WAGS Annual Lecture on Intersectionality

by Sophia Sakellariou, Production Editor

The Women and Gender Studies Annual Lecture focused on intersectionality and its importance in resolving modern day political issues that continue to divide the nation.

Premilla Nadasen, Ph.D, a professor of history at Barnard College and President of National Women’s Studies Association, according to her LinkedIn, argued the ways in which an intersectional approach to politics can lead to greater unity for marginalized groups.

An advocate for social justice for over 30 years, Dr. Nadasen’s compassion was evident when she began her talk in Hayden 100 on Tuesday, March 12 by thanking the “invisible labor” of the custodial and technological staff that made the event possible. She then launched into a discussion of a program run at Barnard in the Mississippi Delta.

“[Mississippi Semester] is a new initiative at Barnard that attempts to bridge campus and community, and the aim in this initiative is to see how we as a campus can support the community organizing and to develop an ongoing partnership with community groups,” said Dr. Nadasen. “We saw our partners as research collaborators rather than research subjects.”

In the program, students work alongside various advocacy groups to gain a better understanding of the struggles lower class women of color in the South experience.

Dr. Nadasen explained that the “vision of social change and political empowerment” the trip provoked, was a model of intersectional feminist politics for the way it looked at racism and sexism collectively, not independently. She explained that feminism does not look the same today as it did years ago.

“Success is a double-edged sword. Most feminists today understand the need to consider gender through a lens of race, class and other forms of difference. It is difficult to talk about feminism without acknowledging the diversity of women’s experiences and without including women of color,” Dr. Nadasen said.

She looked to modern movements such as the 2017 Women’s March and Black Lives Matter to explain the importance of intersectionality in modern politics.

“These movements led largely by queer women of color have insisted upon an intersectional analysis on a range of issues from police brutality to gun violence, to immigration rights to labor organizing, and in some of the most exhilarating organizing we have seen in decades, marked by fierce resistance,” said Nadasen.

Although she argued that universities are also part of the inequality problem, with high tuition costs and government support for higher education at a low, Dr. Nadasen cited scholars, academics and other active participants on college campuses as those in the unique position to intervene in today’s political moment to stop it from going awry.

“Universities are … liberatory spaces and the urgency before us requires that we ask questions about social transformation, that we push to decolonize the knowledge of the university and use our time to imagine alternate futures. An intersectional feminist analysis can help us do that,” Dr. Nadasen said.

As scholars and academics, Dr. Nadasen argued that we must not only critique racial and gender violence, but use our abilities to research, learn and analyze to see how to move forward, to eradicate inequalities and prevent the rise of “conservative and polito-fascist forces” that have been seemingly strengthened.

“At a moment when the country is so divided between liberal and conservative, red state and blue state, black and white …  our trip was in part about crossing these divides and thinking about how to build bridges, and it was so much easier than we thought,” said Dr. Nadasen.

After the talk, those in attendance were given the opportunity to ask questions. One attendee further asked about the Mississippi programs and how it is received by students at Barnard. A round of applause marked the end of the talk and attendees rushed out.

“I thought it was really informative,” said Kaylyn Atkins, a junior political science and international studies major. “I was going to ask what she thought ours was missing as opposed to Barnard … I feel like our school and other private, maybe Catholic schools are missing something even though we’re in New York City. “If we could have a course like [the Mississippi program], that’d be really helpful.

On intersectionality, Jonathan Keller, Ph. D, assistant professor of political science at Manhattan College said, “I teach political philosophy so I know what it is, but as far as utilizing it and explaining it and talking about how it applies in the real world, I think I learned a lot.”

Dr. Nadasen’s lecture gave the attendees new insight into the importance of intersectionality and how this knowledge can be used on a college campus to be able to create real, much needed change in the future.