Olena Hankivsky, PhD
Author: Olena Hankivsky, PhD
Title: Intersectionality 101
Publisher: The Institute for Intersectionality Research & Policy, SFU
Publish date: April 2014
This publication was made possible in part through funding from the Public Health
Agency of Canada (PHAC). The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the
authors and do not necessarily reﬂect those of PHAC.
Cette publication a été rendue possible en partie avec le ﬁnancement de l’Agence de la
santé publique du Canada (ASPC). Les opinions exprimées dans cette publication sont
celles de l’auteur et ne représentent pas nécessairement celles de l’ASPC.
THE PURPOSE OF THIS PRIMER
Interest in and applications of intersectionality have grown exponentially in popularity
over the last 15 years. Scholars across the globe from a variety of disciplines, including
sociology, political science, health sciences, geography, philosophy and anthropology, as
well as in feminist studies, ethnic studies, queer studies and legal studies, have drawn on
intersectionality to challenge inequities and promote social justice. This practice has also
extended to policy makers, human rights activists and community organizers search-
ing for better approaches to tackling complex social issues. Yet most people don’t know
about intersectionality and why it is such an innovative framework for research, policy
The aim of this primer is to provide a clear-language guide to intersectionality; we
explore its key elements and characteristics, how it is distinct from other approaches to
equity, and how it can be applied in research, policy, practice and teaching. Most im-
portantly, the primer aims to show how intersectionality can fundamentally alter how
social problems are experienced, identiﬁed and grasped to include the breadth of lived
Olena H an ki vs ky, PhD
WHAT IS INTERSECTIONALITY?
The term “intersectionality” was coined in 1989 by American critical legal race scholar
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw (1989). However, the central ideas of intersectionality have
long historic roots within and beyond the United States. Black activists and feminists, as
well as Latina, post-colonial, queer and Indigenous scholars have all produced work that
reveals the complex factors and processes that shape human lives (Bunjun, 2010; Collins,
1990; Valdes, 1997; Van Herk, Smith, & Andrew, 2011).
As intersectionality has gained popularity, it has been interpreted and discussed in vari-
ous ways – e.g., as a theory, methodology, paradigm, lens or framework. Moreover, many
different deﬁnitions have been proposed. In general, however:
PUT SIMPLY: According to an intersectionality perspective, inequities are never the result
of single, distinct factors. Rather, they are the outcome of intersections of different so-
cial locations, power relations and experiences.
Intersectionality promotes an understanding of human beings as shaped
by the interaction of different social locations (e.g., ‘race’/ethnicity, Indige-
neity, gender, class, sexuality, geography, age, disability/ability, migration
status, religion). These interactions occur within a context of connected
systems and structures of power (e.g., laws, policies, state governments
and other political and economic unions, religious institutions, media).
Through such processes, interdependent forms of privilege and oppression
shaped by colonialism, imperialism, racism, homophobia, ableism and
patriarchy are created.
INTERSECTIONALITY IS BASED ON
SEVERAL KEY TENETS:
• Human lives cannot be explained by taking into account single categories, such as
gender, race, and socio-economic status. People’s lives are multi-dimensional and
complex. Lived realities are shaped by different factors and social dynamics operat-
• When analyzing social problems, the importance of any category or structure cannot
be predetermined; the categories and their importance must be discovered in the
process of investigation.
• Relationships and power dynamics between social locations and processes (e.g.,
racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, ageism, sexism) are linked. They can also
change over time and be different depending on geographic settings.
• People can experience privilege and oppression simultaneously. This depends on
what situation or speciﬁc context they are in.
• Multi-level analyses that link individual experiences to broader structures and sys-
tems are crucial for revealing how power relations are shaped and experienced.
• Scholars, researchers, policy makers, and activists must consider their own social
position, role and power when taking an intersectional approach. This “reﬂexivity,”
should be in place before setting priorities and directions in research, policy work
• Intersectionality is explicitly oriented towards transformation, building coalitions
among different groups, and working towards social justice.
Olena H an ki vs ky, PhD
There have been numerous attempts to try to visually represent intersectionality. These
include: a trafﬁc intersection that depicts intersecting roads of oppression (Crenshaw,
2003), the ﬁnal product resulting from blending baking ingredients that, like the factors
going into lived experience, are blended together into batter (Bowleg, 2013); the rich,
complex and historically shaped topography of the Grand Canyon (Crenshaw, 2010);
the dynamic reﬂections in a kaleidoscope (Easteal, 2002); the interconnected swirls of
a marble cake (Jordan-Zachery, 2007); and the unique, compound nature of a ﬂy’s eye,
which is made up of thousands of individual lenses (Weber, 2007).
Similarly, several models have been developed to clarify the essence of intersectionality.
For instance, the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW)
depicts intersectionality in a wheel diagram that captures some of the multi-level di-
mensions of experience that shape social exclusion, from individual identity and circum-
stances, to macro-forces:
Next, Mason (2010) presents an “Intersectional Approach Model for Policy and Social
Change.” This model depicts issues of social change and equality as shaped by intersect-
ing dimensions. The model aims to promote policies that address the social and struc-
tural roots of policy issues:
in a Wheel Diagram
(CRIAW, 2009, p. 5)
The Intersectional Approach
Model for Policy & Social
Change (Mason, 2010, p. 6)
Olena H an ki vs ky, PhD
Others yet, have developed illustrations that aim to make
intersectionality accessible to broad audiences such as
Intersectionality: A Fun Guide, featuring Bob the Triangle.
Finally, Rita Dhamoon’s model of the “matrix of meaning-
making,” (Dhamoon 2011) as depicted by the image below,
is a powerful way to show movement among multiple
processes and structures of power, across time, dimensions
and levels. The image provides us with a “pictoral repre-
sentation of the paradigmatic shift that an intersectionali-
ty-type lens invites” (Dhamoon 2011, p. 238).
From: Jang, G. (2010). A matrix of meaning-making. Uni-
versity of the Fraser Valley, cited in Dhamoon, R. (2011).
Considerations on Mainstreaming Intersectionality. Politi-
cal Research Quarterly, 64(1), p. 238
From Miriam Dobson’s website:
WHAT IS THE APPEAL
Intersectionality encourages researchers, policy makers and social change leaders to:
• Move beyond single identities or group-speciﬁc concerns, which are ineffective in
explaining the nuances of human lives; in this way, important information about the
unfair impacts of politics and policies is less likely to ‘fall through the cracks.’
• Explore new research and policy approaches to understand the connections be-
tween structures that shape diverse populations.
