Recognizing Identity and Intersectionality in the Classroom

Rather than assuming that a student can be ascribed an identity, consider spending plenty of time getting to know your students, and having them get to know one another through icebreakers, autobiographical collages, and other creative activities. The Office for Diversity and Inclusion offers an in-class facilitated program on social identities that aims to raise awareness among students of the many ways their identities show up in the classroom.

Kimberlé Crenshaw’s influential concept of intersectionality, in brief, recognizes that each person carries a number of identifications that shape their social experiences in different ways. Designing ways for students to articulate to themselves and others their intersecting identities helps establish community and may mitigate stereotyping based on racial, ethnic, gendered, and other kinds of stereotypes, increasing the quality of communication so that learning can happen. As Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie phrased it, there is a “danger of the single story.”

As an instructor, you may also wish to reflect on how your own identities—both those you identify with and those that are ascribed to you by others—show up in the class. Doing so can be a productive way to examine instructor bias.

Thinking intersectionally can help us identify subtle dynamics that disadvantage some students and advantage others.


There are many ways of visualizing intersectionality. While this Venn diagram was created in the context of business organizations, it may be useful to prompt a reflection. What layered identities might a student have, and what identities might educational settings activate?

Mentoring and supporting students of color

Supporting BIPOC students at predominantly white institutions (PWI)

Mentoring graduate students in STEM