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Thursday, October 24, 2013

What is Intersectionality?

As I've been preparing for my depth oral (the literature review my PhD programme requires us to present to our PhD committee in order to gain candidacy), one of the really useful terms I've learnt is intersectionality.

Intersectionality refers to the intersections and commonalities between the experiences of different disadvantaged groups in society (women, racial minorities, those with disabilities, etc).

Miriam Dobson has a very friendly introduction to the concept (source):

My depth oral is looking at why the numbers of women in computer science have not significantly increased in the past decade, despite the massive efforts to change the trend. One thing I've always found odd about the women in CS movement is that it's isolated: the efforts to increase women in CS always seem in isolation from the efforts to increase participation from racial minorities or students with disabilities.

Many of these groups suffer from the same barriers: prejudice from peers, lack of community, lack of visibility, lack of mentorship, stereotype threat, and subconscious biases of others that work against them.

These issues can addressed for multiple groups at once. Offering mentorship programmes open to all students -- regardless of gender or race -- helps all students in CS succeed; it just disproportionately helps minorities. Organizing students into learning communities around common interests -- rather than around minority-group lines -- builds community support and lets members of different subgroups get to know each other. Building positive interactions between subgroups is vital for reducing stereotypes. Reducing stereotypes about computer scientists also disproportionately helps minorities.

These types of initiatives have some added advantages. You can help all minorities with them. While there's enough women in CS to organize Women in CS programmes, there are often not enough members of some other minorities (eg aboriginals, disabled) to organize their own programmes.

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