• For example, in Canada increased diversity is driven by immigration trends and
intercultural unions. By 2031, 29-32% of Canadians could belong to a visible minority
group, and 30% will have a mother tongue that is neither English nor French (Statis-
tics Canada, 2010b, p. 1).
• According to the most recent Census data (Statistics Canada, 2011, p. 4), Canada is
home to people of more than 200 different ethnic origins and increasing numbers
are identifying with multiple ethnicities.
• Beyond Canada, there are similar trends of increasingly diverse populations (e.g.,
across religion, culture, ethnicity, race, language, etc.), creating new and complex
challenges in all areas of public policy (In Diversity, 2010; Hedetoft, 2006; Thorud et
• Generate new and more complete information to better understand the origins,
root causes and characteristics of social issues. This can be accomplished by studying
existing data or by producing new data.
• Enable more effective and efﬁcient responses than a ‘one-size ﬁts all’ approach for
solving persistent and growing social inequities.
Why is this important?
• “Seven out of ten people in the world today live in countries where inequality has
increased over the past three decades,” (Lagarde, 2014, n.p.).
• WEF’s Global Outlook report warns that inequality is undermining social stability
and “threatening security on a global scale” (World Economic Forum, 2013, p. 12a).
• The Conference Board of Canada (2011) reports that between the mid-1990s and
the late 2000s Canada had the fourth largest increase in income inequality. Canada
has slipped to “below the average” in measures of equality, and ranks 12th out of 17
peer countries (n.p.).
Olena H an ki vs ky, PhD
• One in seven Canadian children lives in poverty. Aboriginal people are the fastest
growing group in Canada, but one in four First Nations children lives in poverty. Im-
migrants and newcomers face child poverty rates more than 2.5 times higher than
the general population (Campaign 2000, 2012).
• Health inequalities in Canada are widespread and show up in numerous indicators
of health, such as life expectancy, infant mortality, disease incidence, mortality, and
injuries at every stage of the life course (Bryant et al., 2011).
• The life expectancy for First Nations people is ﬁve to seven years less than among
non-Aboriginal Canadians (Statistics Canada, 2010a; Assembly of First Nations,
PRINCIPLES OF INTERSECTIONALITY
Researchers, policy makers, decision makers, and activists often seek direction on how
to apply intersectionality to their work. A good starting point is to think about the key
principles, presented below, that encompass the aims and objectives of intersectional-
ity that have been previously published as constituting an intersectionality-based policy
analysis framework (IBPA) (Hankivsky et al., 2012, pp. 35-38). Taken together, however,
these principles provide a framework that can guide the ‘doing’ of intersectionality-
informed work not only in policy but also research, activism and practice.1
1 For examples of the application of these principles within policy analysis, see the case studies presented in
Hankivsky (2012a) and Hunting et al. (forthcoming). Also see Appendix B for a list of overarching questions (in-
formed by these principles) that help guide intersectionality-based policy analysis.
“the best chance for an effective diagnosis and ultimately an
effective prescription” (Hancock, 2007, p. 73).
From an intersectionality perspective, human lives cannot be reduced to single catego-
ries, and policy analysis cannot assume that any one social category is most important
for understanding people’s needs and experiences. Nor does inter sectionality promote
an additive approach – e.g., examining the collective impact of gender, ‘race,’ sexuality,
age and class – as the sum of their independent effects (e.g., gender+class+race) (Han-
cock, 2007). Instead, intersectionality conceptualizes social categories as interacting with
and co-constituting one another to create unique social locations that vary according to
time and place. These intersections and their effects are what matters in an intersec-
tional analysis (Hankivsky & Cormier, 2009).
Intersectionality is concerned with understanding the effects between and across vari-
ous levels in society, including macro (global and national-level institutions and policies),
meso or intermediate (provincial and regional-level institutions and policies), and micro
levels (community-level, grassroots institutions and policies as well as the individual or
‘self’). Attending to this multi-level dimension of intersectionality also requires address-
ing processes of inequity and differentiation across levels of structure, identity and
representation (Dhamoon & Hankivsky, 2011; Winker & Degele, 2011). The signiﬁcance
of and relationships between these various levels of structure and social location are
not predetermined. Rather, they reveal themselves through the process of intersectional
research and discovery.
Attention to power highlights that: i) power operates at discursive and structural levels
to exclude some types of knowledge and experi ence (Foucault, 1977); ii) power shapes
subject positions and categories (e.g., ‘race’) (e.g. racialization and racism); and iii) these
processes operate together to shape experiences of privilege and penalty between
groups and within them (Collins, 2000). From an intersectional perspective, power is re-
lational. A person can simultaneously experience both power and oppression in varying
contexts, at varying times (Collins, 1990). These relations of power include experiences
of power over others, but also that of power with others (power that in volves people
working together) (Guinier & Torres, 2003). In recogniz ing the shifting intersections in
which power operates, intersectionality moves beyond what Martinez (1993) terms the
“Oppression Olympics,” which occur when groups com pete for the title of ‘most op-
pressed’ in order to gain political support, economic resourc es, and recognition. Inter-
sectionality rejects an additive model of oppression that leaves the systems that create
power differentials unchanged (Hancock, 2007). Within an intersectionality-based policy
analysis (or IBPA), the focus is not just on domination or marginalization, but on the in-
tersecting processes by which power and inequity are produced, reproduced and actively
resisted (Dhamoon, 2011).
Olena H an ki vs ky, PhD
One way that intersectionality pays attention to power is through reﬂexivity. Reﬂexivity
acknowledges the importance of power at the micro level of the self and our relation-
ships with others, as well as at the macro levels of society. Reﬂexive practice recognizes
multiple truths and a diversity of perspectives, while giving extra space to voices typi-
cally excluded from policy ‘expert’ roles (Bolzan, Heycox, & Hughes, 2001). Practicing
reﬂex ivity requires researchers, policy makers and stakeholders to commit to ongoing
dialogue about “tacit, personal, professional or orga nizational knowledges” and their
inﬂuences on policy (Parken, 2010, p. 85). Reﬂexivity can help transform policy when the
people involved bring critical self-awareness, role-awareness, interrogation of power and
privilege, and the questioning of assump tions and ‘truths’ to their work (Clark, 2012). For
example, reﬂexive practices should help people consider their individual connections to
colonization and facilitate questioning about policy and practices that accompanied the
colonization of Indigenous peoples in Canada (Blackstock, 2005).
