LU alumnus returns to discuss intersectionality in psychology

In order to “reflect on what intersectionality means for psychology and how it can be integrated,” Lawrence alumnus, Alex Ajayi ‘12, delivered a talk titled “Intersectionality with Psychology: Identity, Social Stress and Well-Being.” This talk occurred at 4:30 p.m. on May 9, in the Steitz Hall of Science Room 102.

Ajayi is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Augsburg University as well as a behavioral health consultant and research fellow at Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute. Ajayi graduated from Lawrence with a Bachelor of Arts with a major in psychology and a minor in gender studies. This talk was sponsored by both departments.

After an introduction by Milwaukee-Downer College and College Endowment Association Professorship of Liberal Studies and Professor of French Eilene Hoft-March, Ajayi began to share his research and passion about intersectionality. 

Intersectionality, as defined by Ajayi, is a unique space where domains meet or also how identities work together. Ajayi explained this concept by defining identity as a sense of self, personal perception, roles, ideologies and social groups amongst other factors and then continued on by describing how these identities intertwine. Ajayi discussed how identities are molded by other identities and then how this affects people.

Intersectionality has roots in black feminism and has evolved over the years. However, the field of psychology as a whole has yet to truly dive into intersectionality. According to Ajayi, this is because psychologists desire generalizability and universality. Intersectionality complicates psychology further.

Ajayi explained the intricacies of intersectionality by referencing a car accident analogy. In an intersection, it can become difficult to deconstruct causation and this effort tends to leave information out. This scenario could be applied to discrimination and oppression as well. According to Ajayi, “Major systems of oppression are interlocking.”

As Ajayi explained, within the margins there is still oppression and privilege. He continued to explain this concept by discussing situations in which people may negotiate their identities to ensure safety or other motivations.

Ajayi also discussed the importance of understanding the process as well as the content of identity. The process of identity refers to the development of a person’s identity, and the content refers to what that actually looks like—including a person’s meanings, attitudes and beliefs.

Within his presentation, Ajayi also discussed some of the research he has studied—one in particular about “developing a measure of Black racial identity content.” Through this research, he identified several distinct identity content categories. These include ethnocentricity, Afrocentricity, centrality and critical consciousness.

With further study, Ajayi studied how dimensions of racial ideology are differentially configured in others—or how these different categories are mixed within one person. This provided an opportunity to quantify the results and potentially eliminate some of the intricacies of studying intersectionality and identities.

Near the end of his talk, Ajayi discussed research he is currently working on. This research involves the prevalence of depression in Black men. Black men report depression less often but experience depression more severely. Participants will engage in resistance training to observe how strength training will affect depressive symptoms as well as cardiovascular health.

Concluding Ajayi’s talk, he was open to questions from the audience. Following the questions about his research as well as intersectionality as a whole, Ajayi closed his presentation by stating, “Intersectionality is a multidimensional approach…that pushes our understanding of social categories.”