Editorial | DI Editorial Board on intersectionality in the classroom

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board supports DEI initiatives, recognizes the need for intersectionality emphasis.


Emily Nyberg

The Old Capitol building is seen on Monday Feb. 20, 2023. (Emily Nyberg/The Daily Iowan)

DI Editorial Board

The University of Iowa is not doing enough to support its students and staff of color.

At least, that is what the 2022 Campus Climate Survey revealed, as 73 percent of undergraduates belonging to marginalized minority groups said they felt welcomed at the UI. In contrast, 80 percent of white students said that they belonged at the UI.

Furthermore, the state Board of Regents’ handling of the UI College of Dentistry scandal and the football program’s alleged discrimination against Black players exemplify why some students of color feel unwelcome at the university.

It is in the best interest of the UI to reevaluate its diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and place greater emphasis on incorporating ideas from intersectional thinking in training and classes. The Daily Iowan Editorial Board encourages all students at the UI to take a course in intersectional thinking.

Intersectionality has gained popularity in academic curricula following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the subsequent protests. In fact, many of the courses in the College of Liberal Arts’ DEI general education requirement introduce students to intersectionality.

However, in conversations with campus activists and from our own experiences taking these courses, we believe that it would benefit students to utilize the framework provided by intersectionality so they can understand and empathize with their fellow students of color.

Philosophically, intersectionality is a feminist framework derived from a theory of knowledge acquisition known as standpoint epistemology. What this means is that the many identities of an individual, such as race, gender, and sexuality, shape their experiences and influence their worldview.

Intersectional feminists contend that this type of analysis best explains how different individuals are treated in a hierarchical society.

Take, for example, the wage and educational gap between Black women and white men in the U.S.

An intersectional feminist would explain this discrepancy by exploring the legacy of slavery and how that has prevented Black Americans from accessing many of the opportunities and institutions that white Americans have access to. Next, they would point to the misogynistic norms that have relegated all women to a subservient role.

Combining these two facts, an intersectional feminist would therefore argue that because of the woman’s identity as a Black female who lives in a hierarchical society that values whiteness and men, she would be at the bottom of the social hierarchy and earning less than a white man.

The example above also emphasizes intersectionality’s reliance on storytelling. Intersectional feminists work to highlight the stories of individuals oppressed by a society and use those stories as justification for their framework.

This is where intersectionality is most flawed, as its methods of knowledge acquisition are lacking compared to more analytic and rigorous methods. Storytelling could neglect how contemporary factors influence discrepancies and inequality between groups, or at the very least, misinterpret them.

However, storytelling is also where intersectionality is at its best because it introduces privileged students to a method that centers around empathy with marginalized individuals.

Understanding and being exposed to the idea that not everyone is fortunate to grow up in a two-parent household in Naperville, Illinois, or Des Moines is a crucial step in helping students empathize with their marginalized peers.

In other words, to begin a conversation and help minority students feel like they belong at the UI, we must learn to develop empathy for their circumstances. Having students take a class in intersectionality, a philosophy that places empathy at its core, is the important next step that the UI needs to take.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.