Time and Space
Intersectionality emphasizes the importance of time and space in any analysis. How we
experi ence and understand time and space depends on when and where we live and
interact (Warf, 2008). It is within these dimensions of time and space that different kinds
of knowledge are situated, our understandings of the world are constructed, and the so-
cial orders of mean ing are made (Saraga, 1998). Moreover, privileges and disadvantages,
including intersect ing identities and the processes that determine their value, change
over time and place (Hulko, 2009). Thus, time and space are not static, ﬁxed or objective
dimensions and/or processes, but are ﬂuid, changeable and experienced through our
interpretations, senses and feelings, which are, in turn, heavily conditioned by our social
position/location, among other factors (Tuan, 1977).
The Diversity of Knowledges
Intersectionality is concerned with epistemologies (theories of knowledge) and power,
and in particular, with the relationship between power and knowledge production.
In cluding the perspectives and worldviews of people who are typically marginalized or
ex cluded in the production of knowledge can disrupt forces of power that are activated
through the production of knowledge (Dhamoon, 2011). For example, the inclusion, in
policy analysis, of traditional knowledges held by colonized peoples can shift dominant
colonial or racialized discourses and can thus have decolonizing effects (Fredericks,
Adams, & Edwards, 2011). Given the focus in intersectionality-based policy analysis on
addressing inequities and power, knowledge generated through an IBPA can and should
include the perspectives and knowledges of peoples who are typically excluded in policy
analysis. IBPA expands understandings of what is typically constituted as “evidence” by
recognizing a diversity of knowledge, paradigms and theo retical perspectives, such as
knowledge generated from qualitative or quantitative research; empirical or interpre-
tive data; and Indigenous knowledges. Users of the IBPA Framework must consider how
power favours certain knowledge traditions to the exclusion of others, and reﬂect on
both the way that diverse knowledges traditions are taken up in policy analysis and the
implications this uptake has for different groups of people.
Intersectionality strongly emphasizes social justice (Grace, 2011). Approaches to social
justice differ based in whether they focus on the redistribution of goods (Rawls, 1971) or
on social processes (Young, 1990); however, all approaches share a concern with achiev-
ing equity (Sen, 2006). Theories of social justice frequently challenge inequities at their
source and require people to question social and power relations. For example, accord-
ing to Potts and Brown (2005) social justice is about: “transforming the way resources
and relationships are produced and distributed so that all can live digniﬁed lives in a way
that is ecologically sustainable. It is also about creating new ways of thinking and being
and not only criticizing the status quo” (p. 284). A social justice approach to health equity
has the potential to transform social structures, which is essential in addressing the root
causes of inequities (Farmer, 2005).
Closely tied to the social justice principle of intersectionality, equity is concerned with
fairness. As expressed by Braveman and Gruskin (2003), equity in public policy exists
when social systems are designed to equalize outcomes between more and less advan-
taged groups. The term equity is not to be confused with equality. For example, where
inequality may refer to any measurable difference in outcomes of interest, inequities ex-
ist where those differences are unfair or unjust. This principle should be familiar to many
people who work on policy; sex and gender based analysis (SGBA), which asks analysts
to consider policy through a gender equity lens, is commonly applied to many areas of
Canadian policy (Hankivsky et al., 2012). The IBPA Framework extends this practice by
prompting analysts to consider policy issues through an intersectional lens, looking not
only at gen der equity, but also at the impacts of the intersections of multiple positions
of privilege and oppression.
Finally, resistance and resilience have recently been added as key principles of intersec-
tionality-based analyses (see Hunting et al., forthcoming):
Resistance and Resilience
Though not principles within IBPA, consideration of resistance and resilience is integral
to intersectionality because these can disrupt power and oppression. Even from so-
called ‘marginalized’ spaces and locations, oppressive values, norms and practices can
be challenged. One mechanism of resistance from subordinated groups has been to use
collective actions to destabilize domi nant ideologies. Conversely, policies and discourses
Olena H an ki vs ky, PhD
that label groups of people as inherently marginalized or vulnerable undermine the real-
ity that there are no ‘pure victims or oppressors’ (Collins 1990; Dhamoon & Hankivsky
2011). Categorical policy approaches obscure similarities between groups and their
shared relationships to power. It also prevents coalitional work by reinforcing concep-
tions of difference based upon speciﬁc categories.
HOW DOES INTERSECTIONALITY
DIFFER FROM OTHER APPROACHES?
Unlike other approaches, intersectionality is uniquely positioned to interrogate and un-
derstand human differences (in addition to understanding similarities across groups that
can be overlooked).
In the following table, Ange-Marie Hancock (2013, p. 268) summarizes three approaches
– unitary, multiple and intersectional - in order to show how intersectionality provides a
more advanced way of analyzing difference.
• The unitary approach focuses on one primary marker of difference as sufﬁcient for
explaining a social problem.
• The multiple approach considers more than one explanatory factor, but does so in
an additive way, paying little attention to relationships and interactions between
• The intersectionality approach explicitly focuses on the relationships between fac-
tors and mutually constructed processes that create difference. As the examples at
the end of this primer demonstrate, this allows for the generation of new and argu-
ably more accurate information about any kind of problem or issue.
Unitary Approach Multiple Approach Intersectional Approach
Number of Relevant
Categories/Processes One More than one More than one
Posited Relationship Between
and conceptually distinguish-
Relationships are open
to be determined
of Each Category
Static at individual
or institutional level
Static at individual
or institutional level
and institutional factors
of Category/Class Uniform Uniform
Diverse; members often
differ in politically
Approach to Intersectionality Lip service
Three Empirical Approaches to Conceptualizing
Categories of Difference
As illustrated in the table below, intersectionality also extends existing frameworks that
attempt to identify and respond to differences in research, policy and practice.
WHAT IS THE VALUE ADDED OF
INTERSECTIONALITY IN POLICY?
Just as important as understanding what intersectionality is, and the principles that
can inform an ‘intersectionality-informed stance,’ (Bowleg 2012, p. 1270) is to demon-
strate what intersectionality does. In the appendices of this primer, there are resources
for those seeking to begin the process of understanding how to think about and apply
intersectionality in research (Appendix A), policy (Appendix B), activism (Appendix C) and
education (Appendix D). The examples below brieﬂy describe the potential of intersec-
tionality to transform three important issues of policy.
