For better or for worse, COVID-19 continues to show how interconnected we are across the world. In rapid succession, the virus transcended geographical borders and upended life as we know it.
But this piece and the vignettes that follow aren’t about the universal power of a pandemic. Rather, they’re an entry point into another truth the pandemic revealed: Tackling challenges, even ones that are widespread, is virtually impossible without an understanding of the unique contexts that shape each region, each country, and the populations that live within them.
This is the essence of intersectionality, a term with roots in American legal scholarship, although it has expanded far beyond those origins to become a framework for analyzing and converting diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts into actionable progress—even as the concept remains misunderstood.
This is the reason for devoting much of this issue to explaining and, more critically, showing the ways that an intersectional approach appears in advancement shops across the world.
Intersectionality recognizes the interplay between the individual and the system, be it the labor market, health care, or education. Intersectionality also recognizes that individuals are complex beings with multiple identities and backgrounds that create unique experiences and challenges when they overlap with these various systems.
Let’s return briefly to COVID to illustrate this.
Since the pandemic’s onset, the immune-compromised and elderly populations have suffered high fatality rates as the virus spread across the globe. But COVID has also disproportionally claimed the lives of ethnic and racial minorities, deaths which, in the United States, were initially attributed to obesity and other poor health indicators. While those factors did play a part in the high mortality rates, that focus shrouded other contributing factors, like the fact that many of these groups were more likely to live in poor neighborhoods with food deserts; to live in crowded, multigenerational households; and to hold minimum wage jobs that did not provide health care or allow them to work from home, all of which increased the risks of contracting COVID.
Utilizing an intersectional framework allows for a deeper examination of the root causes of various disparities, which ideally leads to targeted interventions to address these gaps. This is an important point to take in: Intersectionality is a tool to help create equity, especially for groups that historically have been marginalized.
Financial aid and wraparound services that target first-generation, low-income, students of color, for instance, are examples of how an intersectional approach is employed in education institutions and their advancement offices. And there are myriad other examples of advancement professionals engaging in deep analysis to understand underserved populations and design programs and offerings that set these students up for successful academic careers and lives.
Following are scenes from across the globe of how intersectionality—even if it’s not called that—is appearing in advancement.
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DIGITAL ISSUE ONLY - Spotlight on Intersectionality: Recognizing the interplay between the individual and the system—be it the labor market, health care, or education—intersectionality acknowledges that individuals are complex beings with multiple identities and backgrounds that create unique experiences and challenges when overlapping with these systems.