continue pursuing more complicated and holistic examinations of the world.  Only in this way will we be able to have even any momentary intelligibilty about these complicated unfolding events.

Anders, A. D., & DeVita, J. M. (2014). Intersectionality: A legacy from critical legal studies and critical race theory. In D. Mitchell, Jr., C. Y. Simmons, & L. A. Greyerbiehl (Eds.), Intersectionality and higher education: Theory, research, and praxis (pp. 31-44). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Museus, S. D., & Saelua, N. A. (2014). Realizing the power of intersectionality research in higher educationIn D. Mitchell, Jr., C. Y. Simmons, & L. A. Greyerbiehl (Eds.), Intersectionality and higher education: Theory, research, and praxis (pp. 68-77). New York, NY: Peter Lang.

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