Supporting Diversity in Education Using Intersectionality

Mar 28, 2022 by

The U.S. has a long and storied history of systemic marginalization due to race, gender, disability, class, sexual orientation, and other identity-based labels. Cavendish and Samson (2021) tackle the ramifications of such labeling, known as intersectionality, mainly through educational law and policy. The authors explain that discrimination is often hard-wired in our educational delivery systems and institutions. Multidimensionality and contextuality are central to understanding intersectionality (Gross, Gottburgsen, and Phoenix, 2016). Therefore, how intersectionality has been represented and addressed has slightly differed in K-12 education and higher education.

Researchers such as Agosto and Roland (2018) have focused on K-12 educational leadership and the role they have played in exacerbating intersectionality to try to find ways to challenge the norm proactively. Internationally, educators are seeking ways in which to broaden what intersectionality means and make education more inclusive for all children (Bešić, 2020). This is not a new concept, in 2017, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), highlighted the need for systemic review of and change to group inequalities in education. The National Association of School Psychologists published an infographic accompanied by an article titled, Understanding Intersectionality in 2017 to explore how intersectionality can be used as a lens to aid in school psychologists’ understanding of their own identities and those of the students they serve. The topic has not been exclusive to the treatment of students but has also included the intersectionality of school leaders such as principals and assistant principals (Fuller, Hollingworth, and An, 2019).

In higher education, the debates surrounding intersectionality have centered on conceptual understanding (Tefera, Powers, and Fischman, 2018), theoretical approach to (Nichols and Stahl, 2019), and analytical framework (Harris and Leonardo, 2018). Higher education differs from K-12 education in that it has long suffered from the perception that its hallowed halls are reserved for people of privilege and typically the white middle or upper class. Thus, it is more challenging for higher education to reconcile its past and move forward to ensure that social barriers and inequalities are diminished requiring a new approach.

As a result, researchers Harris and Patton (2019) explored how higher education can “undo intersectionality” while others have called out the misuse of intersectionality by colleges and universities. Additionally, others contend that using an intersectional pedagogy can help to combat inequality. Dr. Kim Case, of Denver University, provides free resources, podcast episodes, and blogs on social justice and anti-racist pedagogies such as intersectionality.


How can understanding and using intersectionality be harmful or helpful within education?


Intersectionality, equity, education, K-12, higher education


Agosto, V., & Roland, E. (2018). Intersectionality and educational leadership: A critical review. Review of Research in Education, 42(1), 255-285. Retrieved from:

Bešić, E. (2020). Intersectionality: A pathway towards inclusive education? Prospects 49, 111–122. Retrieved from:

Cavandish, W. and Samson, JF. (2021). Intersectionality in education: Toward more equitable policy, research, and practice. Teachers College Press: New York. Retrieved from:

Fuller, E., Hollingworth, L., & An, B. P. (2019). Exploring intersectionality and the employment of school leaders. Journal of Educational Administration

Gross, C., Gottburgsen, A., & Phoenix, A. (2016). Education systems and intersectionality. Education systems and inequalities: International comparisons, 51-72.

Harris, J.C. & Patton. L.D. (2019) Un/Doing intersectionality through higher education research, The Journal of Higher Education, 90(3), 347-372, DOI: 10.1080/00221546.2018.1536936 Retrieved from

Harris, A., & Leonardo, Z. (2018). Intersectionality, race-gender subordination, and education. Review of Research in Education, 42(1), 1-27. Retrieved from:

Nichols, S., & Stahl, G. (2019). Intersectionality in higher education research: A systematic literature review. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(6), 1255-1268. Retrieved from:

Tefera, A. A., Powers, J. M., & Fischman, G. E. (2018). Intersectionality in education: A conceptual aspiration and research imperative. Retrieved from:

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