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Addressing Injustice through Intersectionality

Intersectionality, a term introduced more than 30 years ago, describes how social categorizations such as race, class, gender, and other social characteristics “intersect” and overlap in the experiences of marginalized groups. In 2015, Patrick Grzanka was looking for a way to bring together researchers on campus who study these intersections—and the Intersectionality Community of Scholars was created.

Grzanka, associate professor psychology and co-director of the Intersectionality Community of Scholars, first learned about the Communities of Scholars program during UT’s new faculty orientation in 2014.

“I thought this was exactly the thing that could help me connect my very interdisciplinary work to other faculty working in other departments and programs,” he said.

So, he contacted Diana Moyer, a research and faculty development specialist in the Office of Research and Engagement. Through Moyer’s connections, Grzanka discovered that there were several people on campus already doing this work. She worked with him to identify these stakeholders from around campus who were interested in interdisciplinary conversations about social inequality and thinking critically about how to conduct cutting-edge social research here at UT.

“Diana is a connector,” Patrick explains. “She facilitates the success and forward momentum of CoS programs on campus and lends an air of legitimacy to these groups that are otherwise just informal networks.”

The group coordinated a seminar in 2016, “New Horizons in Intersectionality: Research, Policy, and Activism,” which brought several renowned speakers to campus, sponsored a successful works-in-progress series, and facilitated a McClung Museum exhibit and lecture series on the visual culture of the US civil rights movement.

“Our goal is to establish UT as the South’s leading center for intersectionality research and scholarship,” said Grzanka.

Grzanka said the CoS structure has helped raise the profile of intersectionality research, promote the work that UT faculty are doing, and celebrate their accomplishments.

“ICOS has given UT researchers, many of whom are members of underrepresented groups, the connections and community, so that we can support each other,” noting that the ICOS played a role in the successful acquisition of the campus’s National Science Foundation ADVANCE grant.

“University leadership realized how the ICOS could facilitate an intersectional approach to improving the climate for women in STEM fields on this campus,” he said. “That means helping the university think about the ways that we can attend to complex social forces that are affecting women’s success in STEM fields here on campus.”

“Intersectionality is a lens that helps researchers understand and identify ways to intervene in social problems, advocate for policies that will ameliorate inequalities, and promote social justice.”

The Communities of Scholars program was launched in 2013 by the Office of Research and Engagement as a way to encourage the growth of research affinity groups that cross-disciplinary boundaries. Each CoS is composed of UT researchers from multiple departments, colleges, and/or units, united by a shared research theme or topic area, and organized to share research capabilities, assess collective research strengths, and explore opportunities for collaboration.

Faculty interested in joining the ICOS should contact Grzanka or Nora Berenstain, associate professor of philosophy and co-director of ICOS, and visit the group’s website at psychology.utk.edu/icos.

CONTACT: Sharon Pound (865-974-1475, spound@utk.edu)