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Intersectionality and Higher Education: Identity and Inequality on College Campuses

reviewed by Vasti Torres - September 24, 2019

coverTitle: Intersectionality and Higher Education: Identity and Inequality on College Campuses
Author(s): W. Carson Byrd, Rachelle J. Brunn-Bevel, & Sarah M. Ovink (Eds.)
Publisher: Rutgers University Press, Piscataway
ISBN: 0813597668, Pages: 306, Year: 2019
Search for book at Amazon.com

Though intersectionality is a trendy topic within higher education, it is often misunderstood or overly simplified in research. The simplification of intersectionality often only focuses on intersecting identities rather than on how race, class, and gender cannot be considered separately (Crenshaw, 1991). This edited work does a superb job of compiling research studies that use intersectionality appropriately and that highlight how using this theoretical perspective can enrich the findings of a research study. Though edited by three sociologists, the chapter authors come from various disciplines and therefore reflect the editors intent of melding perspectives from various fields, including sociology, psychology, higher education and student affairs, and organizational studies. The chapters are divided into sections (Students, Faculty, Staff, and Institutional Efforts) that provide research studies from all areas within higher education institutions.

The richness of information within the chapters makes it difficult to discuss each chapter in detail; therefore, I will focus more on the section headings and provide highlights of the chapters. By approaching the review in this manner, I hope to highlight the distinguishing aspect this book brings to research.

The section on students examines campus climate (Chapter Two), immigration status (Chapter Three), low-income students (Chapter Four), biracial students (Chapter Five), and Black graduate student experiences (Chapter Six). Though all of these chapters focus on the student experience, the intersectional nature of these studies makes them distinctive contributions to the literature. By using intersectionality, it was found that the campus climate was perceived differently along racial lines even within the context of a diverse student population. Immigration status was considered along with the mission of the institutions. This approach focused on more than the financial resources provided and highlighted the fear these students face on campus. Biracial students were studied at HBCUs and HWCUs, allowing for a nuanced view of structural racism. The consideration of contextual influences enhanced our understanding of the perceptions of color and race.

The faculty section delved into some areas that are not usually considered in the research literature on faculty. By using the intersectional lens within their research, the authors highlight findings that are nuanced and more in-depth. Research on low-income faculty (Chapter Seven) illustrates how this shared experience with students matters and how the number of faculty with multiple minoritized statuses continues to be small within higher education. In Chapter Eight, the realities of budget cuts to higher education influences faculty precarity and the idea of doing less with less creates an interesting set of choices. Though teaching assessments have been questioned for years, Chapter Nine ties these assessments to the overall faculty annual evaluation and argues that these tools privilege whiteness within the academy. Because teaching is a central role for faculty, it is critical to think about how diversity influences their teaching. Chapter Ten discuss the influence of Critical Race Pedagogy (CRP) on classroom teaching. And finally, Chapter Eleven uses vignettes to illustrate the types of potential issues faculty face when the classroom is seen as an experimental space (p. 167) for teaching. The chapters in this section were very unique pieces and had a nice balance of research findings and applicable insights for individual faculty and administrators.

The chapters on staff take on staffing issues in a distinctive manner and point to the lack of research on staff members within higher education institutions. In Chapter Twelve, two student affairs staff members provide personal narratives of their lived experiences to demonstrate strategies for professional development and maintaining their sense of self in the workplace. Chapter Thirteen considers the messages given to Black students about being in STEM majors. This chapter analyses the messages delivered by staff within a minority student support program. Much research considers the role of faculty in providing messages within STEM fields, but this is one of the few studies that considers the messages delivered by staff. The final chapter in this section, Chapter Fourteen, looks at how staff members support students with disabilities and contribute to inclusive campuses. Again, these chapters provide some wonderful insights for staff members within institutions.

The two chapters looking at institutional efforts focus on uncommon questions and provide distinctive findings. Chapter Fifteen considers the admission policies regarding transgender students at womens colleges. The author titled the chapter Making Room for Gendered Possibilities and begins with the circumstances of a recent situation to highlight the contradicting forms that students must complete and how these separate materials force a dichotomous choice, complicating how information is considered in the admissions process. In Chapter Sixteen, a policy analysis of diversity plans at flagship institutions are analyzed and the author emphasizes the need to resist and contest dominant conceptions of communities as inclusive, welcoming, and friendly environments (p. 252) because the reality is that these institutions exclude outsiders and privilege access to certain types of students.

The final chapter is written by the editors, who reiterate how marginalization is shaped differently depending on the context of the campus and the intersectional nature of what happens in higher education. The chapter uses the information provided within the chapters to recommend changes institutions can make to increase equity on campus. Overall, this book provides both a broad view of higher education institutions as well as a narrow view of research studies on specific aspects of the campus environment. The broad topics covered make this a great textbook for an equity course, a handbook for administrators who care about social justice, or a reference book for researchers using intersectional perspectives. The editors should be commended for the breadth and depth included in this book.


Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 12411299.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 24, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23102, Date Accessed: 1/20/2022 12:45:29 AM

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About the Author
  • Vasti Torres
    University of Michigan
    E-mail Author
    VASTI TORRES is a professor in the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education (CSHPE) and affiliated faculty in Latino Studies at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses broadly on the success of underrepresented students in higher education. She is known for her work on how the identity development of Latinx students can influence their college experience.
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