In comparison to women’s health, the men’s health ﬁeld is in nascent stages of devel-
opment but has made considerable progress in the last decade. Men’s health is now of
great interest and concern to health policy makers and practitioners. Reﬂecting this, and
in response to the need for increased attention and research capacity in the area of boys’
and men’s health, a recent major funding initiative was launched by the Institute for
Gender and Health (within the Canadian Institutes of Health Research). Outside of Can-
ada, Ireland (2009) and Australia (2010) have developed national men’s health policies to
highlight the need for a speciﬁc focus on men as service users with particular needs, and
for improving the health of all males. In addition, organizations such as the European
Men’s Health Forum (emhf.org) and the Men’s Health Caucus in the US (menshealthcau-
SGBA GBA+ HIAs IBPA
Sex & Gender
Intersectionality Based Policy Analysis
Prioritizes sex and
gender; does not
of sex and/or gen-
tors beyond gen-
der in an interac-
tive way; does not
Grounded in social
health; lack of at-
tention to: values,
expertise of policy
ed nature of social
of those who are
affected by policy
Emphasizes that people belong to more than
one social category at the same time, focuses
on interactions of different social locations,
systems and processes, investigates rather
than assumes the signiﬁcance of any speciﬁc
combination of factors
Olena H an ki vs ky, PhD
cus.net) are calling for better attention to men’s health within research and policy.
The growth of men’s health challenges ﬁrmly entrenched notions that gender disad-
vantage in health affects only or primarily women. To date, however, research into boys’
and men’s health has been critiqued for being largely focused on comparisons with
women and how women fare better in terms of many health outcomes, including life
expectancy (European Commission, 2011; Courtney, 2011). Meanwhile, not surprisingly,
an important gap still exists in explaining differences among men (Watkins & Grifﬁth,
2013; Hankivsky, 2012b).
There is growing recognition that gender, race, class, sexuality, life stage and cultural ex-
pectations provide an important context for understanding men’s daily lives and health
(Grifﬁth et al., 2013; Grifﬁth, 2012; also see Grace, 2014, Hunting, 2014, and Rouhani,
2014 for detailed case studies examining the intersectionality of boys’ and men’s health).
Intersectionality-informed men’s research can:
• advance the understanding of how gender expressions and meanings are co-con-
stituted by other social locations (e.g., age, sexuality, ethnicity, geography, histori-
cal and policy contexts, etc.) and can differ across men. As Hearn (2006) explains,
“Different men can have complex, even contradictory, relations to gender equality
and other (in)equalities...” Researchers looking at men’s health in Canada are increas-
ingly advocating for more nuanced conceptions of gender, arguing that it is shaped
by other factors, such as country of origin, ethnicity, and lifecourse (e.g., Evans et al.,
2011; Zanchetta et al., 2010).
‘Maleness,’ or being of the male gender, does not necessarily confer the same privi-
leges and disadvantages in the same ways across men. For instance, African American
men experience forms of oppression that differ from what non-racialized White men
experience due to gendered racism. Gender and race are inextricable when consider-
ing particular forms of discrimination – such as racial proﬁling – experience dispro-
portionately by racialized black men. Binary notions of privilege and disadvantage
experienced by groups cannot capture this complexity (Mutua, 2013).
• debunk false assumptions of gender-based difference by showing how women
sometimes share similar experiences of advantage and disadvantage with men
across social categories.
Cole (2009) argues that attending to commonalities across groups reveals false ideas
of between-group differences and allows complexities of social phenomena to sur-
face. She cites Dworkin’s (2005) study, which notes that much discourse surrounding
the heterosexual transmission of HIV depicts women as vulnerable and at risk from
men. This is shaped by gendered assumptions that women are sexually oppressed
and passive, whereas men are sexually invulnerable and dominating. This ‘women-
at-risk framing’ overlooks variations in power and patriarchal privilege among men
(e.g., heterosexual men can experience sexual violence, engage in sex work, or expe-
rience inequities associated with social locations, such as race and class). The study
underscores the fact intersecting locations and experiences put individuals at risk of
HIV infection, rather than individual identity categories (such as gender). With this
expanded idea of risk, similarities between groups (e.g., heterosexual women, and
men who have sex with men) can come into the discussion. Cole argues that high-
lighting such similarities can create “fertile sites of intervention or mobilizing to lobby
for prevention and treatment resources” (p. 176).
• reveal within-group differences among men and boys, and how these can be more
signiﬁcant than those between men and women.
Hyde’s (2014) discussion of gender differences and similarities highlights intersection-
ality as the way forward to better understand how gender inﬂuences behaviour and
experience. She argues that broad-based statements of gender differences – such as
males purported being better at math – often ignore how ethnicity and other social
locations intersect with these differences. A meta-analysis of research on gender dif-
ferences in mathematics performance found that this advantage was not present for
Blacks, Hispanics, or Asian Americans. To truly conceptualize advantage and disadvan-
tage thus requires an intersectional understanding of gender.
• demonstrate the existence of diverse expressions of masculinities that are shaped by
culture and subcultures (and shift over the lifecourse). Intersectionality can also
show how these diverse expressions affect how differentially situated men in a
variety of jurisdictions respond differently to health and health care issues and prob-
lems (Watkins & Grifﬁth, 2013; Smith et al., 2009).
Evans et al. (2011) discuss how masculinity intersects with other social determi-
nants of health differently during youth, middle age and the older years. Speciﬁcally,
they demonstrate how masculinity is deﬁned and experienced differently across the
lifecourse, as experiences related to socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, sexuality,
ability, geography, community, education, and employment change. This makes men
vulnerable and resilient to poor health in different ways as they age. In overlook-
ing the shifting and intersectional nature of masculinity, important conditions that
shape inequity can be overlooked and remain unaddressed.
Olena H an ki vs ky, PhD
Internationally, there is growing concern with healthy weight and the problem of obe-
sity. Nearly 1.5 billion adults were overweight in 2008, and, of these, half a billion were
clinically obese – almost double the rates of 1980 (Swinburn et al., 2011). In Canada,
obesity rates have tripled since 1985, and expectations are that about 21 percent of
Canadian adults will be obese by 2019 (Twells et al. 2014). The annual cost of obesity
to the health care system is estimated as between $4.6-$7.1 billion dollars. In the U.S.,
studies have estimated that 42 percent of the adult population will be obese by 2030
(Finkelstein et al., 2012). Similar numbers are predicted for the UK, where researchers
predict that up to 48% of men and 43% of women could be obese by that year (Wang et
Obesity threatens to have a great impact on public health worldwide, but the mecha-
nisms of its increase in prevalence and its consequences are far less well understood in
policy terms (King, 2011). The complexity of obesity has led researchers to pay attention
to social context (Frisco et al., 2012) when studying the problem, to using broad ecologi-
cal research approaches (Rutter, 2011), and undertaking multi-sectoral policy interven-
tions (Dietz, 2011). This is especially interesting given the tendency for public health poli-
cies to emphasize individual lifestyle choices, which can obscure the broader contexts
Some studies have examined important factors in terms of obesity and weight gain
over time. These have included regional considerations and environmental factors, as
well as the impact of sex, gender, race, age, culture, and socio-economic status (Burke
et al., 1996; Twells et al., 2014; He et al., 2014; Du et al., 2013; Basterra-Gortari et al.,
2011; Baltrus et al., 2005; Clarke et al., 2009; Mujahid et al., 2005; Swinburn et al., 2011).
