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Teaching Women’s History Through an Intersectional Lens

You may have heard the term “intersectionality” a lot lately, a term coined by Kimberlee Crenshaw in 1989 to describe how systems of oppression overlap to create distinct experiences for people with multiple identity categories. Those familiar with Crenshaw’s work know that the term was once used academically purely to shape legal conversations about racial and social injustice in systems, most notably policing. Now, “intersectionality” is part of the national lexicon, being used in the forefront of the country’s debates around racial and social injustice in the last few years; however, that should not dissuade educators from looking at their work through this lens.

For educators, intersectionality is used to frame the experiences of historical and current figures who have multiple identities when they teach. For example, during Women’s History Month, it’s important for educators to consider how the experiences of women of color, queer and trans women, women with disabilities, women with different body types, and multi-lingual women differ, and then represent them as such in their curriculum. Educators can build this intersectional teaching muscle by having conversations about their diverse experiences with one another and, as teachers, share research and resources that elevate the truth of women with intersectional identities in our schools. This is why, on International Women’s Day, we asked several of our members and staff to answer the question:

Why is integrating women’s history through an intersectional lens important to you and your work in education?

Here are some of our favorite responses:

“Integrating women’s history through an intersectional lens looks like candid conversations with preservice teachers who often turn to this profession because they were considered successful students; they may be unaware of what contextual components facilitated that success or how we might redefine success. The same holds true when we consider evaluative structures and incentives within higher education. We might redefine success by taking a closer look at biased perspectives among students (describing female professors by affective traits, for example, while describing their male professors’ expertise). Reconsidering what leadership looks like may create more equitable opportunities of course, but I see a larger goal: to create a stronger profession by honoring diverse leadership approaches and complementary perspectives.”A faculty member in the Teaching and Learning Department at VCU 

“In the work of educational leadership, it is important to have a broad range of experiences and talents. Looking towards our history, especially women’s history is a valuable resource.” – Kelly Coash-Johnson, executive director, American Association of School Personnel Administrators

“Not teaching women’s history through an intersectional lens in this country is the reason it took until 1919 for the American woman to be thought of as anything other than an extension of the American man, and decades longer for her to be seen as anything other than White.” – Ward Cummings, director of state relations, AACTE

“By teaching through an intersectional lens, we peer through a glass of truth where women of all colors, shapes, and experiences can be seen, heard, and witnessed. We allow the truth of women’s history to flow freely beyond the White, heteronormative narrative and into a pool of inclusivity and transparency.” – Brook Evans, assistant director of research & professional learning

As AACTE continues to elevate women’s history this month, if there is a women-identified leader in educator preparation you would like us to recognize in next week’s issue, please fill out this form so that we may celebrate their work.

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