Competency C: Intersectionality

I am a white, heterosexual, temporarily non-disabled, middle-class woman. I am not religious, although I was raised in a household with one Catholic parent and one Jewish parent. My ethnic background includes Irish, Ukrainian, English, Austrian, and Russian ancestry. Each of these dimensions of my identity impact my experiences, and they intersect in various ways. The students I work with also have multiple intersecting identities that can impact their lives and experiences in and outside of college. The ways in which identities intersect is immensely complex, so it can be useful to employ theory and research to help me simplify the complexities. In the end, however, each individual’s identities and life experiences will determine the intersectionality for that individual.

Several theories that we have studied in the CSSA program integrate various aspects of identity development in order to help make the concept of intersectionality less complex and offer a framework within which to understand working productively with students. The theories that resonate with me that tackle integrating various dimensions of identity are Baxter Magolda’s (2001) theory of self-authorship and Schlossberg’s (1984) transition theory. Although there are others I could mention, these two help me to understand integrated student identity and development more than others.

Baxter Magolda’s (2001) theory of self-authorship holistically integrated identity development with cognitive and interpersonal development, placing individuals in context. Many student development theories that we examined in our coursework looked at one of these aspects in isolation. Baxter Magolda (2001) researched many young adults in a longitudinal study that examined self-authorship: how the individuals constructed and reflected on their internal beliefs and world views, their personal identities, and their relationships with others in order to make informed decisions and judgements. Baxter Magolda (2001) identified three questions emergent in the stories she heard from her research subjects: “How do I know?” “Who am I?” and “What relationships do I want with others?” These questions brought aspects of epistemology, psychology, and sociology into relationship. Challenging higher education “to help young adults make the transition from their socialization by society to their role as members and leaders in society’s future” (2001, p. 25), Baxter Magolda (2001) saw self-authorship as vital to individual development and to society’s development. In the context of intersectionality, the concept of self-authorship pertains to all people in that if the socialization they have received since childhood is challenged in college, then the capacity will exist for development that incorporates and respects diverse other beliefs, identities, and cultures. The implications for growing this capacity in human beings includes reduced conflict on a large scale. If those in the future who are in power have also incorporated various belief systems and cultural identities into themselves, if they respect diverse others, they will look for nonviolent ways to mange conflict and difference.

Schlossberg’s (1984) transition theory examined the aspects of transitions to simplify and categorize the process in order to help people in “moving in”, “moving through”, and “moving out” of a transition with more ease. After developing the theory over a lifetime of work, Goodman, Schlossberg, and Anderson (2006) defined the concept of transition as “any event, or non-event, that results in changed relationships, routines, assumptions, and roles” (p.33). Three types of transitions occur: anticipated transitions, events that are expected, unanticipated transitions, events that are not expected, and nonevents, events that are expected but do not happen (Goodman et al., 2006). The researchers developed four factors, the 4 S’s, that they maintained helped an individual cope with a transition: situation, self, support, and strategies. Examining several factors within each of these S’s, a helper can identify resources and tools to ease the transition. Developed as a theory for counselors, transition theory has helped me to break down the many transitions that a particular student may be going through, including the transitions of entering and leaving college. Identity development is a piece of this theory, wrapped up in the self, but this theory makes clear that the self does not exist in isolation; the situation, support and strategies that are used to move through a transition all contribute to the result. I will go into more depth on transitions in my Competency C, Number 4 post.

These two theories cannot explain every intersecting identity of every student I will encounter. And this is why theory is useful only to a point. I use these theories to help me simplify, but no individual student’s life is simple. So, I return to the counseling micro-skills I learned in TCE 530, Fundamentals of Counseling, and I listen actively, reflect feeling and meaning back to the student, and support each student in identity development using all the tools at my disposal.

6 Responses to “Competency C: Intersectionality”

  1. Melissa Yamamoto says:

    I want to know more about what you think about these theories? How can/do they impact the way you serve the needs of students?

    • As I mentioned in my final paragraph, I use theory to simplify complexities, but in the moment of interaction with a student, I use active listening skills and counseling micro-skills so that I ensure I am treating each student as an individual.
      However, when thinking about Baxter Magolda’s theory of self-authorship, I frame the work I do with students as facilitating their process in authoring themselves. So, I do not give advice and ask students to do what I would do, I offer choices with the pros and cons of each, so that students maintain ownership of their decisions and use those decisions to author their own lives. I also use myself as an example often, illustrating how I’ve authored myself over time, possibly easing the pressure students may feel that they need to know everything about who they will be as adults right now. Baxter Magolda’s research showed that it took quite a bit of time for individuals in her study to reach a point of self-authorship, not until late into their 20s or early 30s, and I think we can nudge students toward it, by challenging them with new ideas, offering choices, and empowering them to make their own decisions.
      In terms of Schlossberg’s transition theory, I find it immensely useful to organize the various aspect of transition that a student may be going through. They may be struggling with their identity, their own psychological well-being, and their cultural background. They may have difficulties because of the particular situation they currently find themselves in and the types or lack of support they feel from others. So, I view my role as brainstorming with them the various strategies that they can use to combat these transition difficulties. Strategies can be taught, including time-management, study skills, or utilization of resources.

  2. Melissa Yamamoto says:

    Thank you for providing more explanation for how you utilize the theories you mentioned!

  3. Jeff M says:

    Interesting inclusions (and justifications) for what might seem like atypical selections for this section. Did you find these approaches more adaptable than the multitude of available works that focus more directly on ones’ membership in one or more groups or roles?

    • I find most psychosocial identity development theory to not take into account multiple and intersecting identities. Racial identity development theories look at an individual’s race and their development from that point of view, but do not consider socio-economic status, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, cognitive development or environmental factors. Ethnic identity theories do the same when it comes to ethnicity. The foundational theories of Chickering (1969), Erikson (1959), and Marcia (1966) researched privileged groups of mostly white male students, and I never clicked with their strict concept of stage development. I do identify with Josselson (1996), but I don’t consider her theory to intersect or integrate cognitive, identity, and social aspects. That’s why I return to Baxter Magolda (2001) and Schlossberg (1984) in this post, as I believe that both integrate the cognitive and identity development of a student with their social and environmental lives.

  4. Anne Lapour says:

    I like your choices here; I think it’s interesting to think about how the models could work in tandem. A student encounters an unexpected transition that forces them to acknowledge intersecting identities, and then asks them to rewrite or author themselves in a novel way. I can think of countless counseling situations that would follow this pattern. Anyway, nice reflection.

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