Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Faculty Involvement
Diversity Digest Volume 10, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 10,
Number 2
(2007)

Download our print issue (PDF)
Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity and Learning: “A Defining Moment”
Institutional Diversity in a New Nation: Lessons Lived, Lessons Learned
The Pedagogy of Sentipensante: Recasting Institutional Core Agreements
Transforming Our Institutions for the Twenty-first Century: The Role of the Chief Diversity Officer
Creating Institutional Transformation Using the Equity Scorecard
Curricular Transformation
Service Learning, Multicultural Education, and the Core Curriculum:
A Model for Institutional Change
Drop It Like It’s Hot! Hip-Hop in the Twenty-First-Century Classroom
A Sustainable Campus-Wide Program for Diversity Curriculum Infusion
Campus-Community Involvement
El Camino Real: Where Culture and Academia Meet
Faculty Involvement
Advancing Diversity through a Framework of Intersectionality: Inclusion of LGBT Issues in Higher Education
Transitioning on Campus: Creating a Welcoming Climate for Transgender People
Complicating Diversity Categories: Jewish Identity in the Classroom
Student Experience
Dealing with Student Resistance: Sources and Strategies
Beyond Tourism: Race, Space, and National Identity in London
Research
Graduate and Professional Degree Attainment for Students of Color
Affordability of Postsecondary Education for Students of Color
Resources
Diversity and Learning Resources

Advancing Diversity through a Framework of Intersectionality: Inclusion of LGBT Issues in Higher Education

By M. Paz Galupo, director of the Multicultural Institute and professor of psychology at Towson University

A small group of individuals interested in LGBT issues attended the “Transitioning on Campus” presentation at the AAC&U Diversity and Learning conference in Philadelphia. We all had anecdotes to share and issues we could identify at our respective campuses, but collectively we had little sense of shared direction or vision. Looking around the room during this roundtable session and at the other impassioned “diversity” discussions taking place at the conference, we felt the sense of marginalization experienced on our home campuses recreated. Although general discussions about “diversity” would sometimes acknowledge “sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, ability, etc.,” the conversation mainly centered on race/ethnicity. Yet few, if any, individuals at our table identified as persons of color and few, if any, identified openly as allies. How, then, could we expand the larger conversation about campus diversity to allow for successful integration of LGBT perspectives?

The problem we encountered at the Diversity and Learning conference is symptomatic of the current status and direction of diversity planning in higher education. Institutions are held accountable for narrowly defined diversity outcomes, and the emphasis in diversity planning continues to center on race/ethnicity. The trend toward centralizing diversity efforts has helped campuses to better coordinate efforts across divisions and levels and serves to elevate the status of such efforts. For the most part, however, strategies for integrating LGBT concerns have not been systematically or thoughtfully articulated. Because diversity efforts have historically addressed issues of gender and race, and because LGBT issues are unique in a number of ways (sexual orientation cannot be visually detected, institutional and legal protections are not uniformly present or applied, etc.), LGBT issues present a challenge to many existing diversity initiatives.

Effective integration of LGBT issues into established diversity structures in higher education requires a larger framework of intersectionality. Rather than simply advocating for diverse racial communities or focusing solely on “the” LGBT community, those of us involved in campus diversity work need to reframe the ways these diverse communities intersect and inform each other. We need to contextualize the work of LGBT advocacy within the already developed framework of racial and gender equity.

As a biracial Jewish lesbian who “presents” to many as palatable by virtue of being “white enough,” “straight-looking,” and “well educated,” I straddle identity categories in interesting and confounding ways. My reality resides among the intersections of diverse categories. I am accepted as both insider and outsider, sometimes simultaneously, in conversations about race/ethnicity, sex/gender, socioeconomic status, ability, religion, national identity, sexual/affectional orientation, and gender identity, but am forced to use a language and framework that fails to acknowledge the multiplicity of my being.

Likewise, diversity efforts in higher education fail to address the wholeness of our communities. As we have moved ahead in advancing diversity initiatives we have often recreated false dichotomies and reified artificial divisions. Below I describe just a few examples of how diversity efforts have failed to acknowledge the intersectionality among diverse communities. These examples are intentionally situated to elucidate the nexus between LGBT and diverse racial communities within higher education, moving from micro to macro levels of analysis.

Individual level: Many individual LGBT students of color are exposed to homophobia and discrimination as part of the accepted “culture” of their respective racial communities. Likewise, these students experience racism and exclusion within LGBT communities. The result is that these students do not feel a sense of belonging in either place.

Institutional level: Using a centralized approach to diversity, student offices are assigned to ensure that the “diverse” groups share a suite of offices. The LGBT students are not able to use the space since they do not feel safe among the other groups, whose cultures may discriminate against them.

National level: Historically black universities typically have no institutionally recognized LGBT student groups.

These examples reveal the real structural barriers that prevent successful integration of LGBT communities into larger diversity initiatives. It is clear that campuses have failed to recognize the need to contextualize LGBT advocacy within the existing culture of diversity work—namely, that which is framed to address primarily racial and gender equity. The reluctance to address homophobia within diverse racial communities may stem from a desire to be sensitive to the cultural norms of diverse racial groups. Part of the inability to have meaningful discussions about sexual diversity and gender identity, then, arises from our limitations in creating meaningful dialogues within racially diverse groups.

Often we diversity workers resist attending to the whole of our communities using the same arguments levied against diversity efforts in general: Why focus on X because “they” are such a small part of our community? Why allow “special consideration” for these individuals? Focusing on X deters us from our main objectives. Instead we should be asking the harder questions:

  • Why do we advocate for LGBT inclusion in general, but remain afraid to challenge homophobia within our racially diverse communities?
  • How can a dialogue about the experiences of LGBT persons of color inform, for example, our work within the larger African American and LGBT communities?
  • How can our successes in advancing racial diversity and gender equity inform our advocacy for LGBT inclusion? And conversely, how can arguments for LGBT inclusion be used to shift our discussions about race and gender in creative and more effective directions?

By attending to the questions framed by intersectionality we do not merely make visible the experiences of a few, we shift the dialogue to move beyond single labels for us all. We allow a conceptualization of diversity that moves beyond binary dimensions, and expands to include a three-dimensional sense of self and community. Keeping central a framework of intersectionality will better advance a true and inclusive diversity agenda in higher education.

Questions, comments, and suggested resources should be directed to campbell@aacu.org.
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