The University of Texas at Austin Latino Research Initiative

Intersectionality front and center during Latino Research Initiative's first annual Summer Institute

Mon, August 6, 2018
Intersectionality front and center during Latino Research Initiative's first annual Summer Institute
Advanced doctoral students participated in intensive day-long sessions all week

On a Monday morning this past June, while helmetless tourists sped past Gordon-White Building on lime green rental scooters, seventeen advanced doctoral students from universities around the country sat in an overly air-conditioned room, an assortment of bagels and yogurt scattered among notebooks, laptops, and other scholarly ephemera, and started the challenging conversation they would be having all week: what is intersectionality and how can they use it to help their work change the world? As one participant put it: “We’re not here to write cute books.”

Though you might hear this word regularly if you’re in the humanities, and despite its increasing invocation in mainstream journalism, “intersectionality” is only just starting to gain prominence in the social sciences, where young researchers are motivated by today’s heightened social consciousness to examine the nuances of their subjects’ lived experiences. Having only just been added to the Oxford English Dictionary, gatekeeper of the scholarly zeitgeist, in 2015, and defined as, “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage,” intersectionality can be difficult to account for through numerical data alone, and so, in a field where numbers reign supreme, scholars are increasingly embracing methodologies that value qualitative data as much as quantitative data.

Recognizing this growing interest within their field, the Latino Research Initiative organized its first annual Intersectional Qualitative Research Methods Institute for Advanced Doctoral Students, or IQRMI-ADS. Building on the model created by the Consortium on Race, Gender and Ethnicity at the University of Maryland, College Park, the curriculum was designed to provide a crash course in theory, design, application, and analysis of intersectional research. As Director of the Latino Research Initiative, Dr. Deborah Parra-Medina, explains it, “Our aim is to provide that extra support and training to underrepresented minority scholars as they transition to the next phase of their academic careers.” 

Sessions like “Community-Engaged Research Approaches,” and “Using Intersectionality Theory as a Sensitizing Framework to Code Qualitative Data” assisted participants who, despite the high quality of mentorship they receive at their home institution, were eager for more comprehensive guidance when it came to collecting and incorporating qualitative, intersectional data gathered from things like individual interviews and focus groups. Through close consultation with core faculty members and a daily roster of lectures from professors in various fields of research, not only were participants given the chance to deeply explore what intersectionality looks like in different fields to different scholars, but they were also exposed to people who had reached professional milestones despite, like them, not fitting the traditional mold of scholar. For this reason, professionalization sessions on bio and CV development, publication, cover letters, and funding were just as invaluable to participants who frequently discussed the frustrations of having to navigate their burgeoning careers from outside the institutional margins.

Many participants agreed that the week was a rare and welcomed opportunity to connect with peers who often found their way to intersectional research through their own personal experiences as Black, queer or Latino students, compelled by one factor or another to want to understand the many facets of identity. In addition, lamenting the fleeting nature of connections made in passing at conferences, they were grateful for the chance to forge meaningful relationships with scholars from outside of their field, creating potential for interdisciplinary work in the future.

At the end of the week, Dr. Parra-Medina was more than pleased with the positive feedback she received from the Institute’s inaugural participants. “It was a successful launch,” she said. “We’re already looking forward to offering it again next summer!”

Perhaps it was, as one participant put it, a rather “nerdy vacation,” but these scholars didn’t seem to mind; and indeed, having more important things to do, like changing the status quo, seemed to be what they all had in common.

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