Shernaz B. Garcia and Alba A. Ortiz’s (2013) article, “Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education,” is an inspirational read. The authors propose a cogent argument for analyzing disabilities and difference through the lens of intersectionality. Essentially, their position is that intersectionality-focused research allows for a more nuanced and holistic understanding of the complex, dynamic and multi-layered issues or forces that impact educational outcomes. Noting that we still have not achieved educational equity in spite of over forty years of research and various efforts to improve policies and schools, Garcia and Ortiz suggest that an intersectionality approach is what is needed to finally produce desired change.
I wholeheartedly agree with Garcia and Ortiz. Reducing human beings to a single identifier or variable is not an effective way to understand them. Instead, one must consider individual characteristics in context. Two students who are of the same race can be in drastically different situations with respect to education based on confounding factors such as family socioeconomic background, neighborhood of residence, and school of attendance. Therefore, it is essential to examine the complete picture and not just one aspect when trying to address educational inequity or any other societal problem.
For me, the most powerful part of Garcia and Ortiz’s article is the notion that a shift in the focus of interventions is also necessary. After citing some educational disparities and the disproportionate amount of students of color and English Language Learners in special education, they write on page 39:
“When such large numbers of students from an identifiable group (e.g., racial/ethnic, language) fail, it is imperative to shift the focus away from student interventions to interventions directed at schools, programs, and personnel ‘at risk’ of producing ‘pedagogically-induced’ learning disabilities (Cummins, 1986, p. 666).”
This is such a powerful statement because the phrase, “at risk,” is so frequently used to label groups of students who are less likely to be successful academically. Researchers, educators, administrators, and policy-makers who ascribe such a negative label onto students render the students as the problem. Rather that point fingers at the students, we should reflect upon the conditions in which these students are being (mis)educated and disadvantaged.
This article pertains to my own research because I am interested in the retention, satisfaction, and success of Arizona State University freshmen. When I conduct my research, I can use the intersectionality framework to approach issues comprehensively and from multiple angles. Furthermore, I can be sure to consider conditions that impact student success outcomes and not just students when I ponder possible interventions.
This article is also meaningful to me personally as someone who has been a diversity and social justice educator and someone who has experienced multiple forms of both privilege and oppression. I can relate to how frustrating it can be for an individual with many salient identities to be reduced to just one. I’ve experienced it myself, and I have also seen it done to many others. It’s important to always keep in mind that we all have unique combinations of identities, traits, and circumstances that constitute who we are and affect how we live. Doing so will not only make us better researchers; it will make us better people.
Garcia, S.B., and Oriz, A.A. (2013). Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32-47.
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