A shortcoming of such studies is that they either focus on one important factor (e.g., re-
gional differences), or they use an additive approach to examine differential experiences
of obesity (e.g., regional differences + gender + age), missing the opportunity to consider,
for example, how different categories interact to shape inequities in weight change and
Emerging research demonstrates the importance of capturing these interactions:
• Martin and Lippert (2012) have demonstrated that mothers experiencing food inse-
curity are more likely than child-free men and women and food insecure fathers to be
overweight or obese and to gain more weight. The risks are greater for single mothers
relative to mothers in married or cohabiting relationships. The researchers argue that
obesity offers a physical expression of the vulnerabilities that arise from the intersec-
tion of gendered childcare expectations and poverty.
• In a 2011 U.S. study, results revealed complex interactive effects of gender, race, socio-
economic position and age. Researchers showed that among individuals aged 25–39
and 45–54, low-educated and low-income black women experienced the greatest in-
crease in BMI, while high-educated and high-income white men experienced the least
BMI increase (Ailshire & House, 2011).
• Correll (2010) has critiqued obesity scholarship for obscuring connections between
gender, poverty, and obesity. He argues that this shortcoming leads to important
policy failures (in the current Food Stamps program and Temporary Aid to Needy Fami-
lies (TANF) program in the US). Instead of improving the status quo, such programs
contribute to obesity-inducing food insecurity, temporal poverty, and unhealthy food
Climate change has become a central policy problem in both developed and develop-
ing countries. At the same time, it is typically understood that global warming is largely
caused by the consumption patterns and lifestyle choices of the world’s most afﬂuent
nations and populations (IEA, 2011). The greatest brunt of climate change is thus experi-
enced by the world’s most vulnerable and poor (Parks & Roberts, 2006).
To date, most studies and political initiatives that are concerned with capturing the
differential effects of climate change on populations tend to focus on one single vari-
able (e.g., gender, place, ethnicity, socio-economic status) (e.g., Lambrou & Paina, 2006;
Hulme, 2008; Nielson & Reenberg, 2010; Stern, 2007; WHO, 2011). Critiquing one such
approach – gender analysis – Carr and Thompson (2014) observe that it is predicated
on a construction of gender as binary (men vs. women). This not only leads to simplistic
comparisons and homogenization of ‘men’ and ‘women,’ but also overlooks “signiﬁcant
differences with regard to knowledge, resources, and power within gender groups that
shape development and adaptation outcomes”in relation to climate change (Carr &
Thompson, 2014, p. 186). Such a focus obscures the fact that gender takes meaning from
its intersection with other identities, roles and responsibilities
In reality, the situation is far more complex. From an intersectionality perspective, what
makes people vulnerable to climate change, or, alternatively how they experience adap-
tation and mitigation strategies is the result of multiple factors and processes that are
linked together within systems of power (Osborne, 2013; Arora-Jonsson, 2011). Especially
important are political and societal institutions that shape and regulate transportation,
energy and consumption (Kaijser & Kornsell, 2013).
• Devastation of New Orleans caused by Katrina involved various intersecting forms of
marginality (Tuana, 2008): marginalized people were less likely to be able to evacuate
and to afford to live somewhere else, and had poorer prospects if they were displaced.
From an intersectionality lens, Katrina made visible how climate change impacts can
interact with social structures (Tuana, 2008).
• Weber and Hilﬁnger-Messias (2012) demonstrated how macro- and micro-level power
relations of gender, race, and class affected the lives, work, and well-being of post-
Katrina frontline recovery workers along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. According to the
researchers, using an intersectionality framework to conduct their study broadened
their understanding of 1) risks to recovery-worker health and well-being, including 17
Olena H an ki vs ky, PhD
work stress and burnout, and 2) the role of macro-level social inequalities in producing
and maintaining health disparities and inequities.
• Dzah’s examination of climate change in Ghana (2011) revealed that simplistic
comparisons of men vs. women are not adequate for understanding who is impacted
and how. Instead, gender, age, ethnicity, marital status and life stage affect levels of
vulnerability and adaptive capacity.
• In her analysis of ﬂooding in Bangladesh, Sultana (2010) showed that women are not
a homogenous group with regards to their experience of ﬂoods. Intersectional rela-
tions to class, caste, religion and age all affect women’s resources, rights and respon-
sibilities. For instance, she found that poorer agrarian women are particularly vulner-
able to ﬂoods and natural disasters, as they often experience intersecting factors that
limit their access to resources and recovery. Nor were men homogenous; their experi-
ences were also inﬂuenced by class, religion, and educational status.
Not only does intersectionality leads to multi-level analysis of intersecting factors,
processes and structures impacting climate change experiences, but its principles lead
to questions regarding how climate change problems are framed and understood.
Speciﬁcally, intersectionality provides critical insights into how institutional practices
and norms (and the power dynamics within these) shape knowledge and norms used by
researchers. By asking questions such as, “What type of knowledge is privileged in dealing
with climate change? [and] How is the understanding of what is legitimate knowledge re-
lated to social categories and to power relations?” intersectionality-informed analysis can
bring to the fore alternative knowledge on climate change and, in turn, improved climate
change strategies (Kaijser & Kronsell, 2013, p. 6).
Within policy settings, this type of inquiry may allow decision makers to better deter-
mine how dominant norms and lifestyles may be contributing to the problem of climate
change. For instance, a policy maker’s own social position can make them reluctant to
challenge high-consumption lifestyle norms that permeate richer Northern societies
because they themselves may be complicit with this kind of lifestyle (Kaijser & Kronsell,
2013). Thus, in interrogating broader structures of power and privilege intersectionality
allows for social justice concerns to be addressed. Transformative questions arise, such
as: What should be the norm in the context of climate issues and the power structures
that shape them?
An intersectionality-informed analysis allows for a different understanding of the true
challenges of climate change, including the fact that effective intervention will require a
fundamental restructuring of power structures that currently contribute to environmen-
As this primer shows, intersectionality offers a unique framework for analyzing prob-
lems within diversity and inequity. While the Intersectionality 101 primer has used
brief examples to demonstrate the value added of intersectionality, it was written, and
should be read in conjunction with the other primers in this series (see Hunting, 2014,
Rouhani, 2014, and Grace, 2014). These provide further guidance and demonstrate the
potential for intersectionality-informed qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods
research. Taken together, the primers in this series contribute to the ongoing exploration
of how interectionality can be used to better understand and address the complexity of
inequities and strive for social justice.
