Intersectionality seminar questions the norms of daily life

On Wednesday, October 5, The Rainbow Center hosted a presentation by guest lecturer Graciela Quinones-Rodriguez, who spoke about perspectives regarding intersectionality and the interconnected experiences of social differences and similarities. Following the lecture, the speaker answered several questions from the students to further the discussion. (Olivia Stenger/The Daily Campus)

On Wednesday, October 5, The Rainbow Center hosted a presentation by guest lecturer Graciela Quinones-Rodriguez, who spoke about perspectives regarding intersectionality and the interconnected experiences of social differences and similarities. Following the lecture, the speaker answered several questions from the students to further the discussion. (Olivia Stenger/The Daily Campus)

On Wednesday, the Rainbow Center hosted a seminar on intersectionality by Dr. Olena Hankivsky. Intersectionality acts as an analytical tool that allows people to question the lenses they use to view others and criticize societal norms.

Intersectionality encourages researchers, policy makers and social change leaders to think bigger. It leads thought processes to advance towards progressive views—to move beyond single identities or group-specific concerns, which are ineffective in explaining the nuances of human lives. It is an approach to understanding social differences and similarities.

Scholars, researchers, policy makers and activists must consider their own social position, role and power when taking an intersectional approach. When analyzing social problems, the importance of any category or structure cannot be predetermined; the categories and their importance must be discovered in the process of investigation.

“Who’s telling the story of the people being studied?” Dr. Hankivsky asked. “The story must be told from the perspective of the studied individuals.”

One topic was the range of different lenses to view black women. These women could identify either as a black woman or a woman who is black. People cannot assume that a woman identifies herself as black simply because of skin color. Anyone can choose to be part of a group, but an individual cannot be forced to have a label.

“I identify myself as Puerto Rican,” Dr. Hankivsky said, “but others say I’m from New York because I was born there.”

Transitioning performance plays a big role in everyday behavior. It is a shift in identity depending on social environment. If people expected someone to behave a certain way, then that individual would begin to act in that manner to fit in with the norm.

A critical factor in the amount of power one holds in society is social status. Society is hierarchal: typically, the wealthy possess much more influence than less wealthy people.

The seminar not only questioned society as a whole, but also the atmosphere at UConn and other schools. One subject was the possible bias in college acceptances depending on demographics. A school could accept a student because he or she is Hispanic and not because of his or her intelligence.

Equality at UConn was also brought up. UConn has built its principles on acceptance, but according to Dr. Hankivsky, the school took a long time to incorporate unisex bathrooms into its facilities. The students themselves are expected to follow UConn’s conduct.

“I don’t know about other colleges, but at UConn, no one judges anyone for doing anything,” John Cacela, a first semester student, said. “They just go with it. For example, people can dress any way they want and people don’t call you out.”

“The seminar was very eye-opening,” Isaac Lastra, a first semester student, said, “and it exposed me to concepts I may not have been familiar with before.”

Society appears to be very accepting, especially at UConn; however, much more progress can still be made in equality. “People should work on being less confining,” Lastra said. Limitations are set by the members of a society, but can be extended to a broader range of new, progressive standards. Only time will tell, but the progression of equality thus far has followed an advancing route, and will continue to do so in the future as people learn to be more open-minded.


Kevin Li is a campus correspondent for the Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at kevin.li@uconn.edu.