LEDS sheds light on intersectionality

On Sunday, April 24, Lawrence Enhancing Diversity in Science (LEDS) held a summit discussion focusing on intersectionality. The event took place in the Esch Hurvis Room of the Warch Campus Center from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

LEDS is a group formed by students and faculty in the natural sciences. Raymond H. Herzog Professor of Science and Professor of Biology Beth De Stasio, a founding member of LEDS, said, “We want faculty and students to learn about and explore together the issues facing marginalized groups, particularly in the sciences.” Junior and LEDS member Deepankar Tripurana said, “We also want to make people realize that these [topics] are not just […] accessory concepts […] They are actual and real issues that afflict the sciences that serve the same amount of seriousness as, say, a disease or public health initiative.”

He went on to say, “We hope LEDS helps other similar organizations to sprout and take charge in reforming their respective departments and student body in mindsight.” The summit on intersectionality was the third summit that LEDS has hosted this year. Previously, the group had hosted summits on diversity in the sciences and allyship. The group chose the topic of intersectionality based on feedback from the previous summits.

LEDS worked with Lawrence Women in Science (LUWIS) and the Committee on Diversity Affairs (CODA) to organize the summit. De Stasio remarked, “LUWIS members had great ideas and stories to share and CODA provided facilitators for the event.”

Before the event, attendees sat down at several round tables set up in the room. A table held an assortment of information on LEDS and LEDS stickers. Around the room, posters with notes from previous LEDS summits were displayed. A board near the entrance was set up for event coordinators to write notes from the event. Attendees included students and faculty from various departments on campus.

Intersectionality, as defined by sheets at the event, is “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class and gender as they apply to a given individual or group regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”

At the beginning of the event, Tripurana read a short introduction on the definition and history of intersectionality. He explained that while people experience different forms of oppression due to differing identities, all forms are “valid” forms of oppression. He went on to explain that some individuals face multiple forms of oppression at once which puts them in a more disadvantaged position in society.

Next, facilitators wrote safe space guidelines on a board near the entrance of the room. Attendees worked through an icebreaker activity sheet about identity. Then each table began small group discussions on an article in The Washington Post titled “Why intersectionality can’t wait” by Kimberlé Crenshaw written on Sep. 24, 2015.

Crenshaw defined intersectionality as “an analytic sensibility, a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power.” Crenshaw gave examples of intersectionality such as “people of color within LGBTQ movements, trans women within feminist movements and people with disabilities fighting police abuse.” Crenshaw declared, “All face vulnerabilities that reflect the intersections of racism, sexism, class oppression, transphobia, able-ism and more.”

Next, each table read and discussed short stories. Students and faculty submitted the stories anonymously to LEDS before the event. Each table shared highlights of their discussion with the whole room. Discussion topics included family and work accommodations, mental health and work expectations, gender stereotypes in the workplace, diversity in science and addressing gender and diversity in academic advisor meetings.

Associate Professor of Physics Doug Martin said, “This summit compels me to continue reading and working to improve my actions in the classroom and outside the classroom here at Lawrence.” He went on to say, “Events like this help me plan the structure of my courses and the shape of my classroom, the literal shape this term, to be more inclusive. Events like this help me be more aware of the impact of my language and, I hope, help me better explain ideas in a way that students understand what I mean in the classroom and in individual meetings.”

Tripurana stated, “The issues we are finally addressing in the sciences are not isolated to only the sciences. Diversity, allyship and intersectionality are just as applicable to other departments on campus as they are in the sciences, like the social sciences and humanities.”

De Stasio hopes “that understanding will lead us all to reach out and support one another, that we become even more willing to engage with, and support, people who are different from ourselves in some way, and that we will better understand the negative impact stereotyping, gender norms, hidden assumptions, and stigmatizing can have on student learning and student health and well-being.”