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Olena H an ki vs ky, PhD
APPENDIX A – FOR RESEARCHERS
Hankivsky (2012, pp. 1715-1716) has developed a broad set of questions intended to
guide intersectional researchers throughout the research process. The questions take
into account the fact that each line of inquiry will have different relevance to qualitative,
quantitative and mixed-methods research designs:
• Who is being studied? Who is being compared to whom? Why? (Lorber, 2006)
• Who is the research for and does it advance the needs of those under study? (Han-
kivsky et al., 2010)
• Is the research framed within the current cultural, political, economic, societal, and/
or situational context, and where possible, does it reﬂect self-identiﬁed needs of af-
fected communities? (Hankivsky and Cormier, 2009)
• Which categories are relevant or not directly relevant? Why? (Winker and Degele,
• What is the presumed makeup of each category? (Hancock, 2007)
• Is the sample representative of the experiences of diverse groups of people for
whom the issue under study is relevant? (Hankivsky and Cormier, 2009)
• Is the tool of inquiry suited to collecting micro or macro data, or a combination of
both? (Hankivsky and Cormier, 2009)
• How will interactions between salient categories be captured by the proposed data
• How will interactions at individual levels of experience be linked to social institu-
tions and broader structures and processes of power?
• What issues of domination/exploitation and resistance/agency are addressed by the
research? (Hankivsky and Cormier, 2009)
• How will human commonalities and differences be recognized without resorting
to essentialism, false universalism, or obliviousness to historical and contemporary
patterns of inequality? (Cole, 2008)
From: Hankivsky, O. (2012). Women’s health, men’s health and gender and health: Impli-
cations of intersectionality. Social Science and Medicine, 74(11), 1712-1720.
APPENDIX B – FOR POLICY MAKERS
•What knowledge, values, and experiences do you bring to this
area of policy analysis?
2. •What is the policy ‘problem’ under consideration?
3. •How have representations of the ‘problem’ come about?
•How are groups differentially affected by this representation of
5. •What are the current policy responses to the ‘problem’?
6. •What inequities actually exist in relation to the problem?
7. •Where and how can interventions be made to improve the problem?
8. •What are feasible short, medium and long-term solutions?
9. •How will proposed policy responses reduce inequities?
10. •How will implementation and uptake be assured?
11. •How will you know if inequities have been reduced?
•How has the process of engaging in an intersectionality-based policy analysis transformed:
•your thinking about relations and structures of power and inequity
•the ways in which you and others engage in the work of policy development, implementation
•broader conceptualizations, relations and effects of power asymmetry in the everyday world
From: Hankivsky, O., Grace, D., Hunting, G., Ferlatte, O., Clark, N., Fridkin, A., ... & Lavio-
lette, T. (2012a). Intersectionality-Based Policy Analysis. In O. Hankivsky (Ed.), An Intersec-
tionality-Based Policy Analysis Framework (pp. 33-45). Vancouver, BC: Institute for Inter-
sectionality Research & Policy, Simon Fraser University.
Olena H an ki vs ky, PhD
APPENDIX C – FOR ACTIVISTS
How to evaluate your services/programs/projects
Any sort of planning process around services, programs and projects should involve an
evaluation. If an organization is applying an intersectional approach, there has to be a
way to ﬁgure out how the approach is working in order to determine whether anything
needs to be changed. Evaluations do not need to be very complicated. In fact, “[…] evalu-
ation is simply a tool that helps you understand if you are on track and achieving results
that will move you towards your vision” (Frank & Smith, 1999, p. 97).
There are four basic questions that organizations can explore with respect to an evaluation:
1. What worked and why?
You may want to ask program participants what they thought worked and why so that
your initiative can be informed from the bottom up.
2. What did not work and why?
Having program participants provide feedback can help ensure that the next initiative is
3. What could have been done differently?
You may want to reﬂect on whether your approach increased inclusiveness. Does your
approach need re-thinking at all?
4. What adjustments and changes are required now?
You may want to consider how any needed changes could further an intersectional ap-
If evaluations have been well thought out and incorporate feedback from program par-
ticipants, they may provide a means to continue programs or develop new ones. Often
funding agencies want to know organizations’ past achievements in order to determine
whether or not to support new projects.
Here are some things you may want to consider with respect to evaluating your pro-
• You may want to keep track of who is and who is not accessing your services. If you
haven’t been able to reach certain populations or communities, try to reﬂect on why
that may be the case.
• In order to value the contributions of the community(ies) you are serving, you may
want to have participants ﬁll out program evaluations.
• Participants could have a role in creating the evaluation process.
• Remember that evaluations are not just about numbers and quotas.
From: Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW). (2009). Ev-
eryone Belongs: A Toolkit for Applying Intersectionality (pp. 21-22). Author: Joanne Simp-
son. May 2009. Available from: http://criaw-icref.ca/everyone-belongs-toolkit-applying-
Questions are from: Frank, F. & Smith, A. (1999). The Community Development Hand-
book: A Tool to Build Community Capacity (pp. 71-72). Ottawa: Human Resources Devel-
opment Canada. Available from:
Olena H an ki vs ky, PhD
CLASSROOM DISCUSSION GUIDELINES: PROMOTING UNDERSTANDING
ACROSS RACE, CLASS, GENDER, AND SEXUALITY
Lynn Weber, Director
Women’s Studies Program
Professor of Sociology
Women’s Studies Program
201 Flinn Hall
University of South Carolina
Columbia, SC 29208
Power dynamics in the classroom; Relationships of personal identity/background to
structural systems of inequality; Critical reﬂection on social hierarchies in the classroom
and in the society; Promoting respectful dialogue
Type of Exercise
Class Discussion; Pedagogical Pondering
To promote an environment that challenges race, class, gender, sexuality and other social
inequalities and that facilitates learning about them, I introduce classroom discussion
guidelines on the ﬁrst day of all of my classes. By asking students to consider the ways
these hierarchies may play out in their own lives ‐ and thus in the class ‐ I explicitly call
on students to begin thinking about these hierarchies not as abstract notions or deﬁcits
that shape others’ lives, but rather as social relations of power and control that variously
shape all of our interactions in every setting.
• In my classes, I try to foster an environment where we experience social justice:
All students are shown respect.
• Race, class, gender and other power dynamics do not inhibit learning.
