UC Berkeley faculty discusses intersectional feminism

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Over the past 150 years, UC Berkeley has made efforts to support women through its curriculum and school resources, but many still feel there is work to be done.

Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a professor of law at UCLA and Columbia Law School, the concept of intersectionality aims to analyze different dynamics of privilege, oppression and vulnerabilities that women of color face.

More specifically, according to UC Berkeley professor of gender and women’s studies Paola Bacchetta, intersectionality refers to the ways in which different factors that affect aspects of a woman’s identity — including race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, colonialism and capitalism — work in relation to power and influence a woman’s life.

Women of color often experience multiple forms of oppression, according to campus ethnic studies professor Laura Pérez.

“For women of color, you can’t talk about feminism that talks about their problems fully, if you’re only talking about gender,” Pérez said.

There has been progress on campus in educating the student body about intersectionality by way of the American Cultures, or AC, requirement, according to Aya de León, director of the Poetry for the People program and a lecturer in the African American studies department.

While the course requirement does seek to educate students about intersectionality, ethnicity and race, de León said, there is room for improvement.

Many students fulfill the AC requirement during their final years on campus, de León observed. She added that she would like students to be exposed to the notion of intersectionality toward the beginning of their college educations so that they arefluent and comfortable” with these ideas throughout their time on campus.

“What I would love to see is a requirement that explored intersectionality, that looks at race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, class, nationality, religion, immigration status,” de León said. “These kinds of conversations should be happening very early.”

According to Bacchetta, a comprehensive strategy is needed to undo “white supremacy” within curriculums, departments, teaching and research.

Pérez emphasized that more resources should be dedicated to educating faculty and students about intersectionality. She added that coursework is fundamental and that faculty and GSIs should not feel that they don’t have the resources to address intersectionality.

According to ethnic studies graduate student Jaskirat Hothi, issues surrounding intersectionality should be discussed because “lives are at stake.”

Both de León and Pérez addressed the implications of sexual violence — especially for women of color who are part of the LGBTQ community — in terms of intersectionality.

They each acknowledged the work UC Berkeley is doing to address these topics and increase awareness. They also said, however, that they feel more is needed to protect vulnerable populations.

“I’d like to see campus create more programs for women and queer support against violence. Queer people of color, trans people of color and women of color experience disproportionate violence, racialization and poverty,” Pérez said.

De León also acknowledged the work many student and campus organizations, such as the Gender Equity Resource Center, are doing to combat sexual harassment and sexual violence.

Intersectional feminism is not a concept meant just for women of color, but rather addresses an issue that affects everyone, according to Bacchetta.

“When we realize that feminism is not just an issue for women or the struggle for respect for queer sexualities is not just an issue for queer people, when we realize that class inequity is not just an issue for poor people, when we realize that racism is not only the business for people of color, then we are creating a better reality that we can effect today,” Pérez said.

Contact Shylie Ati at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @shylieati.