• All students participate in the class and think critically by learning to appreciate
multiple realities and perspectives and the ways that they are shaped by differences
of power and privilege.
In the early 1980’s, to help achieve this climate, I developed a set of what I then called
“Ground Rules” to guide classroom discussion. And I have used them in all of my classes
since: sociology of gender; social statistics; seminar in race, class, gender and sexuality;
seminar in women’s studies; and sociology of race and ethnic relations. To be discussed
on the ﬁrst day of class, the guidelines ask students to make several assumptions and
commitments for the purposes of the class:
• Acknowledge that racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and other institutionalized
forms of oppression exist and that we all have misinformation about groups as a
• Approach this class — and the misinformation we all have — not by blaming others
but by taking responsibility for learning about other groups and combating misinfor-
mation, and for treating each other with respect.
• Acknowledge that people in the class and the groups we study are always doing the
best they can.
To begin from this set of assumptions is a challenge because we all have multiple experi-
ences with inequality and beliefs about groups that might contradict these assump-
tions. Nonetheless, it is in attempting to make these assumptions for purposes of the
class that we may become aware of some of our own preconceptions about inequalities
and thus be in a better position to discuss them. In short, our reactions to the guidelines
and the discussion that they generate may provide us with the best opportunity to un-
cover, to understand, and perhaps to challenge the ways that social inequalities play out
in our own lives and in the society around us. The classroom environment I attempt to
create using these guidelines is consistent with the content I seek to convey — about the
nature of powerful, pervasive, and persistent systems of race, class, gender, and sexual-
ity hierarchies (for a detailed discussion of the conceptual framework I use, see Weber,
1998, 2001; Weber and Dillaway, 2002).
Although I had begun using them in my classes, I ﬁrst distributed these guidelines, as I
now refer to them, to faculty colleagues in a handout at a 1984 session on “Promoting
Positive Race, Class, and Gender Dynamics in the Classroom” at the annual curriculum
transformation workshop sponsored by the Center for Research on Women (CROW) at
the University of Memphis. Each year as the CROW’s national curriculum workshops
grew in size and visibility, I continued to conduct sessions on classroom dynamics and to
distribute the guidelines. Faculty and students from across the country and a wide spec-
trum of schools – from community colleges to research universities – began to use these
guidelines and their own adaptations of them (cf. McKinney and Gershick 1999). The
guidelines were also used in research working groups, were adapted for use with ﬁrst
through third grades, and were used as a model for empowering Social Work students
(Raske, 1999). In short, they took on a life of their own, becoming a kind of underground
document that swept across the country — sometimes with my name attached, other
Olena H an ki vs ky, PhD
As the neoconservative backlash against multiculturalism and attempts to address race,
class, and gender in university curricula reached full bloom in the late 1980’s, people
were both increasingly interested in how to deal in respectful and effective ways with
these issues in the classroom and increasingly coming under attack for doing so. In
1990, because the guidelines had become so widespread that people wanted a refer-
ence to legitimate their use of them and to learn about how I had been using them, I
published these guidelines in a Women’s Studies Quarterly article (Weber Cannon, 1990).
The guidelines presented below are slightly modiﬁed from the ones published in 1990.
Quite the opposite of the argument leveled by conservative critics of classroom guide-
lines (e.g., Bartlett, 2002; Sommers, 1995) — that such rules stiﬂe discussion, dialogue,
and academic freedom, I have found that we all beneﬁt from working with these as-
sumptions in our classes. Over twenty years of using them, only a handful of students
have dropped my classes because they felt uncomfortable with the guidelines, primar-
ily because the students were unable to commit to working under the assumption
that “people are always doing the best that they can.” Students have learned to judge
themselves harshly (e.g., “I could have worked harder on that paper, done better in that
course.”), to judge others similarly, and to see those judgments as the end point of criti-
cal social analysis. By this logic, once you ﬁnd individuals or groups to blame for their
social location (e.g., place in the hierarchies of income, education, wealth, occupation,
health), there is no need to think about the social ranking process any further. You have
your explanation: they brought it on themselves. This logic denies both the presence
of different starting points for individuals and social groups and the nature of social
structures that systematically and powerfully operate to advantage some individuals
and groups while harming others. It is the dominant ideological stance that is employed
to “justify” — that is, to normalize and to sanction — hierarchical systems of race, class,
gender, sexuality and other forms of oppression. When we allow this kind of logic to
hold sway in our classes, we can never reach the point of even beginning to see or to un-
derstand the systemic, pervasive, persistent and powerful nature of race, class, gender,
and sexuality systems.
So instead of shutting down discussion, I have found that using these guidelines for
classroom discussion enables the conversation to open up for all students, but especially
for students from oppressed groups — students of color, women, working class, and
gay and lesbian students. I believe this change occurs primarily because the guidelines
acknowledge the historical fact and current reality that society at large as well as our
classrooms have been sites of oppression where people have been silenced, denied, and
mistreated because of their location in race, class, gender, and sexuality hierarchies.
Students from more privileged backgrounds are also sometimes relieved that the frame-
work not only does not hold them personally responsible for broad systems of oppres-
sion that have persisted for decades but also encourages them to take personal respon-
sibility for their current speech and actions.
Still, some students may have difﬁculty making these commitments. I remind them
that they are merely asked to commit to these guidelines for this class and that they may
learn much about themselves by paying close attention to what is happening — in the
class, in the readings — when they feel they cannot make or continue with a particular
assumption. In such a case, I encourage them to speak about their concerns.
I use these guidelines in conjunction with a set of other teaching techniques designed to
elicit maximal participation in multiple venues from all of the students in a class:
• Classroom introductions — where students get to know each other beyond stereo-
typical images by introducing themselves in many ways to their classmates telling:
their racial/ethnic background, their scholarly areas of interest, their skills and knowl-
edge that would be especially useful to their classmates when working together,
their work/family histories
• Journals — where they are asked to reﬂect on the dynamics as well as the substance
of the class (ungraded)
• Group projects — where they work together to produce a group project and receive
group as well as individual evaluations
• Peer evaluations — where they work on each other’s writing based on peer editing
techniques which are taught in class
• Small group discussions — where they analyze the material and where the group
composition is changed frequently
When these techniques are used in conjunction with the guidelines, my classrooms have
often been places where there is a high level of participation, where my students get
to know each other well, and where multiple realities are revealed in respectful and en-
lightening ways. The guidelines are not, however, a panacea but only a framework that
facilitates communication across difference. I still must be vigilant and use my power to
structure the class and to intervene in ways that help us to achieve these goals.
One ﬁnal note on politics and guidelines. The current political climate is one in which
some conservative, dominant culture, political forces on college campuses and beyond
actively work to discourage open and honest discussion and scholarly engagement
about race, ethnicity, class, gender, nation and other systemic structures of inequal-
ity. They do so by shifting attention from these structures and the groups that have
historically suffered unfair treatment within them and to “conservative” students who
are portrayed as “victims” of liberal faculty who are a “grave threat to freedom and
conscience” because they demand “ideological orthodoxy…on pain of lowered grade”
(correspondence from Alan Kors, President, Foundation for Independent Rights in Educa-
tion (FIRE) to President Andrew Sorensen, University of South Carolina, regarding my use
of these guidelines). In 2002, I, and the guidelines I developed, became a target of FIRE
for allegedly doing just that. I knew that the furor they created was not about what was
going on in my classes because I was never contacted by anyone from the organization.
Olena H an ki vs ky, PhD
The student who sent my guidelines to the FIRE organization (a fact I did not learn until
after grades were submitted) never voiced a single complaint about these issues during
the semester and received an A in the class ‐ a grade which is not typically seen as either
“lower” or “painful.” I was not even the sole teacher in the class ‐ it was team taught by
Yet, as the letter from Alan Kors went on to say, “We will be raising these questions as
publicly as possible.” And they did ‐ in conservative media organizations such as the
Washington Times and The O’Reilly Factor, and anywhere else that would give them
attention including The Chronicle of Higher Education. While the misrepresentation of
these guidelines and my work was difﬁcult to endure, the outcome was a solid afﬁrma-
tion of the validity of this work and of a faculty’s right ‐ even encouragement ‐ to do it.
The ASA Council unanimously passed the following resolution:
The ASA Council wishes to afﬁrm the academic freedom of all faculty to develop
strategies or guidelines to encourage open and civil classroom debate. We sup-
port the discussion and dialogue of controversial issues that are inherent to the
study of inequality and other core subjects.
Myra Marx Ferree, writing for Sociologists for Women and Society (SWS)’s Committee
on Academic Freedom, in a letter to USC administrators and to FIRE stated:
These sorts of guidelines for discussion seem to accord very well with the ideals
of a liberal arts education and to prevent intimidation by others in the course
of discussion… We urge you to afﬁrm the positive value of the cooperative and
unthreatening climate that Prof. Weber seeks to create in her classroom, and to
support the variety of ways, including the guidelines she has developed, that
individual faculty use to realize this important goal.
President Andrew Sorensen, University of South Carolina, wrote to FIRE,
As designed and utilized, the Guidelines do not violate University policy, AAUP
policies on the rights of students, or the United States Constitution.
The FIRE organization has ceased its efforts to have me change these guidelines or to
stop using them.
Assigned Readings and Necessary Materials
No assigned readings or materials. I include the citations to publications about the
guidelines (including this article) on the guidelines handout, put them on reserve, and
ask students if they would be interested in reading and discussing these as a group. I
also discuss the political controversy that has periodically arisen over the guidelines. If
they express an interest in discussing it further, I have them read the Chronicle article,
the ASA resolution (and Footnotes article), letters from the conservative organization
(FIRE) that initiated the most recent controversy, and letters of support from SWS, the
President of the University of South Carolina, some students, and others. For copies of
these letters, email me at weberL@sc.edu.
American Sociological Association. March, 2003. “ASA Council Supports Sociologist Weber.” Footnotes.
Bartlett, Thomas. September 27, 2002. “Guidelines for Discussion, or Thought Control?
Rules for Classroom Discourse, Popular in Women’s Studies, Set off a Controversy.” Chronicle of Higher Educa-
tion 49(5): A5.
Cannon, Lynn Weber. 1990. “Fostering Positive Race, Class, and Gender Dynamics in the Classroom.”
Women’s Studies Quarterly (1&2): 126-134.
McKinney, Kathleen and Tom Gershick. 1999. “Teaching and Learning About Controversial Topics.” Teaching
Workshop, Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, Chicago, Ill.
Raske. 1999. “Using Feminist Classroom Rules to Model Empowerment for Social Work Students.” Journal of
Teaching in Social Work 19(1/2):197-209.
Sommers, Christina Hoff. 1995. Who Stole Feminism?: How Women Have Betrayed Women. New York: Touch-
stone/Simon & Schuster.
Weber, Lynn. 1998. “A Conceptual Framework for Understanding Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality.” Psychol-
ogy of Women Quarterly 22: 13-32.
__ ___ 2001. Understanding Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality: A Conceptual Framework. New York: McGraw-
Weber, Lynn and Heather Dillaway. 2002. Understanding Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality: Case Studies. New
Olena H an ki vs ky, PhD
Instructions for Students
GUIDELINES FOR CLASSROOM DISCUSSION
To be discussed on the ﬁrst day of class, the guidelines ask all students to make several
assumptions for purposes of the class.
1. Acknowledge that racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and other institutional-
ized forms of oppression exist.1
2. Acknowledge that one mechanism of institutionalized racism, classism, sexism,
heterosexism, etc., is that we are all systematically taught misinformation about our
own group and about members of other groups. This is true for everyone, regardless
of our group(s).
3. Agree not to blame ourselves or others for the misinformation we have learned
but to accept responsibility for not repeating misinformation after we have learned
4. Assume that people both the people we study — and the members of the class,
always do the best they can.
5. Actively pursue information about our own groups and those of others.
6. Share information about our groups with other members of the class and never
demean, devalue, or in any way “put down” people for their experiences.
7. Agree to combat actively the myths and stereotypes about our own groups and
other groups so that we can break down the walls that prohibit group cooperation
and group gain.
8. Create a safe atmosphere for open discussion. If you wish to make comments that
you do not want repeated outside the classroom, you can preface your remarks with
a request that the class agree not to repeat the remarks.
1Many other institutionalized forms of oppression could be listed here. A more complete
list might include age, ethnicity, disability, gender, race, class, religion, color, national ori-
gin, sexual orientation, and physical appearance. The major focus is on the four oppres-
sions listed; however, analogies can fairly easily be made to other forms.
NOTE: These guidelines were developed by Lynn Weber, and published in Women’s Stud-
ies Quarterly 18 (Spring/Summer 1990):126-134. A discussion and revised version was
published in “Empowering Students Through Classroom Discussion Guidelines,” in Mary-
beth C. Stalp and Julie Childers, eds., Teaching Sociological Concepts and the Sociology of
Gender, Washington, D.C.: American Sociological Association Teaching Resources Center,
2000, and 2005 (2nd Edition).